The general conclusion I draw is that neither of the two main strategies open to libertarianism can hope to succeed. There is no real foundation for a rights-based intuitionism (such as Nozick’s), and a conventionalist consequentialism (like Hayek’s) could conceivably justify something quite different from the capitalist free market. The libertarian defence of a pure free market based on the institution of private property must therefore be judged a failure.
Otherwise: I am sure that many readers will recognise the type of experience Peter Ackroyd’s encounter with Dickens evoked; the experience of being brought graphically face-to-face with some mysterious detail of an age now vanished. I was similarly confronted by the past on a recent occasion when my father related how, as a small child, he used to take lunch to his father. This was one of his many domestic duties. It seems that when the school bell rang for break, he would have to run home, collect the lunch from his mother and transport it (in a bowl covered by a handkerchief) to the cotton mill where my grandfather worked as a hand. These events took place in the 1920s in industrial Lancashire. I try to picture this. Images I cannot escape are as follows: small hands; a warm bowl, growing colder; hard winter streets; an infant finding his way through a machine shop; the menace of danger - I know that spindles could sometimes break loose from their looms, like drunken, malicious harpoons; clattering noise. (‘A Modern Weaving Shed, in intensity of clatter from hundreds of rapidly working looms, is a pandemonium in which gossip by voice is impossible’ writes one contemporary observer, adding that ‘Jove the thunderer could not make himself heard in the din’ (Pendleton 1902: 290). ) Above all, there is what must have been the anxiety of it; the hasty rush from school to home to factory, and then back to school again in time for class. When I try, I end up by imagining events so foreign to me, so different from anything my own life has ever shown me, that they might as well have taken place in some remote country I have never visited. And yet the real wonder - the true source of the eerie feeling this kind of time-traveller’s tale can generate - is not just that; it is the knowledge that the child in the machine shop is the very same person one thinks one knows so well; the one telling the story. How can this person have managed to get all the way from there to here?