Monday, October 17, 2005

Muscular liberal: alternative definition

I keep hearing the phrase 'muscular liberal'. Apparently, I'm a borderline case. Perhaps this makes me a slightly flabby liberal?

One example I've been given is a rejection of the cultural relativism that says that we shouldn't be so imperious as to criticise limb-amputation or the stoning of adulterous women - especially after what we've done to the rainforests. Taking the side of Trevor Phillips against A Sivanandan for example*. Well, guilty as charged on that one.

Another argument is related to the war in Iraq. Do liberal democracies have a right or an obligation to impose democracy on dictatorships? Again, with reservations about the application of the policy, guilty on that one as well.

I'm not too enthusiastic about either of these two though. I think that they're both points of debate rather than policy. They often act as avatars supporting more obscure agendas.

I'd prefer another definition. I argued a while ago that, in a liberal democracy, we share a collective responsibility for the actions of our governments. If you fail to oppose a particular initiative, you are as responsible for it as the supporters of that policy. Collective responsibility is, after all, vital to the running of any efficient organisation.

This argument is, in my view, a vital bulwark to any pro-democracy position. We can't just promote democracy on the grounds of its fairness. If we don't believe that its the most effective way of running things .... well, Mussolini DID get the trains running on time, didn't he?

Democracy should result in optimal policies. It should create a motivated population. If we were to have the 'none of the above' option added to our ballot papers, we would have populist policies and a sulky resentful electorate.

So; another definition of 'muscular liberal' for you to chew on. One that says "if you don't vote, don't bitch." And, on the day after an election, one that says "OK. So you lost. Get over it!"

(Why does all of this muscularity make people talk like Americans?)

*I reserve the right to rant in future about Trevor's argument that... "Pim Fortuyn's anti-immigrant movement flourished in the Netherlands because the centre and left refused to acknowledge that their laissez-faire attitude to integration had failed."

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