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Liberals behaving badly in the public sphere

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Local politician making an appeal at demonstration against default data traffic surveillance proposed lawLiberals, as defined below, often like to shame their opponents in public debate by calling them extremists. They say this about right wing campaigners, for instance, who hold uncompromising views on gun control, or abortion, or the ruthless and prolific use of force as an instrument of power politics. Liberals also describe as extremists sundry religious fundamentalists: Hindu, Christian, Islamic, whatever variety of a religion refuses to embrace tolerance, balance, and modernity and so on. Clearly, you’d think, to be an extremist, is something that liberals really abhor. But do they really?

Before we get into the key issue that I want to raise, it is important to ask: what is liberalism? The question matters because depending on where you are in the world today to be called a ‘liberal’ could mean very different things. It is important to point out that I refer to liberalism in the context of political philosophy.

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy [1]helpfully points out that:

One of the major political ideologies of the modern world, liberalism is distinguished by the importance it attaches to the civil and political rights of individuals. Liberals demand a substantial realm of personal freedom – including freedom of conscience, speech, association, occupation, and, more recently, sexuality – which the state should not intrude upon, except to protect others from harm. (p. 514)

…the basic language of liberalism – individual rights, liberty, equality of opportunity – has become the dominant language of public discourse in most modern democracies. (p. 516)

I am a conviction liberal of this kind, so what I am about to point out are the things some prominent liberals are saying in the global public sphere that make one wonder if they know what they are doing. To be blunt about it, quite a few loud, particularly doctrinaire liberals are becoming extremists too, and they seem totally unaware of this. I won’t name names, let’s just focus on the positions that they are taking.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Voices from Eurasia
Social media for anticorruption? Exploring experiences in the former Soviet block

"Spurred by events in the Arab world and high profile examples like the Indian Ipaidabribe.com, the role of social media to fight corruption and, more broadly, improve governance has been in the spotlight recently (see e.g. the Accountability 2.0 blog). Perhaps the most comprehensive reports we have come across in this area are from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative. Their global mapping report on technology for transparency and the latest piece on the state of the art in transparency, accountability and citizen participation are particularly informative. Ditto for the online tracking tool on technologies for civic engagement.

A recent post from Aleem Walji on the World Bank’s CommGap site, “From egov to wegov” provides a good summary of the key issues at stake:

As Tim O’Reilly famously said, the days of ‘vending machine government’ where citizens pay their taxes and governments solve their problems are gone."
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