Monday, February 07, 2011

Cameron: you must believe in liberalism to be a Briton

Boy, do I feel vindicated. I've argued for a long time now that the British Conservative Party is not a conservative but a right liberal party.

And now the leader of the party, David Cameron, has come out as the most strident of liberals. He has made his commitment to liberalism absolutely, unmistakeably, crystal clear.

In a recent speech in Germany, Cameron discussed the problem of Muslim radicalism in Western countries. He thought the problem was that some Muslims supported an "extremist ideology". And they supported this extremist ideology because they lacked a sense of belonging and identity.

Cameron's solution is as follows:

we must build stronger societies and stronger identities at home. Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active muscular liberalism.

Cameron supports a muscular liberalism. But his endorsement of liberalism doesn't end there. He wants to impose liberalism as a state ideology which defines what it means to be British:

A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality. It says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe in these things. Now, each of us in our own countries, I believe, must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty.

This is not a new idea. It's a restatement of liberal civic nationalism, in which a community is bound together not by a shared history, kinship, religion or culture but by a common commitment to liberal political values.

Cameron isn't the only one wanting to ramp up the idea of liberal civic nationalism. I reported last year on a columnist from the Guardian newspaper, Theo Hobson, who insisted:

We as a nation are bound together ... by liberal values. Maybe it's time to be honest about that – even if it means a process of constitutional change.

... All we seek is a reassertion of liberalism as the nation's common ideology.

We need to clarify our national story. Liberalism is what unites us, and this must be made explicit. It is, in effect, our national creed...

We need a revolution that makes our latent national identity explicit. What unites us is ... liberalism.

We need to get a bit fundamentalist about the superiority of liberalism.

Liberal civic nationalism has its obvious weaknesses. First, it requires political conformity to a degree that traditional communal identities never did. It is not only Muslim extremists who would fail to meet Cameron's test of national belonging. So too would anyone else who disagreed with liberal political philosophy. Englishmen with the deepest of historic roots in the country would be considered not to belong to the nation because they were not philosophically liberal.

Second, it's not a distinctive form of nationalism. Most Western nations follow some kind of liberal civic nationalism. Therefore, there is no official difference between having a British identity, or an Australian, American, Swedish or French one. Why not then simply merge all these non-distinct nations together? As the Oxford Companion to Philosophy put it:

One difficulty with this view is that it provides no guidance on how the boundaries of distinct political communities should be drawn. Indeed, it provides no explanation for why there should be distinct political communities at all. Why shouldn't all societies that share liberal values merge into a single state, aiming ultimately to create a single world state?

Third, it's a shallow form of identity. Again, the Oxford Companion recognises the problem:

Some liberals suggest that the tie that binds the citizens of a liberal society is simply a shared commitment to liberal principles of freedom and equality. It is debatable whether this is a 'thick' enough bond to keep a multicultural society together...

Conservative critics have argued that the stability of liberal societies is based on a pre-liberal sense of shared identity. Citizens of England, for example, do not see each other primarily as individual rights-holders, but as fellow members of the English nation, with a shared history and culture. This gives rise to a sense of solidarity which is prior to, and deeper than, a shared commitment to liberalism. It is this national solidarity which explains why the English work together, and make sacrifices for each other. Conservatives worry that this sense of being members of the same 'people' or culture or community is gradually being eroded by the individualism of liberal rights, which treats people in abstraction...

There are other issues raised by Cameron's speech, but I'll discuss these in a future post.


  1. I noticed this speech. They were all in raptures over it. I could not stifle a yawn and a scoff when I listened to it. I wonder why Cameron has not yet dropped the pretence he is a conservative whereas it has become so obvious he is a committed liberal. In the same speech, he stressed the "difference" between Islam and Islamism. He is in complete denial over the lack of separation between the temporal and spiritual spheres that is actually intrinsic to Islam. Now I would not care if Muslims were not living in our midst. As for liberalism as a kind of surrogate "identity", I believe it raises serious questions regarding Mr Cameron's sanity. I would love to see him preach this to Muslims in Tower Hamlets or Leicester. This is downright dictatorship and the imposition of a state ideology that aims to erase all distinctions based on ethnicity, gender, class and so on, and melt our identities into a fragile alloy, into dull, bland conformity, wiping out centuries of history, paving the way for the eventual disappearance of our culture and identity. He exposed multiculti as a failed ideology, yet it is an offspring of liberalism, itself a failed ideology. Therefore, we are to understand that in order to overcome the failure of this child of liberalism, Mr Cameron wants to use more of the same gametes that engendered this evil. Mr Cameron needs a new pair of eyes. It is also my firm belief he would greatly benefit from a brain graft.

  2. There's no such thing as doctrinaire conservatism, so it's tricky talking about "degrees" of it. However, it's been evident at least since Margaret Thatcher's day, that the British Conservative Party is more accurately described as a centre-right liberal faction.

    The entire British political elite consists of liberal factions in which there are a number of distinctions without differences. Of course each faction seeks power on the basis of spurious principles. But apart from a few mavericks, the entire class speaks with one voice on all the important social and political questions. Ideological alternatives are dissembled by fabricated nuances on this policy or that imposture. Thus, when everything appears to change, things remain as they are.

    Citizens of England no longer see themselves, on the whole, as sharing a cultural identity. Not only the recipients of handouts but many more have been persuaded to exchange their sense of national solidarity and the ideals of self-sufficiency for a passive existence as clients or pupils of the state. A mere clientele that's content to parrot liberal nostrums and which has drifted into anomie.

    I believe this picture, or something like it, is found all over the English speaking world.

  3. Dear Mark,
    I asked before in a previous thread. I hope you don’t mine me repeating my question. Aren’t the two sides in contemporary politics better described as “liberal” and “leftist?” What is the difference between what you call left-liberalism (Jim Kalb calls it “advanced-liberalism”) and leftism?

  4. Oops. Didn’t mean to post as “anonymous” above.

  5. BruceB,

    I've seen a distinction made between left-liberalism and leftism, but I'm not exactly sure what the point of distinction is intended to be. From what I gather, leftism is supposed to be a more purely destructive, nihilistic force.

    Or perhaps the difference could be that between social democracy and movements on the far left such as communism.

    I'm open-minded on the issue but I've mostly explored the basic distinction between left and right liberalism. It seems to me that the far left shares many attributes with the liberal left and that the difference is often one of means rather than ends.

  6. I would say that the left are more communitarian whilst liberals are more individualistic. The left have an idea of a coherent society, which is equal etc whilst liberals are more interested in creating a society in a way to maximise individual happiness ie freedom. We see overlaps in things like gender roles, with liberals saying that we should be free to choose how we want to live regardless of preset norms and leftists saying that traditional gender roles are oppressive. They also overlap in both attacking traditional conservatism. The left see conservatism as a competing world view that entrenches inequality, while liberals see conservatism as a limitation on individual freedom. That's my take on it. The left are clearly influenced by many liberal ideas. Such as society should be “free” but their way to get there is more through a communal society (or state led society) rather than an individually self determined society.

  7. Thank you for the response Mark & Jesse. One reason I ask is that I've seen Thomas Fleming of the Rockford Institute refer to American conservatives as the "tepid left." I thought maybe the distinction was that the true left is more focused on social & economic class. But I may be thinking of the old left/communists and even if that were true that just suggests that left-liberals are a more comprehensively destructive breed.

  8. Those criticisms aside civic nationalism is still preferable to an anything goes/inclusive liberalism or an officially recognised muslim society.

  9. The idea of a "more active muscular liberalism" is straight from the mind of a radical autonomist. The notion that something so flaccid, uncertain and continuously morphing as liberalism could be "muscular" is the attempt to impress falsehood on our reality. The fact of the matter is that the more liberal we become - because of a more "muscular" liberalism - the weaker we get. The desire then for those that have propheteered our decline is to dress up liberalism as something it can never be (strong) and hope that we buy it wholeheartedly so we remain weak; and what we get is a "default elite."

  10. Much more active muscular liberalism???

    Say what???

    Does he seriously think liberalism has been passive and weak up to now? I'd say it has been an 800lb gorilla gone berserk. What is needed for liberalism is a way to restrain its relentless all-intrusive meddling. Liberalism needs a sedative, not an adrenaline shot.

    Somehow the guy reminds me of Brezhnevite ideologues calling for redoubled efforts to achieve socialism in the Mighty Soviet Republic -- i.e., a futile effort to prod a dinosaur that had already eaten everything to get off its lethargic ass and eat one last time.

  11. It seems to me that the difference between Britain and Australia is that these things are still moot in the latter. Once the demographics have changed beyond a certain point, there is no 'we' anymore.

    Under the circumstances, this may be as much as we could expect from Cameron. We have reason for slightly more optimism in Australia.
    Gilbert Pinfold.

  12. Gilbert,

    According to wiki, Britain is 86% white British and 5% "other white", while "about 90% of Australia's population is of European descent." So it seems to me that Britain and Australia are in exactly the same boat demographically (~90% white). So what's the difference between them that makes one of them "moot" and the other not?


  14. According to the Cameroons of the world there is no good outside of liberalism.

    The fact that, as you point out, liberalism is a far more totalitarian ideology than those "nasty" traditionalist identities that it replaced in the west seems not too sink in.

    The fact that Liberalism as an ideology has no borders means that it is antagonistic to the nation state, as can be seen by the right-lib's leaking of national powers to international financial bodies like the WTO and the Left-lib's leaking of national powers to international organisations like the UN.

    Both sides hate the nation state because all nation states are based ultimately in traditionalist viewpoints about the world and the place of people within it.

  15. Left libs = Equality is more important than Autonomy

    Right libs = Autonomy is more important than Equality

    Mark would disagree, but what does he know? lol

  16. If you look up the word liberal in the dictionary, you'll see a list of synonyms for decent attributes: - tolerant, unprejudiced, unbigoted, broad-minded, open-minded, enlightened; permissive, free, free and easy, easygoing, libertarian, indulgent, lenient etc.

    A liberal social agenda is defined as progressive, advanced, modern, forward-looking, forward-thinking, progressivist, enlightened, reformist, etc.

    A liberal education is supposed to be wide-ranging, broad-based, general etc.

    In view of its theoretical tendencies. it's surely a striking paradox that modern liberalism has evolved into a totalitarian ideology that verges on tyranny.

  17. in the dictionary, you'll see a list of synonyms for decent attributes: - tolerant, unprejudiced, unbigoted, broad-minded, open-minded, enlightened; permissive, free, free and easy, easygoing, libertarian, indulgent, lenient etc."

    Indeed: "tolerant" of the intolerable, "unprejudiced" except when it comes to conservatives, "unbigoted" except when it comes to lambasting religion and all they see as "bigoted", "broad-minded" to the extent they do not know what they stand for, "open-minded" to the point you can cram their skulls with rubbish without their complaining, "enlightened" to the extent they are dazzled and dazed (too much light is not good for the retinas), "permissive" except when you are not permissive, "free" but not free of their lies about themselves and how they want to shape their own lives without heeding these aspects about themselves they cannot get to decide (gender, hair colour, ethnicity, etc.), "easy-going" to the point of having no discipline whatsoever, "libertarian" to the point of having no morality of any sort, "indulgent" in alcohol, drugs, masturbation, atheism, petty pleasures and consumerism in general, "lenient" except to victims, it is easy to be lenient to criminals and question the death penalty when the death penalty for victims has not been abolished. So, yes, I do not feel compelled to adhere to these behaviours on the pretence they are deemed to be the standard in society. We have already seen what the standards of this society look like. Being marginalised in such a society is something of a compliment.

    "A liberal social agenda is defined as progressive, advanced, modern, forward-looking, forward-thinking, progressivist, enlightened, reformist, etc."

    Forsooth, they are "advanced" in stupidity and error, "modern" because of the "itch for change", "forward-looking" except they forget to check up who is on their heels and think they can abolish and re-construct the past at their every whim ("People will not look forward to posterity who will not look backward to their ancestors." dixit Edmund Burke), "forward-thinking" which prevents them from focusing on the present instead of raving about their futuristic fantasies, "progressivist": what is progress? "Reformist" and henchmen of the "legislative maggot", scraps of paper to change ingrained behaviours, inborn instincts, running counter to human nature and therefore achieving little, if anything.

  18. "A liberal education is supposed to be wide-ranging, broad-based, general etc."

    To the extent it skates over the essentials and completely ignores ethics and morality. By "liberal education", Samuel Taylor Coleridge meant something else entirely. These days, "wide-ranging" includes to know more about alien cultures than about your own. In my country (France), Louis XIV has recently been ousted from history programmes and replaced by a study of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century African kingdoms. Mind you, it has some logic in it, considering the demographics in France.

    "In view of its theoretical tendencies. it's surely a striking paradox that modern liberalism has evolved into a totalitarian ideology that verges on tyranny."

    Not at all. Liberalism is a dangerous, radical form of utopia, and we all know utopias always degenerate into dystopias, because man is fallen and the premises upon which the liberal theory is based are thoroughly false. For each characteristic associated with liberalism you have mentioned, I can point out a darker side. Words have several meanings, depending on circumstances. I was especially struck by the adjective "enlightened", which is supposed to be derived from the "Enlightenment" spear-headed by a raft of idealists masquerading as philosophers: Rousseau, Turgot, Paine, Condorcet, etc. If adhering to their ideas (especially Rousseau's) is to be enlightened, then I would rather "stay in the dark". I am proud to rank among the adherents of Counter-Enlightenment thought (“Enlightenment” also was mistakenly called "The Age of Reason”), of which Edmund Burke was a foremost representative. Do not let them shape the debate with their words; do not accept their terms and show them how they can be interpreted in other ways.