Sunday, October 21, 2007


Cross pollination. This is a comment I posted on Hazar Nesimi's blog Universal Thoughts as a response to his post A Journey of a disaffected liberal. Part 1. I should add that both Hazar and his commenter Riri have lived in the UK.


Classical liberal democracy (which I continue to believe is the least worst of all systems) is not really an ideology because, as it was created in England, it is built on negatives. If you look at the founding documents (Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights of 1688), you will not find anything about the equality of man or any real assertions at all. They are mostly about limiting the power of the central authority, so there's a lot of "The King shall/must not...". These documents are part of a very gradual process, which continued over 700 years. Part of that process was not widening suffrage until people had the education to deal with it.

The point I'm getting to is that the view of liberal democracy in countries that don't have it is probably rather simplistic and sees it as the answer to all problems. (This is also the fault of Europeans, which since the French Revolution, have often championed an ideological democracy, separate from the Anglo-Saxon version, which found its full realisation in the Soviet Union.) It is a means of limiting government and taming conflict, especially religious conflict. It does this, not by oppression (they'd done that - it didn't work), but with a confined freedom. This was epitomised in Queen Elizabeth the First's statement, "I would not open windows into men's souls". Do you know why? She had just put a law through Parliament that established the Anglican Church as the church of England, and which set out what people had to do to show their 'good faith'. But, if people showed the outward signs of 'good faith', no-one was to go and inquire what those people really believed - that would almost certainly be very different and would thus cause problems. So let's avoid the problems by not asking.

Hypocrisy. But socially useful hypocrisy. That was the English method for a long time (the time of their greatest power).

Sorry to go on so much. I'm just trying to say that liberal democracy, as practiced in these islands, is not some grand theory about all human life; it's a gradually evolved method of avoiding and/or channeling conflict (for there will always be conflict) so that it doesn't disrupt society too much. (Do you know how far apart the benches of the governing party and the opposition are: two sword lengths; ie so far that the points can meet but they cannot clash - there are still hooks in the cloak rooms for MPs to hang their swords before entering the chamber.)

All of this is, I know, peculiar to the UK (though it is the basis of the American Constitution). It's not an ideology; it's a way of avoiding ideology. That's why you have someone like Alistair Campbell saying, while speaking on behalf of the very religious Tony Blair, "We don't do God".

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