Liberty versus Multiculturalism — May 21, 2012

Liberty versus Multiculturalism

Well after the success of my last revision piece I’m going to do another. This is indulgence on my behalf, but to be blatantly honest, it beats writing boring past essay answers over and over again, and I got a lot of feedback and comments on Twitter because of my last post. Honestly, I didn’t expect my revision to fall into a Liberty versus. series, but hey ho!

Today, I’ll take a look at liberal principles and the problems of multiculturalism. As ever, any feedback (and it can be good!) is wanted.

Firstly, let me start with a disclaimer – *I think multiculturalism is a good idea* – bare that in mind, it may get a bit liberal ranty.

“Multiculturalism is a body of thought in political philosophy about the proper way to respond to cultural and religious diversity.” The response of many is that we must give people of a cultural or religious minority “group rights” which protect them from the tyranny of the majority. Will Kymlicka is one such proponent of group rights and takes a “liberal egalitarian” approach to the matter. He argues that by the accident of birth, people are born into minority cultural or religious groups, they make no choice and it is luck that places them in society. As a result, because they fall within a minority it is legitimate to grant them special protections and even to support affirmative action.

Yet this is completely ILLIBERAL. It is illiberal to grant minority groups affirmative action or special conditions solely because they are in the minority, in fact it is illiberal to grant them special rights for any reason. For example, to grant women group rights in selection quotas resulting in all women short-lists; or A-Lists for ethnic minorities adopted by the Conservative Party in the UK are illiberal. It denies the majority, who have done nothing wrong (except be born into the majority) the chance to participate, flying in the face of democracy and liberalism. It also denies voters the chance to actively participate, they are presented with an artificial choice. You simply cannot stick the word positive in front of discrimination and think that everything is rosy.

So where do we go from there?

Iris Young argues that universal citizenship cannot be sustained in a plural society. Plurality means that people are going to be different, therefore giving everybody equal rights undermines the rights of some groups.

Universality means:

i)                    Equal participation

ii)                  Leaves behind particularity and denies differences

iii)                 Indifferent treatment, law denies the needs of certain groups

Treating people who are different exactly the same is intolerant. Equality (wrongly) dominates difference. Surely we don’t want to live in an intolerant society whereby we treat people of different cultures exactly the same? Or do we…

We can break society down into the public and the private sphere. The public sphere is where Government operates, it tells you how much tax to pay, how long you have to go to school for etc. The private sphere is where the Government should have no control, for example what you wear, who you marry etc. Would we be a liberal society if we treated everybody the same in the public sphere? I think so. Chandran Kukathas suggests that groups suffer because of the primacy of autonomy under liberalism, but we shouldn’t abandon liberalism. Groups should instead simply remain in the private realm. We should grant the same basic liberties to everybody, no more to some, and no less to others. People should be allowed the freedom of speech, even if you disagree with it. People should be allowed to practice a religion of their choosing, and be allowed to wear religious accessories as they see fit. The ban in France on religious clothing is as illiberal as affirmative action.

We should be happy to celebrate the differences between people, from different opinions we evolve as a society. Multiculturalism is to be encouraged, but we should not be granting special privileges to any group. The Government should act solely in the public sphere and remain outside of the private sphere, and to suggest this is not intolerant as suggested by Iris Young.

Liberty versus Democracy — May 18, 2012

Liberty versus Democracy

Okay guys, a more philosophical post than usual. Definitely more philosophical than my last post about Football! I’m going to use this post as a revision tool for myself more than anything, but as ever I welcome, and want your feedback on my ideas. So here we go…

The title of the post refers to the fact that liberty and democracy are seemingly incompatible.

The two always seemingly go hand in hand, I am a member of the Liberal Democrats, and we in the UK would argue that we live in a Liberal Democracy. So how can the two ideas be so juxtaposed?

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

While democracy has to do with the selection of rulers or policies, liberty refers to the freedom to engage in certain behaviours or to hold and express views without governmental interference. For example, the freedom to travel, to practice one’s religious faith, to look at pornography, and to buy and own property are measures of liberty rather than democracy. Democracy is about the ability to participate and have regular, free and open elections. Democracy in the minds of many almost presupposes liberty. We (wrongly) always assume democratic countries to be liberal countries. We have liberal checks and balances on our democratic institutions, based on the liberal thinking of people like John Locke. It is seemingly impossible to separate the two. But it is crucial that we do.

Government, and therefore democracy exists to limit a person’s liberty. Without Government we would exist in the infamous State of Nature. Whichever understanding of the State of Nature you take, be it Hobbesian, Lockean or Rousseau’s, life eventually sucks. Government is formed to protect the lives of its citizens, be it absolute government (a la Hobbes) or representative (a la Locke). The point is, people have to give up some of their liberty to have protection by the state. Which leads me straight into (brilliant) quote #1

“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither” – Benjamin Franklin.

We see a worrying trend of this happening in the UK and the USA. Be it the Patriot Act across the pond, or Terrorist Laws and snooping here in the UK. Democracy is curtailing liberty. It is the empirical slippery slope argument, will we ever get these rights back? Hell no. The Government will only further creep into our lives and erode our civil liberties in the name of security.

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” – Thomas Jefferson

Here’s an explanation on what we mean, from a great article on the subject by Christina Annsley:

Democracy actively contradicts liberty. If 51% of the population voted to ban alcohol that is dictating to 49% what they can or can’t do with their own body. Likewise if 51% voted for more taxation; the 49% are forced to comply under a democratic system. Democracy is preferable to dictatorship purely because it is less likely that a significant mass of people will vote for insane policies; however, to those not in the majority, it is dictatorship all the same. For those who object to their legal right to do what they will with their own body and property being taken away from them, it won’t matter WHO banned alcohol or raised taxation, be it a majority of the population, a hereditary monarch, or an authoritarian dictator. It is essentially a collectivist system, ignoring the rights of the individual and prioritising the “public good”.

Democracy flies totally in the face of Mill’s Liberty Principle.

“In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence, is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

Government and democracy take a paternalistic role over its citizens. They claim to know what is best for their citizens, be it compulsory education, mandatory bank holidays, plain packaging of cigarettes or minimum pricing on alcohol. Paternalism as Mill understands it involves coercing someone against his will or without his consent, but any constitutional provisions, democratic or otherwise, will set the procedures within which consent operates and so will be to a large extent imposed on the citizenry without their consent. As Kant argued: “Paternalism is the greatest despotism imaginable.” Why? Because paternalism presupposes an Aristotelian good life. It presupposes that the State does in fact know what is best for its citizens. How can this be true? There are no universal rights and wrongs, the idea of right is subjective. Just because I believe X doesn’t mean that another person has to agree that X is also right. Paternalism makes people lazy and docile, they accept what they are told, without ever challenging what they are being told.

This gives me a great chance to use my favourite quote:

“If freedom means anything it must surely include the freedom to engage in activities which others may consider unwise. This includes smoking, overeating, not exercising, driving “off road” cars in cities, even winning goldfish. A Liberal society is one where people should be free to make their own mistakes.” – David Laws

I’m no fan of Ayn Rand, but this sums up the argument superbly:

“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities – and the smallest minority on earth is the individual.”

It is high time that we stand up for liberty, and ensure that no further rights are curtailed in the name of democracy.

Goodbye Tories. Hello Liberal Democrats! — May 4, 2012

Goodbye Tories. Hello Liberal Democrats!

Well, its been coming. Another insignificant Twitter defection. I won’t pretend that me jumping across to the Coalition’s junior Party means anything will change, or that anybody even cares about me doing so. But, I do write here often. Surprisingly, and thankfully a couple of hundred of you give me a read every now and then. So here’s my explanation on why I’ll be joining the Liberal Democrats.

I’ve always classed myself as a Liberal, but thought myself to be too Right-wing for the Liberal Democrats. But this definition of right and left is far too simplistic, and deeply confuses the matter. I’ve always been a huge fan of David Laws (ignoring his expenses fiasco) he is a superb politician and a great thinker. His work in the Orange Book along with Nick Clegg et al. is to be admired. I fully consider myself to be an Orange Booker. I have a liberal approach not only to social issues, but to economics. I am pro-business, pro-wealth and pro-growth and it is these economic believes have kept me in the Conservatives. Recent tax cuts are taking a step towards this. But I want more than that, I want lower taxes – for everybody. I understand, and support the Laffer curve principle for why the Coalition cut the top rate of tax from 50% to 45%, but just because the rich can avoid tax doesn’t mean they should be the only people to benefit from a tax cut in these difficult times. We should be cutting taxes across the board and encouraging people to spend and start up businesses.

Now this has been coming for a while, and it takes a lot of honesty and self-assessment to really admit this…

What is it about the Coalition that I like? Liberal Democrat policies. It was the Liberal Democrats who have taken millions out of income tax all together, not the Conservatives. They at least attempted to push for political reform.They are pushing for House of Lords reform, something I have argued for. I was a keen supporter of Yes2AV, putting me once more against the Conservatives. They introduced the pension reform which re-introduced the triple lock. The pupil premium helps gives kids from disadvantaged backgrounds a real chance in education. The Lib Dems have consistently pushed for more accountable democracy and are truly concerned about every member of society, not just big business, the unions, the rich or the Murdochs.

More concerning for me, what is it about the Coalition I don’t like? They are ALL Conservative politics. Tax breaks for married couples, equating to social engineering.  The NHS reform was a shambles, badly communicated, it will more than likely be badly administered. It offered top down reform, breaking a pre-election pledge. It increased the bureaucracy and pissed off everybody within the NHS.  Authoritarian extensions of Labour’s snooping laws, something they opposed in Opposition. Minimum alcohol pricing is deeply illiberal. Now they are talking about banning porn on the internet and blocking certain websites. North Korea must be thinking they are going to have some buddies in Europe soon. It turns out this Conservative government only pays lip service to liberalism, something I can no longer be a party to.

Things that worry me about both Parties? Further encroachment towards the EU. Yet, the Liberal Democrats support a referendum. I’m not a fan of referendums on the whole (I think those with vested interests can pour too much money into the debate – see AV referendum) but on remaining members of the European Union I feel that it is vital for the people of the UK to have their say. Increased borrowing – I can barely tolerate it, but if we simply cut away at the state in the manner some libertarians and UKIPers wanted, I honestly think there would be anarchy. You cannot simply cut, cut and cut public spending, sadly we are too reliant on it. To pull the rug from underneath the public sector would leave a sorry mess. We should continue to cut at the pace we are doing now, any further and we could be guilty of going “too far, too fast.” The Coalition is held together by a paper-thin promise to cut the deficit, and they are on track to do so by 2016. This has to remain the economic priority.

The Conservatives have taken a battering in the Local Elections, and already they cry for more “conservatism.” This is the tipping point for me, I want less conservatism and more liberalism. And that my friends, is why I will be joining the Liberal Democrats.

I have some friends in the Conservatives who will be reading this and I honestly think they will agree with me on a lot of what I’ve said, it’ll  be interesting if they take the leap with me. I’ll be looking to join up with the people at Liberal Reform and I hope they’ll join me!

Come 2015 I will be campaigning for the Liberal Democrats. Oh, and somebody owes me a meeting with David Laws!

A Liberal Future For The NHS. — February 8, 2012

A Liberal Future For The NHS.

Those crying out for Andrew Lansley to be sacked and the for the NHS bill to be dropped have my full support. But who, and potentially what will come next will really get them worried. If Cameron does bite the bullet and relieves Lansley of his post, there’s only one man for the job, and that man will give the NHS lovers real nightmares.

Of course I am talking about David Laws. Friends and followers will know I’m a big fan of David Laws’ ideology so this will come as no surprise. I think we should drop this piecemeal NHS reform bill and introduce a radical National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) as described by David Laws in the Orange Book.

The NHS is almost untouchable in UK politics, its taboo to even talk about reforming it. And yet, it has many flaws that everybody is well aware off, long waiting times, cancelled appointments, endless tiers of bureaucracy are faults that nobody can deny. Yes the NHS is a bastion of free health-care to all at the point of access, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it even better.

The NHIS would be compulsory for every UK citizen. People would be able take insurance out in the NHS, the private sector, or the not for profit sector, allowing for the first time, real competition in the UK’s health-care market.

Insurers would have to accept any applicant, regardless of risk, and every year patients would be allowed to change providers.

All schemes would have to have the same maximum charge for all mainstream services, but additional charges are allowed for extra services or amenities on request, meaning that anybody still wanting to go private (in the sense we know it now) could do so. The state would pay the annual charge for the mainstream services. These points make sure that health-care remains free at the point of access to all.

NHIS would be paid for by altering the tax system in the UK. Currently we have income and national insurance as personal taxes. These would be altered and then a NHIS tax would be included. Crucially the taxes would remain progressive, further enshrining real fairness into the system.

The job of the Secretary of State for Health would be to make sure that independent regulators were doing their job properly. Their role would be to calculate the maximum levy charged by all insurers, and publish performance results of insurers.

Politicians would no longer have to worry about the political graveyard that is the NHS, it would cease to have any influence over it, ensuring that health-care in the UK was dictated by the patients, not politicians.

The scheme is a great idea, it imparts real competition in the health-care service, whilst enshrining fairness at its core. It is a true liberal vision for the future.

Time to legalise drugs? — January 24, 2012

Time to legalise drugs?

Is it time to legalise drugs? Yes, and I mean all drugs. Not just cannabis or other “soft drugs”, all drugs.

Today Sir Richard Branson told the Home Affairs Select Committee that he believed cannabis should be legalised, regulated and taxed. He described the idea as a “win-win” scenario. The police would spend less time dealing with the issue of cannabis and the government would collect a tax revenue from its sale.

As a Liberal I completely agree with the idea, and I’d extend it to all drugs. What a person chooses to consume is their own choice. David Laws hit the nail on the head in the Orange Book:

If freedom means anything it must surely include the freedom to engage in activities which others may consider unwise. This includes smoking, overeating, not exercising, driving “off road” cars in cities, even winning goldfish. A Liberal society is one where people should be free to make their own mistakes.

As a Liberal I don’t think its anybody’s right to define what is good or bad for somebody to put in their body. The Conservatives and Labour have been too afraid to even discuss such a radical proposal and always will be it seems. It’s time that we stop paying lip-service liberalism and embrace it fully.

It isn’t just personal choice that I feel is important. The quality of drugs would be regulated, meaning that those who opt to use drugs wouldn’t have to worry about bad mixes or cuts. I’m talking about safer drugs. Meaning that there would likely be less deaths.

Another positive side of legalising drugs would be the effect on crime. Now of course there will always be drug related crime, such as theft etc. But legalising drugs would partly eliminate small time drug dealers and smuggling within the UK. There would be less profit in it and therefore less incentives.

Just because you legalise something doesn’t mean that everybody will suddenly start doing it either. Portugal are pioneers in drug legalisation in Europe and there has been no staggering increase in the percentage of people using drugs. And for teenagers the number has in fact fallen.

So, active liberalism, a reduction in crime, an increase in active policing, safer drugs and an extra economic benefit for the Government. What exactly are we waiting for?