I am a liberal, and all who are need to stand up and be counted

Posted on

It seems that the time has come to state the obvious: I am a liberal.

Not a Liberal Democrat. 

Nor a neoliberal. 

But a liberal.

This means that I believe that my neighbour is as important as me. And that this is true irrespective of the ways in which they differ from me. Whether that difference is because of our ages, genders, sexual orientation, faith (or none), race, ethnicity, place of origin, politics, or other basis for defining ourselves, my neighbour is still as important as me. 

That means I must defend my neighbours rights whether they be personal, social, economic, political or other, including the right to be different for whatever reason it arises, including (as it might be in some instances, such as politics) when that is by choice. This is what I think it is to be liberal. 

Note that there are two parts to this. It is not enough to accept differences, important as that is. Being liberal means defending the right to be different. And that means opposing those attitudes and structures within society that oppress not just our own interests, but those of others. 

Saying that makes clear the third aspect of being a liberal. We must have a criteria for determining what is just, meaning that it requires defence. My logic is that justice is blind. Something is right when it would be considered just  from whoever’s perspective it is viewed. In other words, true justice must ignore the accidents of our birth, and the prejudices that these might bring with them, inadvertently or otherwise. 

Saying this does, however, require that we accept that those accidents of birth exist. As does prejudice. And both can result in injustice. Justice does, then, require that these be corrected. In doing so we must also respect the fact that our individual rights are not independent of each other. For example, the right to hold wealth is important, and I uphold it. But when it oppresses another it has reached the limit of its usefulness. Some rights can then be relative, and not absolute, and we have to be able to tell the difference. Absolute rights need defence always. Relative rights need defence conditionally. 

It is the virtue of a liberal society that it can differentiate these two issues. It can find and defend boundaries, and does so collectively.  That is what law is for in a liberal society: to define the boundaries of the freedoms that we can enjoy. When it does that law is liberal. It is so when it permits each person to live a life that meets their needs - including the right to live as they identify themselves - without constraining the right of another to do the same. In saying that it is important to note though that liberalism does not respect the right to be prejudiced. 

These liberal values are at risk. From Trump. From Putin. From Johnson. From Farage. And from many, many others, including many in our mass media. That is the reason why I think it is time to stand up and say ‘I am a liberal’.

You may be Green, LibDem, Scottish Nationalist, Labour, Welsh nationalist, Irish nationalist, and much more besides. You could even be a Tory, because some there have embraced this tradition in the past. But you can be, and I hope are a liberal too. And if that is what we have in common then the time has come to say it. Because liberalism - and the right to be different - is under threat within our society, right across our politics and in our media. And we’ll all lose unless this curse is challenged.