Thursday, February 12, 2009

Conor Gearty getting things into perspective again

Don't know how I missed this at the time, but I did:

"...early democrats knew the value of government and well appreciated how the most resistant to regulation were those whose wealth and privilege were likely to be reined in by proper democratic government. To camouflage their self-interest in morality, these forces of conservatism described themselves as libertarian, in other words as committed to freedom and on that account opposed to governmental intrusion into their lives."

... and

"If we fetishise individual freedom at the expense of our wider struggle for transformative change, we play into the hands of the right who use libertarianism as a shield with which to resist change."

Bizarely for CIF, there's something worth reading in the comments as well (though as far as I can see, it's the usual idiot-swamp for the most part):

"Where liberty has turned into tyranny, it is seldom because of slippery slopes as imagined by liberals. It is usually because the free society has failed in its basic job of protecting its citizens."

I'd agree with that completely. The biggest threat to individual liberties is not the particular instances of illiberality by governments, as much as the populist mode of democracy that we are drifting into. A question I've been trying to provoke people to talk about for some years now without much success.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The problem with right-wing libertarianism is that it pretends that there is no such thing as society. It pretends that we can all act as individuals and the sum of all these actions and decisions will be the best possible outcome. It suggests that as soon as we try to act together we are on the slippery slope to Stalinism.

I think that we are already in a very worrying populist democracy, in which the main political actors do their best to avoid confronting the reacl choices that we need to take collectively.

Guano

Paulie said...

"I think that we are already in a very worrying populist democracy, in which the main political actors do their best to avoid confronting the real choices that we need to take collectively."

Completely agree Guano. It's not an issue that I ever see being addressed constructively by liberarians of the left either.

Shuggy said...

Completely agree Guano. It's not an issue that I ever see being addressed constructively by liberarians of the left either.

Agree with what? It's all a bit vague frankly, which is maybe why you haven't had much success, by your own admission, in your attempts to provoke people into talking about, um, whatever it is.

Paulie said...

OK. How can I do this and avoid a 10,000 word essay?

The populist mode of democracy (referendums, directly elected officials, polling-led politics, politicians who regard themselves as being subject to mandate & recall, etc) leads to increased political centralisation and poor policy-making. It does so by diminishing the power of deliberative assemblies in favour of more reflexive, hurried and unresponsive policymaking, responding only to orchestrated agendas and putting bureaucratic priorities ahead of the ones that less hectored politicians would arrive at.

2. This (as Gearty argues) results in less effective regulation (benefitting the already-wealthy) and a failure by politicians to stand up to bureaucratic agendas - failing to really protect citizens in favour of putting up intrusive totemic and illiberal 'defences' instead.

So: My argument. Stop moaning about individual instances of illiberality and argue instead for a less populist mode of democracy. That means....

1. campaigning against poor legislative processes rather than focussing on the alleged venality of politicians

2. Recognising that politicians have powerful rivals (civil servants, business lobbies, other lobbies, media interests, individuals who don't benefit from public-interest regulation, etc) and that politicians need our support in dealing with them

3. Addressing the *causes* of centralisation, and doing something to reverse their effect.

It's not a perfect answer, but it's all I can manage at the moment.