Friday, 4 November 2011

The Old Lib

In 1935, George Dangerfield published a book entitled ‘The Strange Death of Liberal England’ explaining the decline of the British Liberal Party before and after the First World War. 

Whilst it is true that today, 75 years on the Liberal Democrats have staged a sort of comeback, the minority partner in a government lead (by all accounts) a liberal Conservative, the electoral success and the root of these problems are all well detailed in his book. The rise of unions, though now diminished have created a powerful voting block from whence Labour can draw from and in truth, the Liberal party of the early 20th century were nowhere close to evolving beyond a certain type of liberalism- an effete, rather paternalistic brand that could never capture the imaginations of the people when confronted with the firebrand tradesmen and their upstart Labour party or the backlash of the morally outraged Conservatives. Again, in many ways not much has changed. 

As a philosophy, Liberalism has never died. It waxes and wanes of course and is subject to only one absolute rule. It is always favoured in opposition more than government.

'Paddy Pantsdown' The Sun. Also a damn nice fella.

I’m going to hitch my flag to the mask. I am a liberal. That’s with a small ‘l’. I am an individualist and a crackpot and frankly I think it’d be a lot better if more people thought the way I did because then the bastards wouldn’t get away with so much. 

Anybody who has taken the most basic politics class knows this. There are two types of liberalism: social liberalism and economic liberalism. The former is often associated with left-leaning economics, compassionate statism, welfarism, social democracy or as some would have it- 'soft socialism'. The other side is economic liberalism. Taking their cues from absolute individualists, from Adam Smith and Gladstone to their logical conclusion in Hayek and Friedman these were the inspiration for Thatcher, David Lawes and an awful lot of post-Berlin Wall eastern Europe. 

I heard this woman once ate a child's skin. The child was cute and had big eyes.
No smoke without fire. 

Sounds confusing does it not? Almost as if these two sides were diametrically opposed? Seems like it makes a little more sense now that, given that both these groups existed within the modern Liberal Democrat party, they’ve been able to say pretty much whatever they liked pre-election and not have to worry about putting it into practice afterwards. 

Though I should not tarnish my yellow friends too much. Boris Johnson has referred to the Liberal Democrats as having a form of schizophrenia. Imagine what he must have felt when his boss David Cameron pronounced himself a liberal Conservative? 

Cameron can do this by the way . He can say ‘liberal’ because to a lot of the public that is synonymous with other lovely words like: nice, but in his mind I reckon he thinks he can absolutely justify it. I think he rather means those other liberals, Gladstone and Hayek who inspired his predecessor Margaret Thatcher to change this nation forever. Oh by the way, Maggie ain’t no Liberal. And neither is Dave. 

Perhaps I should not have diverged. My point is this, whilst liberalism as a philosophy is held by people who on the surface vary across the political spectrum, it is still a deeply founded vision and a coherent one to boot. 

To its core, liberalism is about individual rights. To an extent, both major political parties in the UK support individualism, to sometimes a greater extent they do not. Despite the Liberal Democrats hold on power, their dalliance with the Conservatives means that even under their eyes, illiberal legislation is passed. 

The ultimate difference between social liberalism and economic liberalism is this. To what extent does the coercive nature of government and the practices of unscrupulous business hinder the development and ultimately the freedom of the individual to live as they wish, to have a life of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Will Smith always seems like a happy guy. So happy he doesn't know how to spell happiness.
That's real happinuss. Har har har. I'll stop now.

Take for example Scandinavian social democracy and compare it to the constitution of the USA. I’m not going to go in to what is or is not corrupt about the USA, you have Michael Moore for that, or if you’re a little more sensible, your own research. But suffice to say we are all familiar with the limits of the scope of individualism in the USA economically. We also know though, that unlike here were community order offences are used as an excuse to block the demonstrations of poppy burners, far-right rallies and even basic protest by harmless old beardies, in the states anybody can pretty much say whatever the hell they like. It is often difficult for Europeans to get the 2nd amendment too, the right to bear arms, but for Americans it grows from the very soul of their being: the right of someone to defend themselves, raise their own family and live as they so choose. Of course it is more complicated than that. The USA was built on the back of thousands of slaves, her are elections hampered by special interest groups and her tolerance of alternative lifestyles is often tested. 

Sweden on the other hand runs a little differently. Unlike the USA, taxation rates are purposefully high to spend on a vast welfare state and the government owns an awful lot of infrastructure. Denmark even more so. Yet as happy and collectivist as lots of Anglo thinkers like to believe them to be (it is often hard for them to imagine differently in a world where politics is formed through the endless struggle of industry and class division), the Scandinavian nations are as nakedly ambitious, individualist and free trading as their transatlantic cousins. They keep their state manageably in check through a brutally open system of government where members of parliament are kept as open as it is possible for them to be and through their investment in the sciences and education, monoliths like Nokia and Ericsson have formed. Again, this is not the whole story. Nationalism is rife in Scandinavia, the state is often sluggish in its response and has tied its hands in investments it cannot wholly afford, though it should be noted nowhere near the level of most of the rest of Europe. 

Google Images says this is what Swedish people look like. 
Don't believe that brunette bird's from anywhere near Scandinavia though.

I’m going to be a dreadful fence sitter here and not come down on the side of either. Denmark rarely has to keep up on the big ticket items like a national defence, and it really is not worth expounding on problems with the USA. 

All people from Denmark look similar to this. 

Both of these nations are on my side in their own ways and since I’ve been such a fantastic fence sitter beforehand, I’m going to tell you straight up if you’re on my side. 

If you do not believe in freedom of expression, then you are not on my side. I’m not saying that you should feel free to be a dick... oh wait actually, I absolutely am. Feel free to say literally anything that comes into your head. A good amount, in fact most is complete nonsense but as I think I’ve made clear in my previous posts, that’s something to be celebrated or derided or both. 

Two. The moment you start dealing with people you’re going to make a few judgements based on them. That’s fine, but tell me what’s wrong with this next sentence. ‘Speaking as someone with an unconventional background I can see that your assumptions are bullshit.’ 

See what I did there? I basically just assumed that all people with ‘unconventional backgrounds’ whatever the hell that means think the same way as me. We’re all going to succumb to groupthink at some point, but if you decide that “as a man who is also a builder and a Russian I have the following opinion...”, you’re not on my big groupthinky side. Please, at least back that shit up with something else. 

Of course liberalism doesn’t deal with that intense joy that you find in being part of something together. One good experiment to test this is to sit underneath a television in a packed testosterone fueled sports bar and watch the strained faces of a hundred men collectively ejaculating over a particularly good goal.

What liberalism is good for, is in examining those eccentricities of character- those joyful little things that makes everyone just that little bit different to the next. It can create a mindset of incredible empathy because, if you don’t just relegate someone else to some group and assume that because of this they will behave a certain way, you might start assigning more complex human processes to them and who knows where that might lead...

This is just a little overview into the way I think of course. If you want to really run a state then obviously the choice I threw up earlier between libertarianism or social democracy is a big one, and one that I’ll go into at a later date in a post called something like ‘My Uninformed Views About How People’s Lives Can Be Made Less Shitty. Specifically Mine. Give Me Some Free Stuff.’

But for now, I'll say goodbye.