Part VIII - The Liberal Schism Must be Repaired
Jesse Martin, Editor-in-Chief (Online)
13 September 2018
In closing, this report has deemed liberalism as the most crucial and ultimate threat to itself. This threat is due to the inability for the citizens of liberal democracies to have decent, good faith conversation and debate. This threat is a schism of liberalism itself. Many of the major issues distressing democracies today have become nearly unsolvable due to the fact that liberalism has split. To solve this, we must reflect upon the origins of liberalism, how we got here, and how we are to emerge better-off and more cohesive than ever.
Liberalism was born out of the Enlightenment Era in the 17th and 18th Century. Traditionally and historically, it has been defined as a “political doctrine that takes protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual to be the central problem of politics”. Liberals typically believe that government is necessary to protect individuals from being harmed by others, but they also recognize that government itself can pose a threat to liberty. In modern times, there is a consensus that it is ‘equality of opportunity’ that the government should provide.
Since the 1960s, liberalism began to split; now citizens can be politically divided into the ideologies of classical liberalism and progressive liberalism. The aforementioned definition explains classical liberalism, whereas progressive liberalism advocates egalitarianism and social justice. It believes that equality of outcome is more important than equality of opportunity and often some liberties. Now, classical liberals are often identified by progressives as conservative or ‘right-wing’, while progressive liberals are identified by classical liberals as either ‘leftists’ or ‘social justice warriors’. The linguistic differences may seem superficial, but for an ideology that has created an environment for exponential improvements in healthcare, education, wealth, and quality of life, the differences are crucial.
This schism has led to a hollowing out of centrist political parties. Both in the tangible form as these parties are getting routed in elections and politically as centrists are seen as elites and disinterested in the wants of the populous. Thus, political polarization has become a widespread phenomenon. This sort of polarization has been witnessed in states where: populism has succeeded, ideology has become more important than good-faith politics, and political deadlock has prevented legislation from passing.
By now, many readers have likely questioned how this schism could possibly be more important than other topics in this report: the cost of welfare, changes in the job market, the rise of populism, immigration, social mobility or climate change. Yet, the division of humanity’s most successful political and economic ideology is both threatening and inhibiting positive change to be made on all of those fronts. Citizens of the world must recognize that for significant change to be made on any issue, there must be good-faith, united politicians seeking that change.
Compromise is a necessity to solve the division, but this compromise must be pragmatic and reasonable. To start, the future leaders of these nations must be unified and feel as though they can debate and converse to find common ground, good policy, and maintain positive relations. Colleges and universities are increasingly becoming institutions where the tolerance of ideas is no longer their aphorism. The schism can be observed between faculties, student organizations, and among the general student population. Censorship is called upon when the feeling and comfort of groups are felt to be infringed on. Violence erupts when controversial speakers come to campuses, leading to more of them being disinvited.
With the University of Chicago leading the way, free speech principles have been enshrined to protect individuals’ free speech. This does not negate the right to peaceful protest or ability to debate arguably deplorable speakers. Rather, these principles tacitly encourage this. It simply protects an individual right, makes people more comfortable to speak their mind, and prevents violence.
This has reverberated into the general society in the form of political correctness. Progressives perceive this ‘pc’ culture as societal progress, while others see it as phrases that are being culturally censored. Progressives should persuade those disbelievers, not shut down their ability to debate the subject. And certainly, some cannot be persuaded, but this is politics and that fact should not be corrected through censorship.
If good ideas are to win the day in an era of populism and regressive policy, free speech must be upheld. French President Emmanuel Macron has been evidence of this. He is the ultimate example of being a true centrist and liberal, he won over the French people, demonstrating that his values were more desirable than those of the far-right Marine de Pen.
Macron’s North American political look-a-like, Justin Trudeau, has done much to uphold the values of liberalism, but has also been the epitome of the liberal schism this article has discussed. Traditionally seen as a defender of liberalism, Trudeau recently provided the perfect example of shutting down debate and isolating the right. At a rally, he was asked about how his government would pay back the Canadian provinces for their cost in accepting asylum seekers from the United States. This is a legitimate concern of any citizen. Instead of explaining the government's plan on the situation, he told the woman that “this intolerance towards immigrants has no room in Canada” and “racism has no place here”.
This sort of response is exactly what has isolated the right and made many classical liberals feel uncomfortable in their own political group. If this trend continues, it risks allowing populism to grow further in Canada, which has escaped the phenomenon at the federal level.
To solve this schism there must be a return to classical liberal principles and values with the protection of individual rights and freedoms at the centre, particularly freedom of speech. These are the values that have helped build society today; one that has grown democracy, wealth, quality of life, and reduced conflict. Without an open debate this is jeopardized, citizens cannot freely speak to each other and find common ground. Instead, it allows fear-mongers, populists, and authoritarians to destroy democratic institutions and values that have benefited the global population.
Certainly, this is not to eliminate the progressive liberals’ achievements, for the most part, classical liberals agree with them. Progress cannot be stopped, only debated to ensure it is truly progress and best for society. Progress should be pursued without pause in policy, but not at the sacrifice of fundamental rights and freedoms. That is, a liberalism where fundamental rights and freedoms are protected, but policy formation is constantly in pursuit of progress is a liberalism unified, one that can defeat the worst of populists, economic recessions, challenges to the foundations of culture, and even global climate change. It has grown and solidified itself as humanities’ best ideology since the Enlightenment and can continue that trend if we as a local, national, and global community commit ourselves to it.