Not liberal

In Defence of Liberty reprints a Wall Street Journal Asia article by Abheek Bhattacharya

The burgeoning classical liberal movement is feeding off India’s economic growth. The Big Bang liberalization of the 1990s has already helped realign the middle class toward the idea of limited government. Thanks to these 350 million Indians, “the chances of success of a classical liberal movement are good,” says Gurcharan Das, who has been advocating liberal ideas in his Times of India column for 15 years. More people are coming to disfavor big government thanks to their own experiences.
With a new regional political party in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, that may not be far away. Lok Satta, which registered as a party in 2006, has to its credit policy changes in key local issues such as voter registration and rural health. Jayaprakash Narayan, its founder, is a politician who understands free markets. “We believe that there must be a clear demarcation of the role between the state and the market,” he says.

Yet, despite the presence of a liberal party on the political landscape, it’s still too early to sound the death knell for big government in India. In a state by-election in March, Lok Satta garnered only 13% of the vote, a reminder that making the invisible hand visible to voters is never easy.

The problem with the word “liberal” is its scope – everybody and his grandfather calls himself a liberal now-a-days. Gurcharan Das – he is for property rights but contradictorily supports eminent domain (follow the link to his column from this post). He however disappointed me hugely during a television debate on reservations in April 2008 where he stood right in the middle and accepted the basic premise of the policy. Jayaprakash Narayan, on the other hand is definitely not liberal. And I have already written about why that is so.

While I read the WSJA article a couple of days back, Sauvik Chakraverti’s post on false liberals is what made me write about it. “I use the word ‘libertarian’ to describe this blog’s intellectual position because the word ‘liberal’ is used by almost anyone and everyone – and these are almost entirely false friends,” he writes, and continues-

Why does liberalism have so many false friends? The answer lies in an “attitude” that infects politics in India: the idea that there is something wrong with “the people” and that The Politician must step in to correct this wrong. The people are smoking. Terrible. The people are drinking. Even worse. They visit dance bars. They smoke ganja and charas. They gamble. They patronize prostitutes. Horrible! The politician therefore masquerades as a social reformer and steps in with State action. It is here that illiberalism begins.

Labels have no meaning unless there is some kind of coherent thought that lies underneath. An alliance of atheists will include both communists and Objectivists; an alliance of global warming skeptics will include traditional Republican Party supporters as well as right-wing libertarians – issue based alliances are all they will ever amount to. And we will have absurd cases like Ron Paul endorsing the Constitution Party candidate (I think he did). Sometimes the contradictions might be a result of genuine mistakes. But more often than not, its simply a matter of adopting convenient labels – subterfuge.

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  • Pramod Biligiri  On October 7, 2008 at 12:31 am

    Never put absurd and Ron Paul in the same sentence, or the Internet swarm will get you ;)

  • Ramesh Srivats  On October 7, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Agreed. I too am a Ron Paul follower. The type who googles him everyday hoping that it will help articles about him rise on pagerank. But Ron Paul did go a bit astray here. He first came out strongly against the two-party system especially about the tendency to not waste ones vote by voting for the ‘lesser of the 2 evils’. He told his supporters to vote for any third-party candidate they felt they could support. And then contradicted himself by endorsing Chuck Baldwin, who just seemed the lesser of the 4 remaining evils. A bible-thumping libertarian if such a thing can exist.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On October 7, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    “A bible-thumping libertarian if such a thing can exist.”

    They do, and that’s why libertarianism joins liberalism in the list of terms that are too broad in scope.

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