Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The Theft of Freedom

A very interesting article in The Guardian today.

His one problem with his thesis is the issue of historical persepective. In order to measure the loss of liberty we must measure the freedoms we have today against the freedoms we once had in the past.

From the point of view of the liberties that we as Britons once possessed and that have been removed by various governments, then we are in a police state already.

All the Race Relations Acts that restrict our right to employ who we wish and how we use our possessions, the Public Order Acts that restrict our ancestral right of free speech and the endless laws that restrict protest and free movement are all the theft of our liberties by govnment.

From the historical perspective this is not a free nation as it once was.

The fact is we do live in a surveillance society and the spying on our privay by the government via phones, e mail and othr means is more extreme and widespread than in East Germany under Communism - so we do live in a Police State.


In the current debate about the need for a bill of rights in Britain, it is overlooked that no civil society can rest upon the possession of rights alone. And in the hysteria over the supposed need to protect our freedoms from "attack" it is now even stated that Britain is proceeding towards the condition of a "police state".

Some familiarity with real recent police states - East Germany or Romania - would teach those who bemoan the "rolling back of individual liberty" to temper their paranoid arguments.

Instead, modern free societies, the freest history has known, are gradually disintegrating from abuse of their freedoms. The harms being done to them by exploitation of their liberties are real; the harms being caused to them by the erosion of those liberties are largely imaginary.

It is here too that most of the left, whose socialist ideals have largely been displaced by an open-ended libertarianism, should take care. For the vacuous notion of liberty they now espouse is really a claim to the right to do as one pleases. This is the same idea about liberty as the "free marketeer" who brooks no interference with "choice", even if it wrecks society and the planet.

Hence, the screeching about "intrusions" upon personal liberty now come equally from left and right. The libertarian left has become one large human rights lobby. To them, any interference with freedom of action is prima facie wrong. The libertarian right objects to the "nanny state" in the name of opportunity, aspiration and entrepreneurialism.

In the convergence of these positions, elementary truths have been forgotten. The largest one is that without the fulfilment of the citizen's duties the free society cannot endure. Take away the sense of duty to community, environment, polity and nation, and collapse awaits.

Yet the notion that there should be some reciprocal relation between rights and duties is held by many to be wrong, an imposition, even described as an "impertinence" in a recent submission to the parliamentary committee on human rights.

To expect the fulfilment by the citizen of his or her duties is no impertinence. It is essential to liberal democracy. Indeed, government ministers today speak hesitantly of a need for "constitutional renewal" or for a more "contractual" relationship between citizen and state. Under it, the performance of civic duties would be made a condition for the gaining of rights, many of the latter now routinely and shamelessly exploited by rich and poor alike.

But the general discredit in which parliament is now held by many is depriving parliamentarians of the moral authority to lay down the law. Moreover, the prevention of abuses requires sanctions; and sanctions cannot be made to stick where they are easily evaded by the powerful, and are unjust to the already-deprived.

So it is more difficult, as free society implodes, to halt the disintegration. Libertarians in general should watch out. No distinction is now made between the tawdry freedoms of the "consumer" and the political freedoms for which previous generations gave their lives.

Indeed, the boundaries of freedom have never been so widely nor so loosely drawn, yet the bogeys of the "surveillance society" and the "police state" are being constantly raised before us. Those who do so ought to know better.

Their hallucinations bring a large danger, which would be better recognised if they knew 20th-century history better. It is the danger that a new fascism brings a true police state as the price of our unknowing, rather than the imaginary one the libertarian fancies is being created today.

· David Selbourne is the author of The Principle of Duty: An Essay on the Foundations of the Civic Order


Anonymous said...

Nevertheless, until my people realise that their percieved lack of freedom is holding them back from high achievement, they shall not evolve any further, and to not evolve is to die. There is no middle ground with this naturalistic concept.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, "Free... For What?"

Some people see freedom as a chance to do nothing. Historically, my people saw freedom as a chance to achieve glory.

It is up to them now to free themselves or perish.

Anonymous said...

A nazi racist cunt like you deserves to be locked up

Anonymous said...

Ummm who is the above anonymous referring to? Is it the Blogmaster or Strider - or Nietzsche? I am confused. I must say that anon's use of language is remarkably subtle and does his/her cause a power of good. I imagine all non-committed folk will read the comments and be swayed by the poetic use of language.