Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Freedom less of a worry than Security to most

Defending freedom is the central aim of politics for libertarians. One might argue that their message has been amplified over the last half century by the human rights depredations of totalitarian regimes and by the general incremental advance of state power in developed countries. Works like Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia added intellectual muscle to a popular feeling that liberty was under threat. I've noticed that libertarianism is a popular theme too among bloggers; maybe it's reflective of a medium which enables individuals to express themselves in a way which governments cannot control. It is also a collection of ideas which combines naturally with human rights and helps explain why Charles Clarke is so annoyed. He feels his and his boss's critics are out of touch with 'the balance of powers that exist in our society.'

His concern is that many citizens are worried about their security, from external attack by terrorists and also from thieves, yobs not to mention occasional psychopaths. His belief is that such people are more bothered about this than they are about 'liberty', which seems like a bit of an abstract notion compared with the realities of a suicide bomber or a man with a knife in a dark street. I suspect he is probably right. I know I personally have no objection to CCTV cameras being installed in urban centres to help police identify trouble and its makers; I never have any intent to join them so feel no pain at my privacy being invaded. I suspect mine might be the majority view and that Blair, so clever at interpreting the zeitgeist, has got it about right regarding both terror and law and order threats.

What is more bad news for libertarians is that personal freedom is likely to be eroded even more in the future. As long as human beings interact and technology becomes more complex, individual freedom to act is likely to diminish. I've mentioned the massive problem security, exacerbated hugely by the growth of terrorism, but the drive to preserve the environment, with its potentially devastating restrictions on travel and lifestyle will also shrink the range of choices open to us. It sounds pessimistic but life is bound to get less enjoyable in some ways as these restrictions bite, as they must do, despite the wilful myopia of George Bush and (these days only some) of his supporters. Those weird militia groups, who have set up enclaves in Montana and the like, have tried fanatically to preserve degrees of liberty but I suspect that in the future- and a closer future than we might wish- real freedom will be the preserve only of the very, very rich and the very, very lonely.

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