Liberal Position Paper - 3
Liberalism And Democracy
Liberalism is the commitment to the greatest possible freedom of the individual and the preservation of human dignity in any given or changing social situation.
Liberalism therefore does not mean freedom and dignity for a class but personal freedom and human dignity for the greatest number. Freedom and equality are not contradictory but complementary.
The freedom of the individual is limited by the freedom of the other, the neighbour. Therefore, liberalism is not anarchism but a theory for a political system.
Liberals are aware that men and women are not in possession of ultimate truths. Liberals merely think they are in search of them. Liberals know that the road to insight is strewn with errors and today™s truth contains tomorrow™s error. Like others, liberal dialectics assume that a thesis is contrasted by an antithesis, both join to become a synthesis, thereby fanning a new thesis, against which a new antithesis must and will develop. But unlike contemporary types of dialectical materialism, liberals think dialectics will never come to an end. They believe there are neither definitive political solutions nor final states of society. The human and social contradictions will not be overcome but at best acquire a new quality. To this extent, liberalism is a political theory of relativity.
Therefore, no taboos exist for liberalism. For Liberals, any state of affairs is open for discussion and any opinion worthy of dispute. Liberalism therefore automatically desanctifies any subject which people with vested interests try to keep out of the general debate with spurious arguments.
Since Liberalism does not recognize any ultimate human truths and definitive political solutions, intellectual freedom and the protection of minorities are at the core of its platform. Any political and social progress starts with a deviation from established wisdom. In the eyes of Liberals, anyone who bans deviating ideas and persecutes the critical denial of the established wisdom as heresy hampers social and political progress. No one knows which of today™s minorities will be tom d that the human being is not omniscient and that not everything can be discovered and planned, it vehemently contradicts the notion that the end justifies the means. Experience tells Liberals that using objectionable means even for the most noble end gives these means a life of their own which will eventually wipe out, overgrow and make us forget the end. Thus, appropriateness of the means to any end is a basic demand by Liberals. It is at the center of Liberal ethics.
Life promises freedom. Where there is no life, no freedom can develop. Where freedom is absent but life is present, there is still a chance for freedom. To this extent, Liberalism is opposed to war. War forces each party to increase the use of violence so strongly that the freedom of those defending freedom also risks being strangled. The same applies to violence as such. Violence affects the just and the unjust, the guilty and the innocent, those involved in action and those standing on the sidelines. Violence produces counterviolence and forces the parties to increase their violence constantly so that the means of violence will eventually far exceed its purpose.
On the other hand, there is a right of self-defence. It exists for countries and group of countries in the same way as for social groups and individuals. The liberal rejection of violence and the liberal right to defend freedom in self-defence are a contradiction. What is clear for the Liberal is that violence must be restricted to the right of self-defence. But self defence also harbours a risk of going too far and even legitimate defence is caught in the vicious spiral of violence. Liberals must live with this contradiction also. Liberalism therefore will always strive towards detente to reduce this contradiction in the relationship between states and in society.
Society requires constant change. Ossified structures of power and ownership work against freedom. Liberalism must therefore try to keep society open for change. It cannot deny or veil social conflicts but must always search for rules by which they should be fought out in a humane way. Liberalism can therefore never be static but must always be dynamic.
Any society revolves around power, interests, intrigues, ambition, influence and vanities; in any society, there is achievement and failure, error and weakness, elegance and ridiculousness. There has never been a human society without these human phenomena. Totalitarian structures of state and society differ from liberal and democratic ones not by banning these phenomena but by the simple fact that in the former, they must not be publicly discussed. Anyone who pretends that a society without weaknesses or conflict is a reality provides no information but veils the facts. Anyone who believes to have found a historical example of an ideal society without weakness or conflict has fallen victim to an idealistic error or distorts history. The perfect society as a goal was and remains a utopia. The ideal society as a pretended reality was and remains ideology. This is part of liberal convictions.
Of course, ideology and utopia have a social and historical function. There must be utopias if there are to be changes to society. And there will be ideologies as long as there are (relatively) stable societies. Liberalism will not succumb to the charm of any utopia or to the seduction of any ideology. It recognizes the relative meaning of both, without their veils, as it were. And it eyes the way utopias are turned into ideologies with suspicion if the supporters of the utopia establish themselves and confront their models of thinking with reality.
There is a tension between Liberalism and democracy, but they are complementary. Democracy is a form of government and could be simply described as the theory of legitimate rule by the majority. Democracy may be totalitarian if the rule of the majority ruthlessly violates the rights of the minorities and diminishes their chances of becoming the majority. Liberalism is an understanding of the degree of government. Since Liberals know that in any society, power is a factor and cannot be eliminated, they do not try to abolish it but see their job as limiting, dividing up and controlling power and preserving the chance of replacing those in power. Liberalism and democracy happily coexist in many countries.
The intellectual strength of Liberalism is its organisational weakness. Its theory of relativity forces Liberals to constantly challenge their own positions. The Liberal ethics demanding a proportionality between ends and means cause Liberals to have intellectual scruples in the struggle for power and the use of power. The Liberal interpretation of tolerance automatically leads to an understanding of the position of opposed ideologues or utopians although they don™t need to have any hint of understanding for liberals. The liberal principle of detente also produces a constant weakness by comparison to political opponents who are not so fussy about using force if they are, e.g, conservatives believing they are legitimately defending law and order or left-wing utopians believing they are in sole possession of wisdom.
Liberals know that people are not equal, but because they do, they must be radically committed to equal opportunities so that everyone will find their place in society according to their talents, wishes, abilities and willingness to achieve - irrespective of social background, heritage and health. For a long time, the grand expression ixequal opportunityls remained empty words behind which extreme inequality was concealed.
However, the liberal perception of achievement and competition can only be justified if a level or at least near-level playing field exists in society. In the 19th and first half of the 20th century, liberals have failed to constantly strive for this. They tolerated the cementing of social conditions which turned the theoretical and legal notion of freedom into a weapon in the hands of a limited class to ward off the claims of broad sections of society.
As early as before the First World War, Friedrich Naumann fittingly condemned the lack of any social component in Liberalism.
[Translated from : Noch eine Chance fur die Liberalen (“Still A Chance for the Liberals”), Frankfurt a.M. 1971]
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