Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In Defence of Freedom

The Economist magazine has an article this week, which appears in the print edition under the title of "The Year of Living Dangerously" and online as "How to make sense of 2016"

The online version can be read here.

The subtitle of the article is

"Liberals lost most arguments in 2016. They should not feel defeated as much as invigorated."

The work "Liberal" has opposite meanings on the two sides of the Atlantic and the kind of Liberalism espoused by the Economist has very little to do with the policies of the so-called Liberal Democratic Party under Tim Farron, which increasingly seems to me to be neither liberal nor democratic.

The "liberal" values which "The Economist" stands for, as defined in the first paragraph quoted below, are what I would call freedom. This is better represented in today's Conservative party than it is in the Liberal Democrats, though no party has a monopoly of support for freedom and all have at times opposed it. And there were people on both sides of the EU membership debate who share those values.

When the magazine uses the word "Liberals" in the quotes below, they are not talking exclusively about supporters of the Liberal Democrats in Britain or those people who would be called "liberals" in the USA, but people who believe in freedom, tolerance, and the rule of law, whatever party those people are members of.

The Economist article is a ringing defence of freedom and a refreshing recognition that the defeat of liberal elites at the ballot box is far from being the end of freedom, but rather an opportunity for a welcome debate about how we improve society.

Here are a few extracts from the article.

"FOR a certain kind of liberal, 2016 stands as a rebuke. If you believe, as The Economist does, in open economies and open societies, where the free exchange of goods, capital, people and ideas is encouraged and where universal freedoms are protected from state abuse by the rule of law, then this has been a year of setbacks.

"Not just over Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, but also the tragedy of Syria, abandoned to its suffering, and widespread support—in Hungary, Poland and beyond—for “illiberal democracy”. As globalisation has become a slur, nationalism, and even authoritarianism, have flourished. In Turkey relief at the failure of a coup was overtaken by savage (and popular) reprisals. In the Philippines voters chose a president who not only deployed death squads but bragged about pulling the trigger. All the while Russia, which hacked Western democracy, and China, which just last week set out to taunt America by seizing one of its maritime drones, insist liberalism is merely a cover for Western expansion."

"Rather than ducking the struggle of ideas, liberals should relish it.

"After so long in charge, liberals, of all people, should have seen the backlash coming. As a set of beliefs that emerged at the start of the 19th century to oppose both the despotism of absolute monarchy and the terror of revolution, liberalism warns that uninterrupted power corrupts. Privilege becomes self-perpetuating. Consensus stifles creativity and initiative. In an ever-shifting world, dispute and argument are not just inevitable; they are welcome because they lead to renewal.

"Rather than being concentrated, power should be dispersed, using the rule of law, political parties and competitive markets. Rather than putting citizens at the service of a mighty, protecting state, liberalism sees individuals as uniquely able to choose what is best for themselves. Rather than running the world through warfare and strife, countries should embrace trade and treaties.

"For most people on Earth there has never been a better time to be alive."

"Large parts of the West, however, do not see it that way. For them, progress happens mainly to other people. Wealth does not spread itself, new technologies destroy jobs that never come back, an underclass is beyond help or redemption, and other cultures pose a threat—sometimes a violent one."

"Do not underestimate the scope for people, including even a Trump administration and post-Brexit Britain, to think and innovate their way out of trouble. The task is to harness that restless urge, while defending the tolerance and open-mindedness that are the foundation stones of a decent, liberal world."

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