Just been reading Femme de Resistance’s post, and the reaction it has attracted,
in particular the comment:
It is all about priorities. If you support both economic and personal liberalism, think that free markets are best for the whole society, but also think, that the state shouldn’t have a say to what consenting adults may do in the bedroom,then you have to choose which is the most important to you.
To me, this sticks out as somewhat incongruous, as do LibertyCat’s assertions that
Liberals are not socialists
Socialists reject economic liberalism. They believe that economic competition inevitably leads to the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. Socialist ideas of equality tend to deal with equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity, and with equality between groups rather than between individuals. Most socialists reject political liberalism, believing that a strong centralised state is needed to counteract the economic power of the capitalist class.
To read this, I would probably get the impression that I was a socialist if I didn’t (think I) know better.
I agree that socialists tend to focus on equality of outcome instead of equality of opportunity. I think they’re wrong in that. But I don’t think that they’re wrong about unfettered economic competition bringing with it the likelihood of simply creating self-reinforcing inequalities, of opportunity as much as of outcome.
I also agree that the centralised state is the wrong tool to solve such problems, in the shape of the traditional Labour vision of government. But I do see a role for strong regulation and limits on competition, in order to ensure a level playing field. Ultimately, it comes down to the same point that MPH and Oxfam and all that lot make about free trade: It’s not the same thing as fair trade.
When you’re formulating an ideology, it’s important to know who you want to benefit from your actions. I want people to have the opportunity to live better lives, the lives they want to, with as little interference from outside as possible. Note the word outside there. I didn’t say government. The way I see it, with the world going in the direction it’s going, we’re simply going to replace the 20th century’s spectre of limits on freedoms (the state/socialism) with the 21st’s (corporate force of will expressed through financial power).
To me as a Lib Dem, the word Democrat is at least as important to my reasons for joining the party as the word Liberal. If we’re in this to protect people’s freedoms and uphold democratic principles of representation, as locally as possible, then that takes in opposition to corporate power just as much as it does state power. People with more money being able to have more say than people who don’t, and the oft-made argument that people are in some way excercising a “democratic right” by not buying the goods of a company they dislike, say, overlook the fact that this is a vision of democracy with the idea that people’s sway in a vote goes in direct proportion to their wealth.
To subscribe to unreconstructed economic liberalism is in my view a very unhealthy move, and it perturbs me to see quite so many people seemingly making this argument that Lib Dems are people who believe in liberalism both personally and economically, but see the personal bit as more important. In my case, it is precisely because I believe in personal liberties that I oppose economic liberalism in its uglier forms.
If that makes me more of a New Socialist in some sense, and not a Liberal, then that’s fair enough. But what I am also is a Liberal Democrat, and I suspect I’m not the only one who thinks along these lines.
So am I in the wrong party? I certainly don’t see myself as a Tory, since I am opposed to both personal illiberalism and economic liberalism (in its purest form – I of course recognise the invisible hand of the free market as a powerful organisational tool). The Tories are pretty much the opposite of all I believe, in their traditional form. Now? Cameron, if he actually believed what he projects, would probably be closer to my views than some of the people I see calling themselves Liberals in our party.
And I’m not really a socialist, since I still don’t believe that the way around my reservations with the free market is to take it all into the hands of the state. What is needed is simply a greater willingness of the state to set a few ground rules and enforce them in the private sector, not more public sector (But there is of course still a big role for the state in health, education and social security that simply has to be funded if not run from as high a level as possible (to protect it from the vagaries of the economy as much as possible)). Labour ideas are closer to my own, I suppose, in terms of the outcomes they want, but not in how they think we can achieve them.
Many see the Lib Dems as the expression of some sort of messy compromise of SDP and Liberal ideals. To me, what the Lib Dems represent is a surprisingly consistent manifestation of the views set out above: that ultimately this is all about people and their lives. There is no conflict between Liberalism, as I see it, and opposition to economic liberalism.