As this blog puports to be a liberal blog, I suppose I had better at some point define what I mean by liberalism.
So here goes.
My first part of the definition is to say what I do not mean by being a liberal.
It does not (necessarily) mean electoral support for the Liberal Democrats.
I supported the Liberal Democrats at the last general election, and I intend to support them at the elections to come.
But Liberal Democrat policy can (in my view) be illiberal. For example, I fail to see how transferring powers to EU institutions over which there is little democratic control accords with a liberal approach.
Nor does liberalism mean libertarianism.
I sometimes say on Twitter that a libertarian is a liberal who still lives with their parents.
But this may be a little unfair.
A possibly better definition is that whilst a liberal accepts the possible need for government and law in any given situation, a libertarian will not do so unless it is strictly necessary.
For a liberal, the question is perhaps how much government and law is required; for a libertarian the question instead seems to be whether government and law is needed at all.
Furthermore, the liberalism I support does not have the US sense, which appears to me to be that of a social democratic approach within the confines of a distinct constitutional and federal framework.
And liberalism also contrasts with conservatism, in that the former admits the possibility of improvement by way of government and law, whilst the latter broadly denies the possibility that government and law can make anything better, only less worse.
So what do I mean by liberalism?
Well, in the first instance I am seeking to invoke the liberalism of John Stuart Mill and of other Victorian liberal thinkers.
For although, they were (sadly) often quite earnest - and those that try and improve things do tend to be rather earnest - they were generally right, whilst those who were more superficially attractive - such as Disraeli and Salisbury - were generally wrong.
But it is more than mere Victorian nostalgia.
Liberalism is not some Victorian doctrine (say, like, Marxism) struggling to adapt to a very different world.
For me, liberalism is the presumption in favour of the autonomy of natural persons in any given situation.
As such it is a doctrine which can be applied in political, economic, social, ethical, and religious contexts.
The liberal endorses an individual's autonomy unless there is a greater public interest in interfering with that autonomy.
And any such interference - whether by legal instrument, the coercion of state power, the intrusion of the press, or the imposition of a value system - should only go as far as is required and should always be open to question and challenge.
In this way liberalism accepts as problematic the various situations where the individual and the wider public interest clash.
The liberal does not have the easy answers available to the conservative or the socialist on one hand (with their respective presumptions against progress and in favour of state power) or to the libertarian or the anarchist on the other (with their denials of the general efficacy of government and law).
Liberalism is the only doctrine which both values human autonomy but also accepts its limitations, and which regards government and law as potentially good things.
Flowing from this priority placed on human autonomy then come the more practical applications of liberalism: due process, equality and diversity, freedom of expression on public matters, a private space on personal matters, free movement of peoples, internationalism, free trade, an evidenced-based approach to policy and law making, and so on.
Each of practical applications are also good in themselves, and (only) in a liberal framework do each of these applications cohere with the others.
And so this is why I am a liberal.
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