» 'Date rape-preventing lip gloss debuts' http://is.gd/4isJb - is this some sort of a scam? 2 hrs ago

» #Trafigura episode illustrates, at least, that a story involving a 'Twitter victory' will make headlines everywhere 5 hrs ago

» Twitter is excellent for links, but it's so damn difficult to keep up with everyone. Thinking of reducing no. of ppl I'm following... 5 hrs ago

» Note: I'm not criticing the Guardian - they did well to create the story on an important issue. 6 hrs ago

» Wondered who would pick this up RT @sarahditum: How the Guardian gamed Carter-Ruck with the help of an MP.... and you: http://wp.me/phImL-Gc 6 hrs ago

More updates...


  • Family

    • Ala Abbas
    • Clairwil
    • Daily Rhino
    • Leon Green
    • Liberal Conspiracy
    • Sonia Afroz
  • Comrades

    • Andy Worthington
    • Angela Saini
    • Aqoul
    • Bartholomew’s notes
    • Blairwatch
    • Bleeding Heart Show
    • Bloggerheads
    • Blood & Treasure
    • Butterflies & Wheels
    • Campaign against Honour Killings
    • Cath Elliott
    • Chicken Yoghurt
    • Clive Davis
    • Daily Mail Watch
    • Dave Hill
    • Dr StrangeLove
    • Europhobia
    • Faith in Society
    • Feministing
    • Harry’s Place
    • IKWRO
    • Indigo Jo
    • Liberal England
    • MediaWatchWatch
    • Ministry of Truth
    • Natalie Bennett
    • New Humanist Editor
    • New Statesman blogs
    • open Democracy
    • Operation Black Vote
    • Our Kingdom
    • Robert Sharp
    • Rupa Huq
    • Septicisle
    • Shiraz Socialist
    • Shuggy’s Blog
    • Stumbling and Mumbling
    • Ta-Nehisi Coates
    • The F Word
    • Though Cowards Flinch
    • Tory Troll
    • UK Polling Report
    • Women Uncovered
  • In-laws

    • Aaron Heath
    • Ariane Sherine
    • Desi Pundit
    • Get There Steppin’
    • Incurable Hippie
    • Isheeta
    • Neha Viswanathan
    • Power of Choice
    • Real man’s fraternity
    • Route 79
    • Sajini W
    • Sarah
    • Sepia Mutiny
    • Smalltown Scribbles
    • Sonia Faleiro
    • The Langar Hall
    • Turban Head
    • Ultrabrown



  • Technorati: graph / links

    Social liberalism


    by Sunny on 5th September, 2007 at 4:33 am    

    Unfortunately, blogger Tim Worstall takes a narrow view of what it means to be a liberal, in reference to my recent my article for CIF. I said in the article: “To be socially liberal, in my view, is to be more mindful of compassion and empathy for others.

    He says:

    Me, I’d call that being human. Being liberal is to agree with JS Mill: freedom and liberty are the things policy should encourage, to the point that people should have as much of both as they can manage without actually popping. As Sunny seems not to understand the very basis of liberalism the rest of his piece rather fails.

    Not necessarily. There are classical free-market liberals who believe in individual liberty but have no time for expressing compassion and empathy for the less fortunate through government intervention. I used the phrase ’social liberal’ deliberately to point to something along these lines.

    Rejecting both the most extreme forms of capitalism and the revolutionary elements from the socialist school, social liberalism emphasizes what it calls “positive liberty”, seeking to enhance the “positive freedoms” of the poor and disadvantaged in society by means of government regulation.

    I explained this in the comments of the CIF article too. I believe a state should strive to interfere as less as possible in the lives of citizens and allow them to get on with their life, within the law, and that it should be kept as small as possible after providing public goods. But of course there is a fuzzy line around morals and ethics.

    The ethos of social liberalism argues that because some members of our (materially unequal) society are born in circumstances where opportunities available to them are lower than that of others, the state should aim to assist them so equality of opportunity is there for everyone. That is about increasing their liberty and life-chances rather than letting them fall further in an unequal system. It is about equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome (socialism). So, yes Timmy, I do get liberalism, I just don’t follow your narrow interpretation.



      |     |   Add to del.icio.us   |   Share on Facebook   |   Filed in: Current affairs




    17 Comments below   |  

    1. Tim Worstall — on 5th September, 2007 at 8:14 am  

      “The ethos of social liberalism argues that because some members of our (materially unequal) society are born in circumstances where opportunities available to them are lower than that of others, the state should aim to assist them so equality of opportunity is there for everyone. That is about increasing their liberty and life-chances rather than letting them fall further in an unequal system.”

      I would argue slightly with “the State” needing to do that helping rather than “we” (making the crucial distinction between things that are done collectively and voluntarily and collectively and with coercion) but in general I don’t see anything illiberal in that formulation.

      My point is rather that we can only do these things, increasing the opportunities of those disadvantaged by random ill fortune, as long as we do not impose upon the negative freedoms of the rest of society. That is, if we wish to still be able to call ourselves liberals, social or otherwise.

      Another way of putting it is that to be liberal we have to say that while positive rights are all very well, where they come into conflict with the more basic negative rights, then we must, as liberals, support the negative not the positive rights in that case.

    2. Leighton Cooke — on 5th September, 2007 at 11:11 am  

      I agree that compassion and empathy are essential. We need to understand that there are commons that we all share that should be available to all. The old individual liberal model is outdated as it takes no account of the environment or the social dimension of humanity.

    3. Leighton Cooke — on 5th September, 2007 at 11:17 am  

      What does need to be thought about is the organisation of collective action. The State cannot provide everything. Local communal initiatives and provision are essential.

    4. Ravi Naik — on 5th September, 2007 at 12:37 pm  

      Sunny, your definition of liberal as someone who has empathy and compassion for other human beings is spot-on. It is incredibly naive to say it is a human trait, and frankly quite insulting to conservatives, who have little or no empathy for the “other”. This capacity for liberals to empathise with the “other”, has made them the front-runners of the civil rights movements, and fighting for the more underpriviledged. Another consequence of this empathy is that liberals are more confortable with relative truths than conservatives, who thrive for absolute truths and stick their guns on it.

    5. Ed Peterken — on 5th September, 2007 at 12:56 pm  

      Empathy and compassion are not human traits but merely accolades to be assigned to those who consider themselves “socially” liberal and denied arbritarily to those who consider themselves classically liberal, libertarian or conservative. Thus denying any genuine substance to either concept.

      Ravi, i think youve just reinvented New Labour’s political strategy.

    6. Sunny — on 5th September, 2007 at 1:13 pm  

      I would argue slightly with “the State” needing to do that helping rather than “we”

      You mean through charities then? My view is there’s a danger that it is not enough and there’s less accountability.

      as long as we do not impose upon the negative freedoms of the rest of society.

      I agree.

      The old individual liberal model is outdated as it takes no account of the environment or the social dimension of humanity.

      Precisely my view too.

      This capacity for liberals to empathise with the “other”, has made them the front-runners of the civil rights movements, and fighting for the more underpriviledged.

      Nail on the head.

    7. Ravi Naik — on 5th September, 2007 at 1:23 pm  

      “Empathy and compassion are not human traits but merely accolades to be assigned to those who consider themselves “socially” liberal and denied arbritarily to those who consider themselves classically liberal, libertarian or conservative.”

      Ed, empathy and compassion are traits for people who believe in welfare for the homeless, unemployed, and the poor, rather than letting the invisible hand of the market decide their faiths. If that is social liberalism, then they deserve to be labelled as compassionate. I mean, when was the last time you heard about “compassionate conservatism”… er…

    8. Ed Peterken — on 5th September, 2007 at 1:34 pm  

      Well conservatism is about providing a safety net for the groups which you have identified and then providing the opportunities for them to decide their own fates. That is compassionate. Putting these groups on your payroll in perpetuity in order to neutralise any contribution they might make to their own destinies and turning them into walking votes for Labour is, in my opinion, not compassionate.

    9. Shuggy — on 5th September, 2007 at 2:05 pm  

      your narrow interpretation.

      I think I prefer Tim’s ‘narrow interpretation’ to yours because I’m a little confused about what you mean here. In your hands, ’social liberal’ is what the Americans tend to mean by liberal, which is social democracy or simply socialism. Yet on the other hand, you seem to be opposed to what might be considered a normal social democratic goal, which is to reduce inequality, in favour of something callled ‘equality of opportunity’.

    10. The Common Humanist — on 5th September, 2007 at 2:22 pm  

      “”Another consequence of this empathy is that liberals are more confortable with relative truths than conservatives, who thrive for absolute truths and stick their guns on it”"

      That works in the UK, but what about the US, where conservatives try to ignore both realtive anbd absolute truths as much as possible? (Exhibit A; Wingnut Mike from the Withdrawl Thread yesterday - hasn’t a clue as to whats actually going on in the world and completely willing to ignore it)

    11. Sunny — on 5th September, 2007 at 2:48 pm  

      Yet on the other hand, you seem to be opposed to what might be considered a normal social democratic goal,

      Shuggy, there is a difference between emphasising equality of opportunity and equality of outcome (of wealth, aka socialism). I keep emphasising that. The focus of social liberalism is on the former.

    12. Ravi Naik — on 5th September, 2007 at 3:20 pm  

      “Well conservatism is about providing a safety net for the groups which you have identified and then providing the opportunities for them to decide their own fates. That is compassionate.”

      What concrete measures are these? Do you consider Republicans in America compassionate?

    13. Shuggy — on 5th September, 2007 at 3:31 pm  

      there is a difference between emphasising equality of opportunity and equality of outcome (of wealth, aka socialism).

      I understand that. But if inequality in wealth is a source of inequality of opportunity then why don’t you favour reducing the former in order to obtain the latter?

    14. Sunny — on 5th September, 2007 at 4:08 pm  

      But if inequality in wealth is a source of inequality of opportunity then why don’t you favour reducing the former in order to obtain the latter?

      Because trying to constantly ensure equality of everyone’s wealth, I believe, would just end up distorting free markets to no end and ends up giving the state too much power.

      More wealth equality is better for social cohesion (I believe Stumbling and Mumbling had a post on this). But I don’t believe in actively interfering in markets to achieve that.

      I also believe a lot of wealth inequality actually comes from bad regulation and imperfect competition. So the aim of (an independent body) should actually be to facilitate even more competition so one company/individual does not hold too much power or become excessively rich.

      As I said in my previous thread on PP about the CIF article, I prefer incentives towards socially liberal goals (including saving the environment) rather than excessive regulation.

    15. Dave S — on 5th September, 2007 at 6:07 pm  

      Ravi Naik @ comment #4:

      This capacity for liberals to empathise with the “other”, has made them the front-runners of the civil rights movements, and fighting for the more underprivileged.

      Interesting you should say that Ravi. While I don’t disagree that liberals (of whom I used to consider myself one) have done a great deal of good for civil rights and empathy with others, I don’t think they can claim the position of front runner - though maybe a well-earned second place.

      On the other hand, anarchists (of whom I now consider myself), are in a better position to claim that title, in my opinion.

      Instead of asking the state to do it for us, we have recognised that you can’t create equality inside a system that is fundamentally based on inequality. We therefore sidestep the state in order to get on and work to create an equal world ourselves.

      The capacity of anarchists to empathise with “the other” extends so far as to seek to remove the systems of power which even make it possible for a majority to force it’s will on an underprivileged minority.

      In a true anarchist society - due to voluntary association, mutual aid and a directly democratic (ideally consensus-based) decision making process - all minorities and minority views would be automatically protected from any potential majority - even an anarchist majority!

      Now that’s what I call equality!

      Of course, due again to voluntary (dis)association, nobody would be compelled to go along with the views of a minority they disagreed with.

      In general, while often a little slow and arduous, the consensus process aims to build understanding and respect between groups/individuals with different needs, encouraging them to work together and find a mutually agreeable solution, rather than seeking to dominate and force one group’s views on the others.

      It may sound unrealistic, but I have personal experience of this working in practise, between different non-trivial groups who most definitely did not share a common objective at the beginning of discussions, but managed to reach a collective decision - even on contentious issues - by the end.

      Admittedly it requires maintaining civility and respect for people who’s views you may strongly disagree with, which is not something that’s going to happen overnight. Still, I believe it can be fostered and encouraged, and is something humanity will work towards - if we’re around long enough to get the chance.

      The consensus process doesn’t always work perfectly, but when it fails, there are other options available, such as a simple directly democratic vote, with the ultimate option of dropping out for those who disagree. Even then, when it doesn’t quite work, it’s still better than what we have now.

      I’m not sure I’ve totally explained it all, but what I’m trying to say is that where liberalism goes wrong is in seeking to create and enforce equality and civil rights from something as inherently unequal and uncivil as the state.

    16. Ravi Naik — on 6th September, 2007 at 12:23 am  

      Thank you for your post, Dave. I do think that anarchism is not about concrete measures, but rather - as you say - a decision making process based on consensus. As you pointed out, there is no guarantee that things will work perfectly, and consequently that social injustices might not occur.

      While what you described is certainly better than what we have - if such model could be attained given our human nature, I don’t see how it can be used to decide the future of a country. There are too many complex decisions to be made, and I find it is unfeasable to have millions people to have a direct say on the matter. Wikipedia works pretty well with the anarchist model you described, but there is still an hierarchy, and someone has a final say in things.

      Similarly, I believe that there must be always a government, voted democratically by the people, who has a final say on things. It is not a question of equality, but of practicality. But I certainly welcome a government who works on consensus. Elements of anarchism can certainly be adopted for a better democracy.

    17. Dave S — on 6th September, 2007 at 7:56 pm  

      Hi Ravi, just a quick one to say that this discussion is really interesting and I’d like to continue it, but won’t have time to post a proper reply until tomorrow. I do hope you’ll check back then! :-)

    Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

    Pickled Politics © Copyright 2005 - 2009. All rights reserved. Terms and conditions.
    With the help of PHP and Wordpress.