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Thu, 2 Dec 2010

Why I Am A Liberal

Please note that unless I say otherwise I am only talking about British politics here, and where it matters, about English politics, not those of the wee pretendy parliament, and certainly not about the politics of the rebel colonies. I will also paint with a rather broad brush apart from when talking about my own personal views.

I've got into lots of political arguments recently, and I thought it would help if I were to write some long-form explanations of why I hold the positions that I do.

So, first, I'm a Liberal. This is merely a description of someone who wishes to maximise everyone's individual liberty and minimise government intervention in private life. I recognise that government is necessary: without it, we'd very briefly live in happy anarchy until someone (or rather, a few someones) became just a little bit stronger than their fellows, and abused that to achieve a position of dominance. Without government, we'd have tyranny and the vast majority would have their liberty severely curtailed. However, too much government also leads to tyranny, as it attracts the sort of people who like telling others what to do - and they just love being able to pull peoples' financial strings to turn them into their enforcers.

It's hard being a Liberal. Everyone else has easy answers. The Socialists (and I used to be one) want to give everyone the same opportunities (which is certainly a laudable aim) but the way they want to do it, by regulating and restricting and with high taxes, generally only helps the worst off a little bit, harms the vast majority a little bit or at least doesn't help them, and a very few benefit greatly from it. Their hearts are in the right place, even when it comes to most civil liberties, but what they actually do doesn't work, and the very regulations and restrictions that they try to help with end up restricting liberty, and that's before they get desperate about how everything they've done hasn't abolished poverty like Labour claimed they would do.

Conservatives want to give everyone the same economic opportunities by reducing regulation willy-nilly, by actively assisting large corporations (but only large corporations belonging to their petty tribe, of course, foreign corporations are BAD unless they can pay bribes, sorry, I mean donations to party finances), and hope that this will produce an economic boom that even the poorest will benefit from but which their rich chums will benefit the most from. Unfortunately, their un-nuanced approach, blindly slashing away "red tape" means that those who are worst off can be harmed in the short to medium term, even if in the very long term they might be better off. Thankfully, at least in the UK, they don't want to do away with all social safety nets, but in some other countries they try to get rid of all of them, even health care. The Conservatives also have a nasty authoritarian streak which is most visible in their treatment of foreigners but is also detectable in their treatment of just about any other small minority and (at least historically, but now to a very much smaller degree) of women.

Finally, there's the fringe movements. There's Libertarians, who want to abolish government entirely but don't believe that it would degenerate into tyranny. None of them have bothered to watch any news reports about what happens when there's no government. What happens is called "Somalia". Another sect of Libertarians, who call themselves Minarchists, want to abolish government entirely apart from its role in enforcing contracts. But to enforce contracts you need courts and some form of police, and some form of punishment for those in the wrong (because without that there's no point having the court and police in the first place) and all of those need funding. Either they get funded by user fees (which in practice means that the poor are frozen out of justice) or by taxes. So really they're just a radical form of Conservative, although of all these groups they're the closest to being Liberal. And then there's the Fascists. All of these groups merge into others at the edges, of course, including Liberals.

Anyway, let's ignore the fringe weirdos.

Socialists and Conservatives both have easy answers when asked "how will you fix this social ill?" - "regulate more" and "regulate less and be protectionist". Liberalism, on the other hand, is "the presumption in favour of the autonomy of natural persons in any given situation ... unless there is a [demonstrable] greater public interest in interfering with that autonomy" [source]. So while I agree with the Conservatives that we should regulate less, I am rather more discriminating than they are about which regulations are bad, and I also agree with the Socialists than some regulations are a good thing and that in some areas we could perhaps do with a few more.

As for why I am a Liberal - it's all about maximising my own individual liberty but tempered by the fact that I'm a nice guy. I could maximise my individual liberty by being an evil Fascist bastard (Mussolini had lots of liberty!) but I couldn't live with myself if I did that, and anyway, I doubt I'd be very good at it so if I were a Fascist I'd more likely end up helping someone else get to the top of the heap who would then oppress me - but even more likely, I'd fail and just be a bitter loser like every member of the BNP is. In fact, you can maximise your own liberty by becoming top dog in any of these political systems, provided that you can get to power and hold it. To maximise my own liberty (while not being a fascist bastard) I need to be surrounded by other liberated people: it's easy for the powerful to crush the liberties of a small number of people, but much harder to do that to everyone. I am being utterly selfish when I want you to have individual autonomy!

I shall write some more of these longer blog posts in the future. Topic I've got lined up, but which I want to spend some time thinking about so I can squeeze the concepts into words, include:

  • Health
  • Education
  • The position of companies
  • Taxation

So, everything really :-)

Posted at 20:17 by David Cantrell
keywords: politics
Permalink | 1 Comment

Given that you've gone over all political, and have hinted that you'll write about everything, what are your views on the Alternative Vote and the up-coming referendum?

Posted by Ruth on Mon, 24 Jan 2011 at 15:22:26


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