Saturday, February 05, 2011

What's wrong with a little muscular liberalism?

Liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they don't want to hear.

Freedom is in peril

Let's forget, for a moment, the issue of Islamic extremism. If we can. There's a nuanced spectrum of people who mix anti-Westernism and/or self-loathing with standing against origin-based hate and people who support the liberal principles of Western democracy who rub shoulders with haters. There's a lot of ugliness in the Venn diagram of principled stands.

But I welcome Prime Minister David Cameron's speech on standing up for liberal values - at the very least here, at home where we live - and abroad, when we can.

I applaud his hierarchy of principles, though I might shuffle the cards a little, and his means test of liberalism.

Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.

I recognise that many people I know don't believe in liberal democracy. But I do. Strongly. That liberalism starts first and foremost with freedom of speech. That's not speech without consequences or rebuttal, but it is speech without fear of losing one's liberty or property.

My freedom of speech does not end at the thin margin of your tender feelings. Nor yours, mine. So I support the right of people to say what, in my view, is pretty reprehensible on all kinds of matters. But freedom of speech is simply freedom, it's not a claim right of support from public funds or for ministerial support by sharing a platform.

And if we draw the line anywhere, in terms of supporting groups that are supposed to be good, we ought to draw at those who want to speak out against speaking out. Those who don't support rule of democratically determined liberal law. If that means not supporting with money or standing alongside those who don't support liberal democracy, then good.

If we want to have a tolerant society, if we want to have a society where different cultures can rub along then there are principles of liberalism which must be applied across the board. This means no platform and no public pounds to organisations whose views are the antithesis of liberal democracy - even if some believe there may be some expendiency in doing so.

I think it's unfortunate that many are focusing on just the wrong things in this speech. Implying Cameron is a racist, etc. I wish if they would attack him - they would do so honestly by attacking the principles on which he's standing - free speech, tolerance without acquiescence and making a stand against tolerating hateful things like misogyny and the most basic denial of rights to homosexuals and systems of law which enshrine inequality.

1 comment:

Minnie said...

Yes, glad Cameron came out fighting (-ish ... for him, anyway!) on this one. Makes a nice change from the mealy-mouthed second-rate sophistry of Bliar. Our freedoms are hard-won, and - however paradoxical it may sound - may often only be preserved by recognising that tolerance has its limits.
There's a passage in Popper's 'The Open Society & its Enemies: The Spell of Plato' which puts it better than I did/could: 'if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.'