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Are you a true liberal?


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I can't remember the last time I posted anything here, but thought I'd share this as it was one of the most intriguing things I'd read in a very long time.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-kingdom/1933-01-01/prospect-british-liberalism

The link kind of gives it away, but if you can read it without seeing the original publication date, then I think you can see why it left such an impression on me. It could have been written yesterday. It is also the first time I think I have read something I can genuinely get behind, that resonated with me so strongly. I never felt I could get behind any political figure, as they just didn't want what I wanted. Worse, I'm not sure I could have articulated what I wanted properly if I tried. This essay is that piece I could never hope to write. If this is what a truly liberal leader can bring to the country, then they will have my unwavering support. I can but dream...

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3 hours ago, Habeas Domus said:

Strange that an article from 1933 is still behind a paywall, the entire book on which I think it is based is available on Archive.org

https://archive.org/stream/strangadeathofli035408mbp/strangadeathofli035408mbp_djvu.txt

 

You're right!? Maybe it was a glitch or something but I managed to see the whole thing yesterday... Signing up does let you see one article a month free though so I recommend it, but I suspect most won't bother! Thanks for the heads up!

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On ‎21‎/‎01‎/‎2018 at 12:04 AM, Hmmmm said:

I can't remember the last time I posted anything here, but thought I'd share this as it was one of the most intriguing things I'd read in a very long time.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-kingdom/1933-01-01/prospect-british-liberalism

The link kind of gives it away, but if you can read it without seeing the original publication date, then I think you can see why it left such an impression on me. It could have been written yesterday. It is also the first time I think I have read something I can genuinely get behind, that resonated with me so strongly. I never felt I could get behind any political figure, as they just didn't want what I wanted. Worse, I'm not sure I could have articulated what I wanted properly if I tried. This essay is that piece I could never hope to write. If this is what a truly liberal leader can bring to the country, then they will have my unwavering support. I can but dream...

I've read it. You are right it is very relevant today, and I think this is basically my politics too. But what specifically caught your imagination? 

I hope people could get behind a politics that believed that 'self-reliant individual energy is the source of all progress; and its aim is to create the positive conditions which will enable every man and woman to make the most and best of their own powers' ...'incompatible with a policy dictated by deference to vested interest, to wealth, and to established privilege.' Some contemporary politicians pay lip service to the first bit, but they don't want to deal with the second bit. The question is how to?

I think what's happened in recent decades is that the political ideology of the smaller state, and individual economic agency, have been bundled up with more socially conservative and restrictive attitudes of the right. Whereas more liberal attitudes to how individuals should be able to live (now termed 'progressive') have been tied to a politics on the left that favours a larger state  and higher tax/borrowing. So a Liberal in the 19th Century English mould has nowhere to go. But it might be possible to get these ideas circulating more widely.

It struck me that his fears about democracy could be written about today's democratic systems. It's interesting he already had those doubts considering democracy in its current form was so young then. But, he seems to take the free expression of ideas (if not the sensible use of it within the party system) for granted - I'm not so sure that we can.

Thanks for posting it.

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1 hour ago, Still Dews said:

I've read it. You are right it is very relevant today, and I think this is basically my politics too. But what specifically caught your imagination? 

I hope people could get behind a politics that believed that 'self-reliant individual energy is the source of all progress; and its aim is to create the positive conditions which will enable every man and woman to make the most and best of their own powers' ...'incompatible with a policy dictated by deference to vested interest, to wealth, and to established privilege.' Some contemporary politicians pay lip service to the first bit, but they don't want to deal with the second bit. The question is how to?

I think what's happened in recent decades is that the political ideology of the smaller state, and individual economic agency, have been bundled up with more socially conservative and restrictive attitudes of the right. Whereas more liberal attitudes to how individuals should be able to live (now termed 'progressive') have been tied to a politics on the left that favours a larger state  and higher tax/borrowing. So a Liberal in the 19th Century English mould has nowhere to go. But it might be possible to get these ideas circulating more widely.

It struck me that his fears about democracy could be written about today's democratic systems. It's interesting he already had those doubts considering democracy in its current form was so young then. But, he seems to take the free expression of ideas (if not the sensible use of it within the party system) for granted - I'm not so sure that we can.

Thanks for posting it.

Thanks for reading it and posting back your thoughts! For me, I liked the articulate way he managed to address the big question when it comes to governance. ie How do you balance the needs of the individual, with the needs of the group. I felt for a long time that cooperation and sacrifice of the individual, for the betterment of the group, was the way to go (so quite socialist/communist almost), but having read up on socialism and worked in large companies, I've come to the conclusion it is far too easily corrupted and it always seems to lead to things NOT being as good as they could be, but more like as bad as they can get away with.

I feel that basically, things had to be more bottom up if they are really going to work for the individual, and all the main political movements whether left or right now, seem to advocate more government, more centralisation and ultimately more regulation of absolutely everything into the hands of fewer and fewer people.  This I think is just human nature though, if people have power, they usually want more and this is the beauty of things being small, and more importantly, being kept small. If things eventually get corrupted, the amount of damage they can do is somewhat limited and you don't need to go too far hopefully to get away from it. It also makes any transitions much less likely to lead to revolution and heads rolling, because let's be honest, no-one really wins if fighting breaks out (no matter how easy it might seem to wipe the slate clean).

At the moment, I feel no matter where I go, the evil hand of the globalists will still be coming for me, in one way or another. The author seems to think that countries and individuals are a good place to draw some lines and seems to have some decent practical tips for how the relationship between individuals and their communities, as well as countries and the world, would look in his ideal society and for me it seems to work.

I think the biggest issue with what he writes, is elegantly captured in his own words (actually in the bits you quoted), which essentially equate to a much reduced ability for those with wealth or power or whatever it might be, to increase their power and reach. No wonder it's gained no traction! The other big issue, which isn't covered is that most people don't want a meritocracy, which this basically is. They want to skive off the system and when it comes to the crunch, many will choose the free lunch of socialism. Regardless of where it will likely take them eventually.

The other is the timing. We all know what happened soon after this article was written. The similarities for me are striking and I feel we are being manipulated towards war again, by the same combination of factors that prevailed then. Namely that the economic situation has become untenable in many ways, the long established institutions are all rotten to the core and that the populace were getting wise to this and had had enough, and unless they were given a pretty large distraction that would help those in power do a reset of sorts, then their hold on power would soon be gone.

As ever, the people are too stupid to realise that their masters are the true enemy and will happily go along with whatever propagandised narrative that's thrown at them. The problem with backing the establishment into a corner, is that they will usually overreact and whether or not we are genuinely being led into war as a deliberate act, many of those in power seem not to even be hiding the fact they want war any more. This also has nothing to do with Trump, it's been something that I feel has been planned for a long time, although I'm only seeing an urgency to put it into action recently. The whole fake news thing also couldn't have come at a more opportune time for those in power. Accountability was turning into a massive joke anyway, and those who had their eyes open would long have realised that on the topics that really matter, the MSM was not to be trusted. On lesser matters, they would happily do their jobs and gain that much needed credibility, but when it came to war, or subversion of democracy, or anything where a lot of money was involved, they were happy to wave those through unquestioned, even ferociously attacking any dissent. Advocates of free speech my ar*e!

Anyway, here at last was an ideology I felt I could sand behind. I have to admit, (like you?) I can't see how we could move anything like this forward, but for what it's worth, I forwarded this essay to my local councillor (Lib Dem) and noted that there are a lot of people who would go along with this, if there was someone who dared to hold up this particular banner.

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I would be interested to know what your lib/dem councillor says. He or she ought to be familiar with the arguments if they know anything about the history of their own party. One way to get ideas out there these days is to blog (!). Though I don't know how to go about doing that.

These ideas have had some traction though - the  self-reliant individual as the main source for prosperity and progress runs through Thatcher/Reagan and right wing thought. But they don't seem to recognise that we don't have the positive conditions for everyone to make the best of themselves. Individual initiative works best for people who have established privilege, and whose interests are in accordance with those of vested interests. Without tackling that aspect, the resulting political philosophy is harsh and inhumane. I think that might have done some damage to the Liberal ideology. Nowadays if you talk about the primacy of the individual you sound like a raving Thatcherite. People look at political ideas through the lens of left and right.

This is an important point:

Quote

all the main political movements whether left or right now, seem to advocate more government, more centralisation and ultimately more regulation of absolutely everything into the hands of fewer and fewer people.  This I think is just human nature though, if people have power, they usually want more

I think it's this as well: it is difficult to persuade voters that the state should give up responsibilities it has been given. It's a problem inherent to democracy - each prospective government promises that it will do some things that need doing, which are then brought into the fold of government. But it's a one way street. It also encourages public debt because each government is only thinking of the next 5 years, but has promised things that must be paid for.

Quote

 The author seems to think that countries and individuals are a good place to draw some lines and seems to have some decent practical tips for how the relationship between individuals and their communities, as well as countries and the world, would look in his ideal society and for me it seems to work.

Yes it seems to work doesn't it. It's really attractive. The only thing I would add is that though he sees 'spontaneous' associations as an important part of this, he is missing the communities that people don't really choose - of neighbourhoods, villages and towns (or even schools and work places). I think that might be deliberate on his part, but it's still an important layer.

I'm not sure your reading of the 1930s is right. I don't think WWII was entered into as a distraction exercise. - though 20th century isn't my era. The Third Reich had their own reasons for going to war but from a British perspective appeasement was the order of the day until very late. And then we spent the next few decades avoiding war with the USSR. That doesn't mean we are not heading towards armed conflict now of course - although I'm not quite sure what you are getting at there. It sounds a bit too conspiracy theory for me - what makes you think this? (Dare I ask...)

Would it be right to say you are pessimistic about individual people - eg. choosing the free lunch, and going along with propaganda narratives etc.? Ramsay Muir's thesis requires a completely optimistic view of 'living human souls' capacity to be creative, have energy, and pursue their own ideals in their own way.  I think that might be why it's so attractive.

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Faith in democracy and liberalism was shaken by worldwide economic depression. Genuine fear in western democracies of communism becoming an attractive alternative to their working classes. Germany, italy, spain chose fascism as a viable alternative to chaos or communism, democracy and rule of law was considered expendable to this end. Many in britain, including members of the royal family , were also  attracted to fascism for this reason. Hence, the pessimism of liberals  at this time, seeing the future as either a choice between communism or fascism.

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It seems the word 'Liberal' was changed its meaning for many people who don't debate it academic or historic meaning.  On one hand liberal economics is seen as a 'right wing' failure, and liberal progressive/social is 'left wing' is headed in the same direction.

Aside the tuition fee U turn, it might be a long term headache for the Lib Dems too.

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On 30/01/2018 at 1:25 PM, Still Dews said:

I would be interested to know what your lib/dem councillor says. He or she ought to be familiar with the arguments if they know anything about the history of their own party. One way to get ideas out there these days is to blog (!). Though I don't know how to go about doing that.

These ideas have had some traction though - the  self-reliant individual as the main source for prosperity and progress runs through Thatcher/Reagan and right wing thought. But they don't seem to recognise that we don't have the positive conditions for everyone to make the best of themselves. Individual initiative works best for people who have established privilege, and whose interests are in accordance with those of vested interests. Without tackling that aspect, the resulting political philosophy is harsh and inhumane. I think that might have done some damage to the Liberal ideology. Nowadays if you talk about the primacy of the individual you sound like a raving Thatcherite. People look at political ideas through the lens of left and right.

This is an important point:

I think it's this as well: it is difficult to persuade voters that the state should give up responsibilities it has been given. It's a problem inherent to democracy - each prospective government promises that it will do some things that need doing, which are then brought into the fold of government. But it's a one way street. It also encourages public debt because each government is only thinking of the next 5 years, but has promised things that must be paid for.

Yes it seems to work doesn't it. It's really attractive. The only thing I would add is that though he sees 'spontaneous' associations as an important part of this, he is missing the communities that people don't really choose - of neighbourhoods, villages and towns (or even schools and work places). I think that might be deliberate on his part, but it's still an important layer.

I'm not sure your reading of the 1930s is right. I don't think WWII was entered into as a distraction exercise. - though 20th century isn't my era. The Third Reich had their own reasons for going to war but from a British perspective appeasement was the order of the day until very late. And then we spent the next few decades avoiding war with the USSR. That doesn't mean we are not heading towards armed conflict now of course - although I'm not quite sure what you are getting at there. It sounds a bit too conspiracy theory for me - what makes you think this? (Dare I ask...)

Would it be right to say you are pessimistic about individual people - eg. choosing the free lunch, and going along with propaganda narratives etc.? Ramsay Muir's thesis requires a completely optimistic view of 'living human souls' capacity to be creative, have energy, and pursue their own ideals in their own way.  I think that might be why it's so attractive.

There are indeed many conspiracy type theories on why the second world war happened but it is generally agreed that the economies of many countries were not in a good way at the time, and discontent was on the rise. I do not doubt that there were parts of the establishment that would have happily chosen war over the masses seriously revolting. Countries also on the whole, do not want to overstretch themselves in peacetime by getting too far into debt, however, they are usually more than happy to pile it on if war kicks off. Hence the banks likely wouldn't have been against it and there is ample evidence to suggest they did happily fund/supply both sides of the war either directly or indirectly, gifting them healthy returns in the process. I do not doubt there were other geopolitical motives, and festering concerns from WWI and even earlier that didn't really get resolved until after the second one, but war only really happens if the populace are conditioned into it and that takes time and a coordinated will. I have trouble believing it just happened "by accident".

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  • 7 months later...

This is relevant to this thread. Podcast of a Timothy Garton Ash lecture this summer: What went wrong with liberalism? And what should liberals do about it?

https://backdoorbroadcasting.net/2018/06/timothy-garton-ash-what-went-wrong-with-liberalism-and-what-should-liberals-do-about-it/

Think it might be on YouTube too.

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