Caring: yes. Liberal?: Perhaps not…

Here is my response to:
It is obviously very good that people are not as prejudiced against gays etc as they used to be. But is this because people are becoming more liberal (more tolerant, more… indifferent?), or because they are becoming more thoughtful and caring? I hope it is because of the latter.
Liberality points toward societal disintegration. A more caring society, more capacity to think and imagine yourself into the shoes of others, points toward societal integreation.
You can see where I am going with this… I strongly welcome the support for gay rights, and for abortion rights; but I hope that in an important sense this does NOT mean that Britain is becoming a more liberal society. A society that leaves people free to do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t directly harm other autonomous people. Because that way lies nemesis. For society, and the ecosystem…
And that brings me to religion. I find Unity’s preconception that we ought to welcome the reduction in religious belief unwelcome. I worry that what this reduction actually involves is a rise in materialism, and a drop in community engagement, in fact less of most of the things we actually need…
Religions such as (to take a few for instances) Quakerism, major forms of Buddhism, much of the C of E nowadays, liberation theology, Gandhian Hinduism, Creation Spirituality, the ‘Creation Care’ movement, the Mennonites, the Catholic Worker movement, the Bruderhof, and much paganism… Progressives and those who care about caring ought not to wish these groups away.
So: I hope the conspiracy is working, as it were – it looks like it is. But I hope that ‘it’ isn’t …liberal…
What we actually need is a genuinely communitarian and egalitarian conspiracy. And real communities welcome positive, caring, life-affirming religious organisations.

8 thoughts on “Caring: yes. Liberal?: Perhaps not…”

  1. Liberal Conspiracy isn’t much of a liberal site of course, merely an anti-Tory one.

    And it is a little odd to equate secularism with liberalism. While more secular societies do tend to be more liberal (and I would bet more caring), it is not inevitable, and the opposite is possible.

    That said, I quite disagree with your argument. The caring but not liberal person is one who thinks they knows what is best for other people, and can be utterly tyrannical about it.

    It is, for example, behind the caring attempts to save the souls of gay people by turning them straight.

    As for the rise of materialism – do you mean materialism as opposed to dualism, or materialism as opposed to asceticism? Religious apologists often conflate the two.

  2. Thanks, Joe.
    I mean materialism as opposed to a spirit of ‘enough’.
    There is incidentally a problem with Green Party philosophy as it currently stands: the Party is trying to base itself on liberal, communitarian, and ecological values, simultaneously. But actually, there are some hard political choices that need to be made between these values. You can’t satisfy all of the people all of the time. e.g. Consumerism is an apogee of liberalism – but not of being Green. A spirit of ‘enough’ is going to require us to roll back on the massive concessions we have made to all-purpose liberalism.

  3. I would argue that liberalism would be not deciding on behalf of other people what is enough for them.

    The pursuit of wealth is as legitimate a lifestyle choice as any other. Of course if it done in a way that causes harm to others then something should be done about that. But I would say the same about actions that aren’t related to the pursuit of wealth.

    You may argue that the single-minded pursuit of wealth is not a sensible lifestyle and I would probably largely agree. But that doesn’t itself justify thwarting people’s choices.

  4. Joe, you are completely wrong. The pursuit of wealth means the pursuit of inequality and of ecological destruction.
    In terms of deciding what is good for other people: so far as our young children our concerned, and very old people and badly ill people, let alone non-human animals, and (crucially) future people, we have no choice in the matter: we HAVE to decide what is good for them. Liberalism basically lets these groups go hang. Liberalism is a political philosophy for powerful healthy living adult individuals. Totally unsuited to a social species that passes through long periods of powerlessness and that exists over untold generations, over time. That’s us.
    [See Alisdair MacIntryre’s DEPENDENT RATIONAL ANIMALS.]

  5. Rupert, you seem to be mistaking us for libertarians, of the Randroid persuasion. We do have a few libertarians in the Lib Dems, but no Randroids that I have heard of.

    You have shifted the terms of the debate somewhat, from making decisions on behalf of other people in general, to making them on behalf of vulnerable people in particular. I still don’t quite follow your point. What is less objectionable about telling an old, sick person that they already have enough, than telling the same to a healthy adult?

    Frankly, the spirit of enough is only an option in a rich society.

  6. Your latest post confirms what I have long expected. Once it dawns on green activists that the mass of the electorate will not elect anyone commited to curtailing individual freedom as defined in our consumerist society, the greens will reject liberalism and embrace increasingly authoritarian political postions. Congratulations Rupert, you are the first in the Norwich Green Party to articulate this rejection of liberalism and by extension, democracy. Your comment “we HAVE to decide what is good for them” is the cry of the dictator throughout the ages.

  7. @Paul C

    I don’t attempt to argue against your point about the Greens “reject[ing] liberalism and embrac[ing] increasingly authoritarian political positions”… but aren’t you taking Rupert’s comment (even though you have that view) “we HAVE to decide what is good for them” out of context.

    In the specific context of what he said it’s true that “we HAVE to decide what is good for them” – I have 3 young children & ultimately I have to decide what is good for them, in 15 years or so I may well need to decide what is best for my parents.


    Isn’t Joe correct that you are mistaking liberals with libertarians?

  8. Thanks Paul. You are quite right in rejecting Paul C’s ludicrous misconstrual of what I was saying. (Although Paul C is right that I am saying that we need to challenge consumerism. More and more ordinary people are recognising that consumerism doesn’t make us happy, in any case.)

    In terms of whether I have misconstrued what Joe was saying: I don’t think so. Liberals agree with libertarians about quite a lot. I was thinking about liberals in the social contract tradition, including Rawls and Locke.

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