the dominant discourse in New Zealand, as in most of the rest of the "West", goes something like this:
"The purpose of your life is for you to live it, as you see fit. What you want is what you should have. Government and community should get out of the way, they exist to help you exercise the choices you make."
Whereas Bevan's argument seems to be something like, "with social cooperation to introduce a level of economic equality, there is now surplus and a need to decide in a moral sense what we do with it as a community. Some choices are good and some are not; these are the good ones."
It's a pretty profound difference, and I suspect the Bevanite argument is likely to become more important over time. "Free to Choose" is fine when resources are endless and 'collective' problems are small in scope. In a world that is characterised by energy crisis, global incidents of terrorism, global warming, population pressures - the choices we make inevitably have effects on other people.
As a liberal, I naturally adhere to the first statement. People have disparate visions of the good, and ought to be as free as possible to pursue them. Where I differ from classical liberals and those in the ACT party is a belief that freedom is for everyone, not just the rich. Poverty, ignorance, and ill-health can restrict people's freedom to pursue their vision of the good, every bit as much as physical or economic violence. Thus the need for social welfare, public education, public health, and anti-discrimination legislation. The entire arsenal of the traditional social democratic state is simply a means to an end, the end being allowing people to live the sorts of lives they want to lead.
Where I disagree violently with the second view is with the idea of guiding choices. The purpose of state education is not to teach people which choices are good and which are not, but to enable people to decide for themselves. But then, I don't really see this as incompatible with Bevan's concerns about the spending of social surpluses and the pursuit of community projects - mainly because I don't see either as necessarily impacting on people's ability to lead their lives as they see fit. Instead, it's about competing priorities and whose additional wants (for whatever) will be met first.
(I'd also point out that the liberal conception of educating people to make their own decisions also includes educating them about judging the consequences of those decisions, both individually and collectively (as in "what would happen if everybody did this?") - which is I think as much as is needed to address Bevan's concerns about rejection as well as selection...)
Another area where I differ from classical liberals and the ACT party is a recognition that unfettered self-interest doesn't lead to the best of all worlds. Hobbes is the trivial proof of that, but more generally, it leads to problems such as the tragedy of the commons. It's also government's job to prevent these problems with regulation and legislation as appropriate. While Libertarians like to pretend that these problems simply disappear if you assign property rights to everything, this ignores the fact that some things simply cannot be owned, while others (like, say, people) should not be.
The relevance of this is that many of the problems Jordan sees as encouraging a Bevanite view (and particularly the environmental ones) fall into this class of collective action problems, and are perfectly comprehensible within the liberal paradigm. The problem, as Jordan also points out, is that
politicians these days are very unwilling to tell voters they are wrong, or that what they want is destructive.
Faced with some of the biggest problems we have ever met, we are suffering from a crisis of political leadership. They're not even willing to stand up and make the argument that we are collectively engaged in self-destructive behaviour. But until they do, they've certainly got no right to criticise the rest of us for "refusing to listen"...