by Thomas Sturgess
There is one force that makes us liberals more than any
other. Tyranny in all its forms.
Why am I a Liberal? It's a question that I feel you should
ask yourself every now and then. The reason that I can give
Liberalism is against tyranny.
This has been the case throughout history, be it freeing
the slaves, fighting for democracy or molding policies that
aid the poor. As Thomas Jefferson put it, "rebellion to tyrants
is obedience to God," although being Jefferson this was rather
hypocritical as he shrank from violence and did not believe
that God exists, but more of his hypocrisy later.
Tyranny is, as defined by the Oxford English dictionary,
"Arbitrary or oppressive exercise of power; unjustly severe
use of ones authority: despotic treatment or influence; harsh,
severe or unmerciful action with tyrannical actions proceeding."
This treatment can come from Governments, as we all know,
witness the antics of despots from Ivan the Terrible right
through to General Pinochet. This is something that liberals
have been against since the dawn of time. It is tyranny that
liberalism opposes more than anything else. Indeed the idea
of the tyrannical state is the basis for the ideology that
we all know as libertarianism.
However, libertarianism trips up because it fails to recognize
one vital element of tyranny. This element is the simple truth
that private individuals, businesses and other non-government
bodies can also carry out tyrannical actions. It is the simple
falsehood which causes libertarianism to fail, and which conservatives,
the traditional supporters of tyranny use in order to actively
Slavery is a case in point here. According to all liberals
(and indeed anyone with any notion of right and wrong) slavery
is utterly evil and, of course tyrannical. However, because
private individuals brought, sold and owned slaves rather
than the state the libertarian ideology does not see slavery
for the evil that it truly was. This is the critical weakness
in libertarian thinking.
It is for this reason that the slave owning founding fathers
tended to sign up to this ideology, because it acted as a
convenient cover for their own wrongdoing and hypocrisy. Let
us not forget that the founding fathers of America were the
same people who would cry for freedom one minute and lead
slaves through the streets of Virginia in chains the next.
Thomas Jefferson is a good example of this.
In recent years, as we all know, conservatives, the traditional
supporters of tyranny throughout the ages have latched onto
this philosophy, crying freedom at every opportunity. The
critical weakness of libertarian thinking, namely that it
is incapable of accepting that anyone other than the state
can do anything wrong has been exploited by conservatives
with increasing virulence since the mid-1970's. Why is this?
Well it allows conservatives to justify policies such as welfare
reform, the abolition of minimum wage laws, polluting the
air that others breathe, persecuting anyone of a different
race, religion, or sexual orientation, and withdrawing aid
to those who need medical treatment. These actions are clearly
tyrannical but which involve despotism being carried out by
organizations and individuals other than the state.
According to conservative and libertarian thinking if a government
official, if, say a tax collector beats you up and leaves
you for dead that is tyranny, but if a private citizen or
a business does it, well that's all just hunky-dory. This
is nonsense and we as liberals must not be afraid to stand
up and say so, to expose conservatives who speak of freedom
for the idiots that they really are. Conservative "freedom"
is merely the selfish freedom to carry out actions that will
impose tyranny on other people. Liberal freedom is the freedom
to live your life free from tyranny in all its forms.
Of course different people define tyranny in different ways
and this allows for a great deal of debate amongst liberals
about what actions and policies can be described as tyrannical.
The "war on terrorism" is a case in point. I personally support
the war on terror as I believe that the Taliban are perhaps
the most tyrannical regime on the planet and that the only
plausible way of removing the tyranny of fear that surrounds
us at this dark moment in history is victory. Other people
however, view all war as tyrannical and oppose the war on
terror because they feel that it will lead to tyrannical actions
on our part. Both points of view are entirely valid.
It is for this reason that liberalism must continue to be
a broad church, welcoming everyone from moderates to outright
socialists into its arms. Only together can we progress forward
to a better world for all of us free from the forces of tyranny
that have blighted us throughout history.