Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “liberalism”

Agang lets us explain South African politics to Brits

The arrival of Agang on the South African scene at last lets us explain South African politics to Brits in terms they can understand.

  • The ANC is like the British Labour Party, having the support of Cosatu, one of the biggest trade union groupings.
  • The DA is like the British Conservative Party, and attracts the votes of conservative-minded voters in South Africa.
  • Agang is like the British Liberal Party, and appeals to liberals, though, unlike the British Liberal Party, it hasn’t sold out to the Tories yet.
  • Inkatha is like the Scottish National Party, and Bantu Holomisa’s lot (I forget their name) are like the Weslsh equivalent.
  • The Freedom Front is like the UK Independence Party.
  • That leaves the ACDP and the PAC which are rather difficult to explain in UK terms. Perhaps you could say that the PAC is also like the UKIP, except that it would like to be in Africa just as much as the UKIP doesn’t want to be in Europe.

I hope that makes everything clear.

Whenever I see Agang written I do a double take, because I tend to read it as “aging”.

Mamphela Ramphele

Mamphela Ramphele

But that’s OK, as it serves to remind aging liberals like me that we have something to vote for in the 2014 election, if we live that long.

Last year I was rooting for Mamphela Ramphele for president, and though she’s unlikely to be president in 2014, I think her voice needs to be heard in parliament.

Oh, I forgot Julius Malema.

Well, Julius Malema reminds me of Tielman Roos in a lot of ways. Appealing to the workers and playing the race card, for example.

You haven’t heard of Tielman Roos? Well, don’t worry — in 80 years’ time probably no one will have heard of Julius Malema either.

 

Liberalism and old liberals revisited

Yesterday, while on holiday in Pietermaritzburg, we visited old friends Colin and Mary Gardner, whom we had not seen for a long time, and one of the things we talked about was a proposal by Paul Trewhela for a new history of the Liberal Party of South Africa, and also Paul Trewhela’s notion that the Liberal Party ought to have gone underground in 1968, instead of disbanding when the Improper Interference Act became law.

(the picture shows Val Hayes, Colin & Mary Gardner)

I’ve blogged about Paul Trewhela’s proposals before, so I won’t repeat everything that I said there, but Colin Gardner came up with a new slant on it. He was a member of the national executive of the Liberal Party at the time the decision was made to disband, and he said that they had considered ignoring the Improper Interference Act (which prohibited multiracial political parties) and just carry on as if nothing had happened, and decided not to. One of the reasons for that, that I had not been aware of, was that some Liberal lawyers, who were in touch with some National Party lawyers, said that that was what the government was expecting, and if it happened, they would declare the Liberal Party a “white” party, and prosecute the black members for contravening the Improper Interference Act. Basing political decisions on what was, in effect, idle gossip over tea at a Law Society meeting, or something similar, may seems strange, but that was one way of gaining intelligence of the intentions of the government.

And as for Paul Trewhela’s idea, which he still seems to be pushing, that the Liberal Party ought to have, or even could have, gone underground, it would have been impossible, for reasons I have already noted (Notes from underground: A liberal underground in South Africa), namely that, having operated openly and publicly for 15 years, all active Liberals were known to the SB (Security Police), and any such activity would have been reported to them immediately by their izimpimpi.

Colin Gardner also remarked that one of the things that followed the passing of the Improper Interference Act, though not necessarily caused by it, was the rise of Black Consciousness. At first the National Party government welcomed BC, because they saw it as their policies bearing fruit, but it didn’t take them long to realise that it was independent of their control, and not at all what they had in mind by “own affairs”. Steve Biko’s declaration of himself as a “non-nonracialist” could initially be mistaken for what the National Party government had in mind when it passed the Improper Interference Act, but eventually they learned that it wasn’t.

Colin also thought that Steve Biko was using “non-nonracialism” as a tactic, and would, if he had lived, become nonracialist, though whether he or his ideals would have survived in the current South African political climate might be questionable.

Steve Biko didn’t have a good word for what he called “white liberals” (which continues to be a swear word in South Africa), but I suspect that what he had in mind when he used the term “liberal” was Nusas (the National Union of South African Students), rather than the Liberal Party. And, as have pointed out in Notes from underground: A new history of the Liberal Party?, the word “liberal” is still misused, and still misunderstood, as much as, if not more than, it was 45-50 years ago.

What is a libertarian?

What is a libertarian?

I read the blogs of people who claim to be libertarians, and it’s really hard to tell.

  1. Some sound like libertines.
  2. Some sound like liberals on steroids.
  3. Some sound as though they believe the universe has given them the right to grind the face of the poor into the dirt, forever, and they are just longing for the opportunity to do it.

And some sound like all three, switching from one to the other in as many sentences.

Hat-tip to Ron Paul Is Not a Libertarian | Clarissa’s Blog — I originally posted the above as a comment in response to Clarissa’s post, but thought I would also post it separately as well.

There is a chain or restaurants here in South Africa that advertises by saying “You can’t have too much of a good thing.”

It is an invitation to gluttony, saying, in effect, that over-eating is not a vice.

I am a liberal, and I generally think that liberalism is a good thing.

I think that liberty, human freedom, is a good thing.

But when I read blogs by people who claim to be libertarians, I get the impression that what they are after is not so much liberty as licence. That is why I say that they are like liberals on steroids.

Liberals think that liberty is important, it is an important value, and the lack of it should be remedied as quickly as possible. Libertarians seem to believe that personal liberty is the only value, and that everything else must be subordinated to it.

Someone once asked me how, as an Orthodox Christian, I could say that I was a liberal. They thought that liberalism was the essence of everything that is evil and wrong with the world.

Yet Orthodox writers assume that freedom and love are essential characteristics of being human. For example, Christos Yannaras (1984:33) writes


Man’s insistence on his individuality is an indication of his failure to realize his personal distinctiveness and freedom, of his falling away from the fulness of existence which is the life of the Trinity, personal coinherence and communion in love. This falling away is sin, amartia, which means missing the mark as to existential truth and authenticity. The patristic tradition insists on this interpretation of sin as failure and ‘missing the mark,’ as the loss of that ‘end’ or aim which for human nature is its existential self-transcendence, taking it into the limitless realm of personal distinctiveness and freedom.

But making freedom the main thing, or even the only thing, as libertarians seem to do, is to turn freedom into an idol. It turns liberty into an ideology, a kind of binding principle, so that in embracing the idea of freedom, and bowing down and worshipping it, one actually loses one’s freedom. When one makes liberty a principle and a rule by which everything is judged, one loses one’s freedom to live and to act; freedom as a false god is anything but free.

______

References

Yannaras, Christos. 1984. The freedom of morality. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Christian and liberal?

In a recent comment on this blog Mark Richardson of Australia expressed the view that Christianity and liberalism were incompatible: Notes from underground: Clarissa’s Blog: Being Hated by Conservatives vs Being Hated by Liberals:

I’m a little surprised that you are both an orthodox deacon and someone who appears to identify with liberalism.

Liberalism is the replacement philosophy for Christianity. It is founded on the idea that the good in life is to be a self-creating, autonomous individual.

What matters to a liberal is that we are ‘liberated’ from impediments to choosing as we will. Therefore, the sexual revolution is thought of as a good thing by liberals as it liberated individuals from an older Christian morality.

The liberal concept of freedom, in other words, is incompatible with the Christian concept of freedom.

I recently read the biography of Peter Brown, the former leader of the former Liberal Party of South Africa, and reviewed it on my other blog here.

Reading Peter Brown’s biography prompted some reflection on just what it was that made me get off the fence of a theoretical political neutrality and actually become a card-carrying Liberal. Though I had been sympathetic towards the Liberal Party since the age of 12 (when it had been founded) and urged my mother to vote for them when I was too young to vote myself, I thought that it was better, as a Christian, not to actually join a political party, but to maintain a certain critical distance from all of them (as I do now).

I did have a brief flirtation with the Progressive Party soon after it was founded, when a friend invited me to a meeting and I was carried away by the rhetoric of their leader, Jan Steytler. I even attended their founding congress as an observer, where they adopted their policy of a qualified franchise, which basically meant giving votes to the rich and educated, regardless of colour, rather than the current Nationalist policy of votes for whites only. I had some misgivings about that. While I was still at school I had read a novel by Neville Shute, In the wet, in which he had described a system of multiple voting. It made sense to me at the time. It gave everyone a say in running the country, but avoided the main weakness (as it seemed) of democracy — counting heads with no regard for what is in them. I tried to advocate this idea at the Progressive party congress, but no one was interested, so I lost interest in the Progressives.

When I went to the University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg in 1963 I actually met some real live liberals, and attended some of their meetings (as opposed to just reading their election pamphlets and other literature, which was the only contact I had had previously). The Liberals advocated “one man one vote”. I thought it better than the Progressive qualified franchise, but still thought that a multiple voting system would be better.

What finally made me join was a combination of three factors that convinced me that the Liberal Party policy of one-man, one vote was right. The first of these was my theological studies at the university. The second was the people I met at rural branches of the Liberal Party, and the third was attending Evensong at St Alphege’s Anglican Church in Scottsville. Theology, political activism and worship. My theological studies convinced me that since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, no one is qualified to hold political power over another, and certainly neither education nor wealth (the basis of the Progressive qualified franchise) qualified one to do so. Neither did race (the basis of the Nationalist whites-only franchise).

The peasants who belonged to the Liberal Party in the rural areas were, most of them, under threat of ethnic cleansing since they lived in “black spots”, and without votes they were simply political footballs of Nationalist ideology, and most of them would not have qualified to vote under the Progressive Party policy. And those who devised the evil and unjust policy of apartheid would all have qualified to vote, but their wealth and education did nothing, absolutely nothing, to prevent them from promulgating evil and unjust laws. Some of the Nat legislators had PhDs. It was the poor and oppressed who had some moral sense, and a better grasp of political reality.

So though I could truthfully say that I had been a Liberal Party sympathiser from the age of 12, when I first saw a banner announcing the formation of the party, it was not until another 12 years had passed, at the age of 24, that I saw the need to become fully committed as a party member.

And the kind of thinking that led me to that conclusion has been very well expressed by G.K. Chesterton, when he said,

I was brought up a Liberal, and have always believed in democracy, in the elementary liberal doctrine of a self-governing humanity. If any one finds the phrase vague or threadbare, I can only pause for a moment to explain that the principle of democracy, as I mean it, can be stated in two propositions. The first is this: that the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any men. Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. Man is something more awful than men; something more strange. The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature. Death is more tragic even than death by starvation. Having a nose is more comic even than having a Norman nose.

This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately. And the second principle is merely this: that the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into poetry. The democratic contention is that government (helping to rule the tribe) is a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum, discovering the North Pole (that insidious habit), looping the loop, being Astronomer Royal, and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one’s own love-letters or blowing one’s own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly. I am not here arguing the truth of any of these conceptions; I know that some moderns are asking to have their wives chosen by scientists, and they may soon be asking, for all I know, to have their noses blown by nurses. I merely say that mankind does recognize these universal human functions, and that democracy classes government among them. In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves–the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.

And it was such things that convinced me that the racist elitism of the Nationalists and the economic elitism of the Progressives was not for me, and so I became a Liberal.

Of course not all members of the Liberal Party were Christians. There were Jews, Muslims and Hindus as well. There were atheists and agnostics. They all had their own reasons for joining, and supporting liberal principles and policies like the the rule of law and civil rights and being opposed to authoritarian government and apartheid and ethnic cleansing. I cannot speak for the others, but I can say what led me, as a Christian, to join the Liberal Party.

So I hope that answers Mark Richardson’s question.

I also disagree with almost every one of Mark’s contentions about the nature of liberalism and what constitutes liberalism. I am a political liberal, not a theological, economic or philosophical liberal. And as a political liberal I see the freedom advocated by liberalism as being quite limited. It is limited to freedom from being oppressed by other men. It has nothing to do with being freed from morality, because part of morality, or at least Christian morality (as I see it) is that we should not oppress others. As our Lord Jesus Christ said “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets” Matt 7:12. Anyone who wants to be freed from that aspect of morality is not a liberal but a fascist. Unless you want to be detained without trial yourself, then, don’t detain others without trial — and that applies equally to John Vorster Square, Lubyanka, and Guantanamo Bay.

For more, see here.

Scientists Find ‘Liberal Gene’

The discovery came too late for Hitler, who could have used it to identify and exterminate opponents of his regime at birth, on the general principle that prevention is better than cure.

Scientists Find ‘Liberal Gene’ | NBC San Diego:

According to scientists at UC San Diego and Harvard University, ‘ideology is affected not just by social factors, but also by a dopamine receptor gene called DRD4.’ That and how many friends you had during high school.

The study was led by UCSD’s James Fowler and focused on 2,000 subjects from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Scientists matched the subjects’ genetic information with ‘maps’ of their social networks. According to researchers, they determined that people ‘with a specific variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be liberal as adults.’ However, the, subjects were only more likely to have leanings to the left if they were also socially active during adolescence.

Mere Ideology: The politicisation of C.S. Lewis

I recently read a couple of articles that appear to me to be attempts to co-opt C.S. Lewis for the cause of American Libertarianism.

C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism, Part 1:

In comparison to contemporary ‘progressive’ Christians such as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ronald Sider, and Brian McLaren, who clamor for the foolish and disastrous notion of achieving ‘social justice’ through gigantic government powers, was Lewis just ignorant or naive about modern realities, or was he aiming at a deeper and more significant purpose? (See Robert Higgs’s book refuting the ‘progressive’ myth in American history, Crisis and Leviathan, and his book on the disastrous ‘progressive’ state since 1930, Depression, War, and Cold War; see also Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.’s The Decline of American Liberalism and The Civilian and the Military, and Jonathan Bean’s Race and Liberty in America.) In this article, I only begin to touch on some of Lewis’s many writings pertaining to the subject of liberty and Christian teachings because any truly adequate examination would warrant at least an entire book.

Hat-tip to C S Lewis on economic and social liberty – National Hobbits, Narnia & Spirituality | Examiner.com.

Though the authors of both these articles acknowledge that C.S. Lewis was decidedly non-political, he was also, and I would say even more decidedly non-ideological. Yet both authors seem to want to co-opt Lewis to support an ideology.

What gives me that impression is the use of the word “statism”, which I associate with the decidely anti-Christian ideology of Ayn Rand. I know she didn’t invent the term, but she used it and her followers used it to give it a particular meaning, so it has become an ideologically loaded term.

Not that I like “statism”. It also speaks to me of the totalitarianism of Hitler and Stalin, which elevated the state to the highest value.

I suppose as a political (but not economic or theological) liberal I could make a case for C.S. Lewis being a liberal, and supporting a liberal view of society. When he says things like:

I am a democrat… I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretentions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt (Lewis 1966:81).

It was sentiments like that that led me to sign up as a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party when I was a student, and to reject the ideology of the ruling party — Christian Nationalism — as evil and anti-Christian. When Lewis says “I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others” that decided the case for Liberalism back then, because the Liberal Party was the only legal political party that advocated a policy of “one man, one vote”. Even the Progressive Party (whose descendants, the Democratic Alliance, like to claim to be heirs of South African liberalism) believed that one group of men, the rich and the educated, were good enough make decisions on behalf of others.

And Lewis goes on to say

Being a democrat, I am opposed to all very drastic and sudden changes of society (in whatever direction) because they never in fact take place except by a particular technique. That technique involves the seizure of power by a small, highly disciplined group of people; the terror and secret police follow, it would seem, automatically. I do not think any group good enough to have such power. They are men of like passions with ourselves. The secrecy and discipline of their organisation will have already inflamed in them that passion for the inner ring which I think at least as corrupting as avarice; and their high ideological pretensions will have lent all their passions the dangerous prestige of the Cause. Hence, in whatever direction the change is made, it is for me damned by its modus operandi. The worst of all public dangers is the committee of public safety. The character in ‘That hideous strength’ whom the Professor never mentions is Miss Hardcastle, the chief of the secret police. She is the common factor in all revolutions; and, as she says, you won’t get anyone to do her job well unless they get some kick out of it (Lewis 1966:82).

And in the fascist South Africa of the 1960s the Security Police (Veiligheidspolisie) were literally the “safety police”.

Lewis may have been non-political, but it is clear from the above that he was not just non-ideological, but anti-ideological, and I’m pretty sure he would have rejected ideologies like Randism or American Libertarianism just as strongly as he rejected Hitlerism and Stalinism. Ideologies, of course, have codes of political correctness, and American Libertarians make it very clear indeed what views and attitudes they regard as politically incorrect, and we have been given a list of people whose views must be regarded as politically incorrect: Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ronald Sider, and Brian McLaren.

I know nothing of Tony Campolo, but I’ve read some of the writings of some of the others, and I’ve not noticed a great love of totalitarianism or theocracy in what they write. Missing from the list, however, is Rousas John Rushdoony, who advocated something like the theocracy that Lewis thought the worst of all possible forms of government.

I agree with David Theroux and Mark Sommer to some extent, when they say that not all human problems can be solved by politics. But their silence on the ways in which they think they can be solved leaves me wondering whether they perhaps think that it is better that they not be solved at all. Christian attempts to solve all problems by politics do not work too well, as Will D. Campbell and James Y. Holloway point out in their book Up to our steeples in politics. As they say, what is wrong with us that can be solved by politics is not all that is wrong with us.

But we in the Church persist: we are still hopeful that though all these means we can build a kingdom in which all things will be set right between man and man (and occasionally between man and God), refusing to recognize that these means are an attempt to build a kingdom by our guidelines and blueprints, by our sociology and politics, not by what God’s reconciliation has already done for the world in Christ. In this book we are trying to confess that the goals of the contemporary Church – that is to say, the Church of St John’s by the Gas Station, the Christian College, the denominational and interdenominational seminary – the goals of these Christian communities are blasphemous. The reconciliation the Church is seeking to accomplish today by these subterfuges has already been wrought. The brotherhood – the “one blood” of Acts 17, 26 – that the Church makes its goal today is already a fact. And because this is so, that very fact judges our goals and our efforts to achieve brotherhood by social action as blasphemous, as trying to be God. Instead of witnessing to Christ, the social action of the Church lends support to the totalitarianism of the wars and political systems of the 20th century. By its social action, the Church permits and encourages the State and culture to define all issues and rules and fields of battle. The Church then tries to do what the State, without the Church’s support, has already decided to do: to “solve” all human problems by politics. And this is specifically the political messianism of contemporary totalitarianism and of Revelation 13. “Politics” by definition can only “adjust” and “rearrange.” It cannot – as politics – “solve” anything. But the Church’s social action encourages the very movements in the contemporary political processes which are moving us straightaway into 20th-century totalitarianism (Campbell & Holloway 1970:2).

But the way American Libertarians talk, it sounds as though while they reject the attempt to solve all problems by politics, they propose instead to solve them all by economics, and specifically by American big business, whose interests must take precedence over everything else.

And I doubt very much that C.S. Lewis would have supported that notion. The nearest equivalent to Ayn Rand’s heroes — Dagny Taggart, John Galt and Howard Roark — in C.S. Lewis’s novels is Dick Devine, and Lewis gives him an altogether different treatment. The Sackville-Bagginses could also be said to represent the “entrepreneurial spirit”, which probably needs to be exorcised rather than encouraged.

A few weeks ago my blogging friend Matt Stone posted this ikon on his blog, asking “What is it saying theologically and politically?”

My response was that what it is saying theologically and politically is that political power and authority are to be exercised subject to Christ, and not sought for their own sake. The task of those in authority is to make the earthly kingdom an image of the heavenly one in righteousness and justice.

And I think that C.S. Lewis had somewhat similar notions, when he made Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy kings and queens of Narnia to promote justice and righteousness. And when their successors in Prince Caspian abused their power, they returned to Narnia to put things right. Mark Sommer in his article extols freedom and social liberty, but despises social justice. Yet in The Silver Chair Jill Pole discovers at her school (a libertarian institution, if ever there was one) that liberty without justice is a recipe for misery.

We cannot solve all problems though politics because what is wrong with us that can be solved by politics is not all that is wrong with us. It is a bit like the relation between law and grace. Law can restrain us from evil, but it cannot make us good. Justice is not love. The most that can be said is that it is a kind of congealed love. Law and politics cannot make men love one another, but they can restrain the effects of their lack of love, and that is justice.

As for trying to trying to solve problems by economics, let the Orthodox philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev have the last word:

The Origin of Russian Communism (Ann Arbor Paperbacks)The Origin of Russian Communism by Nikolai Berdyaev

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quote: It was the industrialist capitalist period which subjected man to the power of economics and money, and it does not become its adepts to teach communists the evangelical truth that man does not live by bread alone. The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbours, for everybody, is a spiritual and religious question. Man does not live by bread alone, but he does live by bread and there should be bread for all. Society should be so organized that there is bread for all, and then it is that the spiritual question will present itself before men in all its depth. It is not permissible to base a struggle for spiritual interests and for a spiritual renaissance on the fact that for a considerable part of humanity bread will not be guaranteed. Such cynicism as this justly evokes an atheistic reaction and the denial of spirit. Christians ought to be permeated with a sense of the religious importance of the elementary needs of men, the vast masses of men, and not to despise these needs from the point of view of an exalted spirituality.

View all my reviews

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Notes and References
Campbell, Will D. Holloway, James Y. 1970. Up to our steeples in politics. New York: Paulist.
Lewis, C.S. 1966. Of other worlds: essays and stories. London:Geoffrey Bles.

Rock-solid nebulous hot air

Hat-tip to Father David MacGregor of Contact Online Weblog: Ugandan Church faces totalitarian liberal activism. for pointing to this piece of rhetorical gobbledegook.

Anglican Mainstream: Ugandan Church faces totalitarian liberal activism.:

Chris Sugden Evangelicals Now Janaury 2010

The pressure on the Church of Uganda to respond to legislation that will be placed before the Ugandan Parliament on homosexual behaviour is not restricted to Uganda. This issue is affecting other democratic nations in Africa and Asia.”

Anyone who knows anything about the English language will know that “liberal” and “totalitarian” are about as far removed from each other in meaning as they can possibly be. It is impossible for anything, including activism, to be simultaneously liberal and totalitarian. It is no more possible than it is for something to be simultaneously wet and dry, or hot and cold, solid and liquid. The only place where you will find liberal totalitarians is skiing the slow-clad slopes of Sahara mountains in midsummer, or sunbathing on the sand-dunes of Siberia in mid-winter.

If you want people to pay attention to what you have to say, avoid such over-the-top rhetoric.

Weasel words: liberal (and gun control)

Though I still describe myself as a political liberal (I was a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party when it existed), it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what “liberal” means in conversation, whether written or oral.

As an ordinary adjective, “liberal” can mean free, generous, or unrestricted.

  • “Liberal abortion laws” are laws that allow unrestricted abortion.
  • “Liberal drug laws” are laws that allow unrestricted drug use.
  • “Liberal gun laws” are laws that allow unrestricted gun ownership.

Well, not quite, because the way many people speak and write, “liberals” are in favour of “gun control” (whatever that means).

At some point there is a cross-over from “liberal” in a general sense, meaning having few or no restrictions, and “liberal” as a political philosophy. And sometimes there is another inversion there too.

People often speak of “liberal” in the sense of a political philosophy as if it were the opposite of “conservative”.

Perhaps that is a hangover from 19th century British politics, when, from 1850 to 1920, the Liberal and Conservative parties were the main players on the political stage.

In fact the opposite of “liberal” (in the political philosophy sense) is not “conservative”, but “authoritarian”, and the opposite of “conservative” (again in the political philosophy sense) is not “liberal” but “radical”.

The result of all this is that when people use the word “liberal” it is often difficult to know what they are talking about without asking for more information.

And then there is the “gun control” that “liberals” are alleged to be in favour of.

It is rarely defined by those who use the term, so it is difficult to know what it means, other than that, whatever it is, those who use the term are against it.

But I assume that it means that people who are against it believe that owning a gun should be like owning a camera rather than like owning a motor vehicle.

When one buys a motor vehicle, it is registered, and has a distinctive number plate so that it can be identified, and one needs a licence to drive it on a public road, and in order to get a licence one needs to pass a test to show that one is competent to drive it without endangering other road users.

When one buys a camera, one does not need to register it, and though it has a distinctive serial number from the manufacturer, there is no central registry keeping track of who owns which camera.

The difference is, of course, that when used incompetently, carelessly or recklessly both guns and motor vehicles can cause damage to property and injury or death to other people.

So I wonder if those who are against gun control are also against motor vehicle control and testing the competence of drivers. Do those who say that gun control means that only criminals will own guns also believe that only criminals own motor vehicles?

Weasel words: liberal (and gun control)

Though I still describe myself as a political liberal (I was a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party when it existed), it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what “liberal” means in conversation, whether written or oral.

As an ordinary adjective, “liberal” can mean free, generous, or unrestricted.

  • “Liberal abortion laws” are laws that allow unrestricted abortion.
  • “Liberal drug laws” are laws that allow unrestricted drug use.
  • “Liberal gun laws” are laws that allow unrestricted gun ownership.

Well, not quite, because the way many people speak and write, “liberals” are in favour of “gun control” (whatever that means).

At some point there is a cross-over from “liberal” in a general sense, meaning having few or no restrictions, and “liberal” as a political philosophy. And sometimes there is another inversion there too.

People often speak of “liberal” in the sense of a political philosophy as if it were the opposite of “conservative”.

Perhaps that is a hangover from 19th century British politics, when, from 1850 to 1920, the Liberal and Conservative parties were the main players on the political stage.

In fact the opposite of “liberal” (in the political philosophy sense) is not “conservative”, but “authoritarian”, and the opposite of “conservative” (again in the political philosophy sense) is not “liberal” but “radical”.

The result of all this is that when people use the word “liberal” it is often difficult to know what they are talking about without asking for more information.

And then there is the “gun control” that “liberals” are alleged to be in favour of.

It is rarely defined by those who use the term, so it is difficult to know what it means, other than that, whatever it is, those who use the term are against it.

But I assume that it means that people who are against it believe that owning a gun should be like owning a camera rather than like owning a motor vehicle.

When one buys a motor vehicle, it is registered, and has a distinctive number plate so that it can be identified, and one needs a licence to drive it on a public road, and in order to get a licence one needs to pass a test to show that one is competent to drive it without endangering other road users.

When one buys a camera, one does not need to register it, and though it has a distinctive serial number from the manufacturer, there is no central registry keeping track of who owns which camera.

The difference is, of course, that when used incompetently, carelessly or recklessly both guns and motor vehicles can cause damage to property and injury or death to other people.

So I wonder if those who are against gun control are also against motor vehicle control and testing the competence of drivers. Do those who say that gun control means that only criminals will own guns also believe that only criminals own motor vehicles?

Taking your political temperature

About 18 months ago I looked at the test on the Political Compass to see where the US presidential hopefuls stood. All of them, with the exception of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, were on the authoritarian right. I found I was on the libertarian left, in about much the same place as Nelson Mandela, which is no doubt why I voted for him.

Now Jams O’Donnell at The Poor Mouth: Political Spectrum has found another site, The Political Spectrum, which does much the same thing, but from an American viewpoint.

Here is my result:

My Political Views
I am a left social moderate
Left: 3.86, Libertarian: 0.9

Political Spectrum Quiz

The result was not very much different from Political Compass, but a little less libertarian so not much surprise there.

My Political Compass results were:

Economic Left/Right: -6.50
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.00

Nor is there much surprise in these results on Political Spectrum:

My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -5.73

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Culture War Stance
Score: -2.57

Political Spectrum Quiz

But the tests are like chalk and cheese.

The Political Compass has carefully-worded questions, designed to be clear and unambiguous, and where the answers will actually measure something.

In the Political Spectrum test the questions are biased, tendentious, and very often beg the question, and it is difficult to see what they are trying to measure.

The Political Compass did not give the opportunity for a neutral answer, but it wasn’t needed, because the questions were clear and unambiguous.

The Political Spectrum gave the opportunity for neutral answers, and also gave the opportunity of indicating the importance of the issue. In theory this should make the test more accurate, but in fact I answered most questions as neutral, and of neutral or little importance, because of the bad wording.

I can’t remember the exact wording now, without going back and doing the tests again, but one example that struck me was that the Political Compass test asked something like:

Do you think that abortion should be legal for a woman when there is no danger to her life?

whereas the Political Spectrum equivalent version was something like:

Do you think that the state should deny a woman her right to an abortion?

which begs more than one question.

The difference may be because Political Compass is a serious exercise and appears to have drawn on professional expertise in designing the questionnaire and formulating the questions. The Political Spectrum one is on a public quiz site, where anyone can post a questionnaire, and there is nothing to prevent the wording of the questions reflecting the biases of the compiler.

But I can’t help wondering whether it is also perhaps a reflection of the differences between British and American culture.

And now, with a general election looming, I wonder where our own political leaders stand.

I imagine Jacob Zuma would be a circle in all four quadrants, getting a different result depending on the last person he spoke to.

I also suspect that Patricia de Lille is still closest to my position (and that of Nelson Mandela).

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