Monday, May 24, 2004

Friends in strange places

The Whig thinks he has friends in strange places over flag burning. Hardly. A quick look at the political compass or my previous posts on similar issues will show where I stand. I may be a lefty, but I'm very definitely from the libertarian or liberal end of that broad church.

Freedom may not be the only thing I believe in (I tend towards value pluralism, though I'm by no means certain about that yet), but it is absolutely central to my political philosophy. People need as much freedom as possible to pursue their disparate visions of the good. So, I support the greatest possible system of coextensive rights for everyone, and the widest possible sphere of state non-interference. And the sorts of justifications I accept for restricting freedom ought to be recognisable to any other liberal - consent, preventing harm to or preserving the freedom of others. There's no such justification for forbidding people from burning the flag, and so I oppose laws against flag-burning.

Where I differ from right-wing or "big-L" Libertarians is that I want that freedom to be substantive rather than formal. Traditional libertarianisms (such as Rand or Nozick) talk about freedom a lot, but when pressed, you find out that that freedom is nothing more than a cruel joke. The shackles of the state are simply replaced - and strengthened - by contract law, with "consent" extracted by economic duress. The Enlightenment project of destroying privilege and extending universal rights has been perverted into a defence of economic slavery and the assumed privileges of wealth.

Fuck that. That's just freedom for the pike. I want something more.

In order for people's freedom to be meaningful, they must be able to exercise it - in practice, not just in theory. This means preventing the powerful from limiting other people's freedom (justifying employment law and anti-discrimination legislation), enabling people to make the most of themselves (hence state-provided (or at least regulated) education), and insulating them from the vagaries of fortune, of ill-health or poverty, so that they will be able to pursue their vision of the good (or at least not completely lose sight of it) regardless of circumstance (giving us social welfare and a comprehensive health system). In other words, your standard redistributive liberal-democratic welfare state, supported on the grounds that freedom is for everyone, not just the rich.

(BTW, the political compass graph is somewhat out of date, and does not include many of our newer political bloggers. If you want to be on the graph, then all you have to do is take the test and email me your score. My munged address is on the sidebar to your left...)