The meaning of words can often be loose and can alter slightly according to the circumstances of the timeframe in which they are used. However, I struggle to think of a word in the course of the last 50 years or so that has been mutated, distorted and ruined quite like the word 'Liberal'. What is a Liberal? What are the aims of a Liberal? Well, the word Liberty is a big clue as to what the answers to this question should be - as well as the notion of freedom, (but then this is a concept I shall return to later).
Liberty and the freedom that real Liberals believe in are about the state stepping out of the way as often as possible and intervening only when not doing so presents a danger to an individual's person or property. This means allowing the individual licence for expression by way of the state's non-presence - so in short this equates to maximum economic, personal and constitutional freedom.
Something I'm gonna look to run with in the next few weeks is the notion of three-dimensional politics as a method of explaining different ideological stances and how those of different political affiliations think. If you look at the three categories as I've laid them out then it's perfectly possible to define policy in each area by way of how much government interference someone believes in.
An economic liberal believes in moving in the direction of lower taxation, lower public spending and greater economic independence for the individual. A personal liberal supports the rights of individuals (for example) to follow whatever religion they choose and pursue any lawful lifestyle choice without the state giving favour to one or the other. And a constitutional liberal understands the importance of such issues as freedom of speech, the right to self-defence, the presumption of innocence, jury trial and what have you.
Now I'm writing this not only to defend true Liberalism but also to make the distinction between people like myself with genuine liberal instincts and a group on the left both here and in the US who may claim to be 'liberal' and are in reality anything but. In fact, such has been the extent to which this word has been damaged by association, that it has become a term of abuse on both sides of the atlantic with which to demean the politically correct and the wacky left. It is crucial to show up exactly how illiberal these modern Marxists are in order for people like myself to go about taking 'our word' back.
As ever, the fundamental premise of the misappropriation has to be addressed. How and why would these nasty, statist authoritarians see themselves and be seen by others as liberals? The only answer that makes an iota of sense is the fact that more often than not, governments of this persuasion come down on the 'liberal' side of the 'personal choices' question. They tend to support the equality of all religions before the law, are vehemently anti-racist, and push for gay civil partnerships to be treated equally to married couples before the law. Genuine liberals, myself included, are inclined to believe in all of these too.
So what is the fundamental difference? Why, Daz, are you saying that these people are 'not liberal?'. Well a great deal of this rests in the concept of positive or negative freedom. True liberals do not believe in 'positive rights' for they invariably require an enabler (usually the state) which intrudes into the economic and constitutional freedoms of others. Possibly the greatest document of all time, the US constitution, is as powerful and admirable as it is because its scope is precisely about saying, "this is what the state cannot do to you, the individual - the individual, not the state or the collective, is sacred".
Leftists passing as Liberals invariably believe in such positive rights and freedoms, and see them as the 'sacred goals' of their society which justify any encroachment of the freedom of the individual. The 'right' to healthcare and education has created taxpayer-funded state monopolies in this country while Obamacare threatens to take the US down the same route despite some rasing the question over whether such levels of state interference are in keeping with the constitution. 'Freedom from hate' has spawned a lucrative and expensive political correctness industry on both sides of the atlantic, with affirmitive action, positive discrimination, thought police to restrict free speech, and the zealous enforcement of tough new laws to prevent 'hate crimes'.
No genuine liberal rejoiced at the prosecution of Andrew Ryan, who burned a Koran while making an anti-Islamic commentary in the centre of Carlisle earlier this year. He was sentenced to 70 days for what the judge described as 'a theatrical act of bigotry'. The official crime was 'racially aggravated harassment - forgive me but who exactly was he harassing? Ok, he stole the book from a local library before burning it - what's that worth, a caution plus the cost of replacing the book? Ryan is no doubt an imbecile, and the point of his 'protest' escapes me. But an idiot making a pointless protest does not, or at least should not constitute a crime.
At the start of this year, gay Civil Partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy were awarded £1,800 each in damages by a court in Bristol after a devoutly Christian couple, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, were deemed to have 'acted unlawfully'. Their crime? As their religious conscience leant towards the view that homosexuality is wrong, they told the two men that they could of course stay in their bed and breakfast, but only in two single rooms as opposed to one with a double bed. I've no doubt that Hall and Preddy were genuinely offended by this, but causing offence on its own should not be a criminal offence, and is certainly not worth £1,800 a go.
The reason I mention these two cases is they highlight the differing attitudes of the leftist 'liberal' and the genuine Liberal towards personal choices and free expression or speech. Given that these statists are liberal(ish) with regard to issues of religion and lifestyle but distinctly authoritarian on questions of consitiutional freedom, it is no surprise that the judge came down heavily on the side of 'personal freedom' in both cases. The reality is that there is no requirement on the part of the state to take one side or the other. People are perfectly entitled to choose whatever lifestyle or religion they wish, but equally the state has no right to prohibit the expression of views about those choices that may cause offence. That is the real Liberal position on these issues, despite what the wacky statists may tell you.
In short, Ryan is an idiot who should have been ignored, while Hall and Preddy could just have found somewhere else to stay.
The truth is that real harassment of people on the basis of their colour, religion, gender or sexual orientation is a criminal offence. Imploring people to commit crimes on any of these premises is equally illegal, and would already have been rightly dealt with by the full force of the existing law of the land long before 'hate crime' was invented by these so-called 'liberals'. There was no need for any of these new laws, or the recruitment of a red army of social workers to enforce them in the political correctness industry.
Check out the Guardian jobs page on a Thursday and see how a whole legion of taxpayer-funded aparatchiks have been placed on the state payroll. I'll keep hitting this drum til it goes in - every 'public servant' comes at a cost of at least two and closer to three people working and paying tax in the real economy - i.e. every non-job costs two or three real ones. And while genuine frontline servants such as binmen (refuse collectors to any American readers) are losing their jobs in council 'cuts' what price that the diversity police remain untouched?
And check out their record on other issues of constitutional freedom - their casual disregard for civil liberties, the explosion of CCTV, surveillance and wire-tapping. The erosion of the presumption of innocence, removing the 700 year old automatic right to jury trial, ditching the old rules on double jeapordy so 'not guilty' may as well now read 'not proven'. Their track record on constitutional questions all points in the same direction and it is not one that could ever be described as Liberal.
So please, for anyone seeking a term of abuse to fire at the statists, go ahead. Here are some words you might wish to use - Marxist, Statist, Control Freak, Authoritarian, Little Hitler, Glorified Traffic Warden, Megolamaniac - and if you're short on time, just plain old 'fucking moron' will do nicely. As a liberal I cannot tell you, but I can ask you nicely - please do not use that word for anyone looking to use it as an insult clearly does not understand what it means. It's a word far too good for the people you're describing, and some others more deserving of it want it returned to them - thanks.