For most of the past hundred years social democrats could take it for granted that Britain was a liberal democracy in which there were no serious threats to individual freedom or the rule of law. In Popper's language, it was already an "open society", in which the ghosts of Plato, Hegel and Marx - the progenitors of modern totalitarianism - had been laid to rest, and where the public culture was one of the most tolerant in the world. The threats to freedom came from abroad. And with the battle for liberty won, as social democrats assumed, the task now was to fight the battle for equality. As the enemies of equality were multifarious, powerful, deeply entrenched and ever-watchful in defence of their privileges, it would be a dereliction of duty to worry overmuch about infringements of liberty while that battle was in progress. They were the political equivalent of collateral damage in modern warfare - regrettable, no doubt, but not very serious. Little by little, the "social" element in social democracy drowned out the "democratic" element. Freedom, tolerance, human rights, civil liberty and the rule of law slowly fell off the social-democratic radar screen. It is time to redress the balance.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Reclaiming social democracy
David Marquand is most distressed by the perversion of social democracy into New Labour authoritarianism: