Illiberalism

So two things, both related to a central issue that trouble me, greatly, caught my eye:

  • First, an article in Foreign Affairs, by Francis Fukuyama in which he begins by reviewing a few of the problems that beset the world today and then says that “All these developments relate in some way to the economic and technological shifts of globalization. But they are also rooted in a different phenomenon: the rise of identity politics. For the most part, twentieth-century politics was defined by economic issues. On the left, politics centered on workers, trade unions, social welfare programs, and redistributive policies. The right, by contrast, was primarily interested in reducing the size of government and promoting the private sector. Politics today, however, is defined less by economic or ideological concerns than by questions of identity. Now, in many democracies, the left focuses less on creating broad economic equality and more on promoting the interests of a wide variety of marginalized groups, such as ethnic minorities, immigrants and refugees, women, and LGBT people. The right, meanwhile, has redefined its core mission as the patriotic protection of traditional national identity, which is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity, or religion;” and
  • Second, an article in The Economist, by Claire Fox of the Academy of Ideas, in which she says that “I still consider myself a liberal in the Enlightenment sense of the word. But I have to admit that being a liberal these days is confusing. I continue to take inspiration from John Locke, John Stuart Mill and those more recent freedom fighters of the 1960s who challenged conformism and repression. In Britain this led to partial decriminalisation of both homosexuality and abortion in 1967, and a more open, tolerant, permissive society. These are the liberal values which I recognise and admire … [but] … In contrast, today’s so-called progressive liberals are often intolerant, calling for official censure against anyone perceived as uttering non-progressive views. They openly despise everyone from Trump-voting “Deplorables” and Brexit-voting ”Gammons” (those “others” who dare to vote the wrong way and won’t espouse their “tolerant” values) to those in their own ranks who refuse to toe the liberal line. Many will have noticed the murky civil war among feminists on the transgender issue, or the venom heaped on anyone daring to demur on 100% endorsement of the #MeToo movement. Prominent women, many of whom would call themselves liberal feminists, have been turned on and accused of treason for daring to dissent.”

I think that the two ~ “The dangers of illiberal liberalism,” as Claire Fox describes it and “The New Tribalism and the [consequential] Crisis of Democracy,” as Dr. Fukuyama has it ~ are tightly intertwined and I share the view of both authors that “modern liberal democracies [are] facing an important challenge. Globalization has brought rapid economic and social change and made these societies far more diverse, creating demands for recognition on the part of groups that were once invisible to mainstream society. These demands have led to a backlash among other groups, which are feeling a loss of status and a sense of displacement. Democratic societies are fracturing into segments based on ever-narrower identities, threatening the possibility of deliberation and collective action by society as a whole. This is a road that leads only to state breakdown and, ultimately, failure. Unless such liberal democracies can work their way back to more universal understandings of human dignity, they will doom themselves—and the world—to continuing conflict … [and] … if an alternative view … is castigated as prettifying explicit racist abuse, what hope is there of an inclusive liberal political culture? This between-the-lines reading of political opinions that liberals denounce as a hateful intolerance lacks generosity or empathy. It tells us far more about the smug, closed-minded certainty of illiberal liberals than those they look down on. In fact, liberals will only become liberal again once they abandon this type of sneering and smearing and recognise that free speech—even for those we despise—is the core liberal project. Without it, the much feared (often exaggerated) rise of the far-right won’t be the biggest threat to our freedoms. Instead, illiberalism, in the name of liberalism, will be the PC midwife of authoritarianism.

This is, I think, one of the points Maxime Bernier was making when he said“The same thing happened in reaction to my tweets on diversity and multiculturalism. This is another crucial debate for the future of our country. Do we want to emphasize our ethnic and religious differences, and exploit them to buy votes, as the Liberals are doing? Or emphasize what unites us and the values that can guarantee social cohesion? … [and] … “Just like in other Western societies grappling with this issue, a large number of Canadians, and certainly the vast majority of Conservatives, are worried that we are heading in the wrong direction. But it’s not politically correct to raise such questions.”” To even raise some issues is to be branded, especially by the progressive movement, as a fascist or a racist or both.

I have always been a liberal, I think. In the 1950s and ’60s that also meant, by and large, being a Liberal ~ supporting the policies and the party of e.g. Louis St Laurent and Lester B Pearson. In the mid to late 1960s I transferred my allegiance to the Progressive Conservative Party … no, that’s wrong: in the mid to late 1960s the Liberal Party of Canada abandoned liberalism and opted for a very targeted progressive model: targeted in such a way that everyone except WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) males was to be entitled to special consideration. Pretty soon it wasn’t just people who were being singled out, it was ideas, too … we were even castigated for believing that “dead white men” …

 … might have anything useful to teach us.

Now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is taking identity politics and the progressive narrative to new depths … I think we may have already seen the shape of the Liberals’ 2019 campaign (with thanks to Steve Nease):

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Prime Minister Trudeau has displayed open contempt for any view that differs from his own …

… some will call that principled leadership, others will call it bullying. It is, I believe, a bit of both: I’m sure that Prime Minister Trudeau does believe that “devaluing” the citizenship of any one Canadians devalues it for all of us and I am equally sure that he is resolutely pro-choice in his heart and mind … but many, many thoughtful and principled Canadians, including some Liberals, disagree, or they would if they could, but Team Trudeau will tolerate no dissent. It is, also, both illiberal and an example of modern identity politics, both of which, I think, pose a danger to liberal democracy in Canada.

Now, Maxime Bernier accused Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party of playing identity politics by trying “”to avoid important but controversial issues of concern to Conservatives and Canadians in general. It is afraid to articulate any coherent philosophy to support its positions … [so that] … Every public declaration is tested with polls and focus groups. The result is a bunch of platitudes that don’t offend anybody, but also don’t mean anything and don’t motivate anyone.”” And it’s a fair charge … anyone who believes, as M. Bernier does and as I do, that free markets work best will stand against e.g. supply management and the plethora of regional economic expansion agencies that were created by Pierre Trudeau and Jean Marchand and that still exist today, and which Andrew Scheer seems intent on perpetuating. There are, no doubt, sound, practical, political reasons for taking the positions that Andrew Screer has staked out for the Conservative Party … good, sound, practical, but NOT principled, political reasons. But M. Berniwer is also playing ‘identity politics,’ he is trying to carve the libertarian and nativist blocs, and I believe that both exist, out of the Conservative’s big tent.

I think modern liberalism, rooted in ideas from 19th century England that, in turn, have their roots in all those now suspect thoughts of “dead white men,” and of some men and women of other cultures and traditions, too …

… is in danger. I agree that Donald Trump didn’t create the ongoing populist wave, which Maxime Bernier, Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau all want to ride to political success, he (like the Brexit and, and, and …) is just a product or symptom of it. We are, I fear, drifting into an illiberal era which will benefit the likes of e.g. Vladimir Putin, Mohammad bin Salman and Xi Jinping, but which will cause some discomfort to those who wish that principles and values might matter. I puzzles me that people who describe themselves as progressives seem hell bent on helping the most vile sorts of tyrants.

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