Monday, September 25

When liberalism hit the nail on the head

If democracy were limited to being just a set of procedures and rules designed to order the management of public affairs, in all probability we would not use the expression “democratic culture”, as we often do. If we use it so casually it is because -sometimes without being fully aware of it, it is also true- we take for granted that democracy is much more than a mere formality whose existence depends on the simple decision to establish it (and maintain it). To begin with, if we refer to it in terms of culture, it is because it inescapably includes values. But it is that it also requires, for its materialization (and persistence), certain objective conditions.

Let’s start with the first. In the case of modern democracies there is a certain consensus in accepting that the values ​​on which they should be based are those that the French Revolution left fixed in its famous freedom-equality-fraternity triad, duly updated and developed as necessary. It is not the latter, let us hasten to warn you, a conventional or procedural apostille. The enormous transformations that have been taking place in the reality of our societies over the more than two centuries that separate us from that founding moment oblige us to do so.

To a great extent, it has been such transformations that have given rise to the fact that the political debate around the articulation of the three values ​​has, in turn, undergone changes. Until relatively recently, the most common way of considering it was to point out the practical difficulties involved in reconciling, let alone carrying to its ultimate consequences, freedom and equality. It tended to be affirmed that, while the first was fundamentally claimed by the conservative sectors, which declined especially in terms of business freedom, the second constituted the fundamental flag of the progressive sectors, which emphasized material equality ahead of the equal rights. We know the pathologies to which both reductionisms have given rise. In the first case, to maintain that the priority, above any other consideration, is the freedom of the market, from which all the others derive (there have been those who have maintained that the strongest bastion of freedom of expression constitutes the freedom to create journalistic companies). In the second, to interpret that material equality should prevail over any other, even restrictions on equal rights (not only of expression, but also of meeting, of association…) being justified if this is carried out in the name of of that greater good.

It no longer seems that these are the terms in which the political debate is posed today. The end of progressive utopias, which assumed that the greater good of real equality for all was within the reach of history, has also led to the disappearance of the second type of argument. In the same way that conservative sectors do not entrust everything to an uncritical defense of market freedom that neglects other dimensions of that same value. Which is like saying that the debate has changed its sign and is no longer presented as a battle between different values, each of them assumed by a certain sector (after an interested simplification of its meaning, of course), but within of each of them, interpreted differently by some and by others. We would have passed like this from a conflict intervalrative to a conflict intravaluative. Or, if you prefer, we would be facing what in philosophical jargon is usually called a conflict of interpretations.

In the case of the freedom value, the matter seems clear. The right in recent times is trying to impose its interpretation of freedom in terms of an apparent freedom for all, as the president of the Community of Madrid already tried in her last electoral campaign. Without the left seeming to hit, or hit with enough forcefulness, in the answer, especially when it was raised in the decidedly crazy terms of combat against fascism. But in reality the correct answer was already designed in the approach to freedom made by that great liberal who was Isaiah Berlin when he distinguished between negative and positive freedom. As is known, negative freedom was defined as the absence of coercion on the part of others, especially the State, so that each one can develop a determined course of action, while positive freedom was defined as self-realization and refers to the ability of any individual from owning his Willand to control and determine their own actions, as well as their destiny.

With which we arrive at the second requirement for the materialization and persistence of democracy announced from the beginning. It is obvious that in order for it to exist, certain material conditions are needed, in the absence of which it is not possible to speak in the proper sense of a free society, or with a minimally acceptable freedom (it was Berlin himself who wrote: «if my freedom or the of my class or nation depend on the misery of other human beings, the system that promotes this is unjust and immoral”). Of those who lack the slightest thing, it cannot be said, although nothing is formally prohibited, that they are free in the proper sense since they cannot develop any life plan beyond mere survival.

Hence, he considers that it would be perfectly coherent for someone to propose turning Indalecio Prieto’s famous maxim “socialist by virtue of liberal” on its head, and reformulating it in terms of “liberal by virtue of socialist.” In all probability, according to what we have just discussed, JS Mill, I. Berlin, J. Shklar and a few (and few) others would not have a hard time agreeing with the new formulation today. Because they were among those who thought, as Edmund Fawcet recently recalled (Liberal dreams and nightmares in the 21st century), that “in a certain way the left and the liberals are natural allies”. This thesis would be ratified by the examples of the creation of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, an idea of ​​liberal politicians (especially Beveridge), or by the establishment of the Welfare State in Germany, a creation of liberal politicians at the end of the 19th century. . Too bad our liberals today seem too often bent on departing from this thesis. Is it because they haven’t read their own classics?

Author of the book Democracy: the last utopia (Spawn).