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The Strange Rebirth of Classical Liberalism

By Simon Goldie
November 24th, 2011 at 11:00 am | 19 Comments | Posted in Liberal Philosophy, Libertarians, Liberty League

When George Dangerfield wrote The Strange Death of Liberal England it looked as though liberalism was no longer relevant to the body politic. The Liberal party had been overtaken by its rivals: the Conservatives and the newly-created Labour party. Many liberal ideas had become part and parcel of the political landscape, which might have explained the demise of the party.

In 2003, David Walter wrote The Strange Rebirth of Liberal England. The author argued that liberalism was back. But that liberalism was very different to the one that was withering away decades before.

It is no surprise that a political philosophy will adapt to changing times. Recently, though it would appear that the advocates of classical liberalism have re-entered the mainstream political debate.

One could argue that the Whigs who entered the Conservative party in the 19th century carried on that classical liberal tradition. The problem is that a political tradition co-habiting with another that pulls in a very different direction inevitably compromises and has its voice dulls.

There is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that classical liberalism has rediscovered its voice.

In the last few years, we have seen the creation of the Cobden Centre, Learn Liberty, a reinvigorated Institute of Economic Affairs, Liberty League, a plethora of classical liberal blogs, the creation of the Libertarian party and lastly, but no means least, Liberal Vision.

This doesn’t mean that all these groups agree with each other. There are differences over tax, the Europe Union, constitutional reform and human rights legislation. It does mean that the case for classical liberalism is being made: arguments for sound money, plurality, tolerance and individual freedom.

How much impact these disparate groups will have is an open question. What we can say for certain is that this reinvigorated classical liberal movement is, once again, having an impact on the public policy conversation.


Why are people who oppose capitalism so obsessed with money?

By Tom Papworth
September 29th, 2011 at 11:31 am | Comments Off on Why are people who oppose capitalism so obsessed with money? | Posted in Libertarians, Political theory, The Human Condition

Capitalists are frequently accused of being mercenary, in the sense that they are fixated on accumulating the greatest amount of wealth at the expense of other important issues. Their critics like to present themselves, in comparison, as focused on less tawdry, more important matters: happiness; social justice; public welfare.

Yet if once looks at the writings of anti-capitalists, they do seem to spend a lot of time talking about money.

My latest post on the ASI blog explores why egalitarians are wrong to seek to equalise wealth across society. According to one commentator, it’s “one of the best AS blog entries so far. A clear and graphic example of the flaw in pushing for income/wealth equality.” Thank you, Jonathan Giddy.

If you want to join the discussion, I suggest that you comment on the ASI site.

"You think equalising this match will be hard. Try equalling my score with women!"

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Guido is wrong on capital punishment

By Andy Mayer
July 29th, 2011 at 10:50 am | 7 Comments | Posted in Crime, Libertarians

The launch of the government’s new e-petitions service has inspired Britain’s leading political blogger and libertarian Guido Fawkes to launch a campaign for a vote to restore capital punishment for “child and cop killers”.

“We shall at least see which MPs believe salus populi suprema est lex, and those that put the welfare of child killers above the wider community. Let them be counted.”

He believes such a move would have popular support, and may well be right, instinctive sympathy for murderers is in short supply.

That though should not be enough for a populist liberal or libertarian commentator to reach for the noose.

The principle problem with the death penalty is that to be just it relies on certain guilt. A post-mortem appeal is of value only to the cause of history, not the accused. Life in prison, which should mean life for those Guido is targeting, at least carries some opportunity for compensation.

To believe in the death penalty one must either believe in the infaliability of the state justice system, I suspect Guido does not. Or like the former Conservative MP for Selly Oak, Sir Anthony Beaumont-Dark, a strong influence on my youthful liberalism, that:

“a few miscarriages here and there are worth the price of protecting the public” – 1989, at a speech to KES Birmingham

The few at that time were the recently released Guildford Four, wrongly convicted of 1975 pub bombings, shortly followed by the over-turning of similar convictions for the Maguire Seven and Birmingham Six.

I do not believe those lives are worth the limited comfort of knowing some genuine killers can never kill again. I certainly don’t believe the state can be entrusted to make those choices. Even modern forensic techniques have not eliminated injustices. The death penalty is a tool, open to irreversible abuse and error, not guarantor of individual liberty.

A second reason against capital punishment is deterrence. Perhaps Guido is more compassionate than I am, but I would rather a genuine child killer, like Anders Breivik, spent the rest of their long natural lives facing the consequences of their choices, rather than getting off on early release. Child killers in particular face potential terrors and threats in prison that can see them spend long periods in solitary confinement with only the ghosts of their evil for company. That should be a far worse deterrent than a six foot drop.

Where I would concede change in the current system is that those with no hope of release, should after a minimum sentence be allowed to request assisted suicide. It should though, as with assisted dying for the terminally ill, be their choice and humane. Surely that would be a better reform campaign for a lover of freedom than a returning powers to the state to act as the lynch mob of last resort.