Sunday, April 06, 2014

Why Be Ashamed to be A Liberal?

'Liberal' is a bad thing, something to be ashamed about these days. If you are one, like me, your views are likely to be dismissed to be some kind of a Hippie opinion that does not seem to matter. Why not, indeed, because 'capitalism' (with the attendant label of 'neo-liberal') seemed to have decisively won?

It takes guts to say that standing in the middle of the greatest financial disaster of a lifetime. It takes arrogance to make such a proclamation when the system we have brought more miseries to more people than the World Wars and Dictators ever did. And, perhaps, it takes ignorance, self-induced ignorance of the charmer who has fallen in love with his own words and being charmed himself.

This is, I shall claim, a break point. 'Liberal' got a bad name just at the point of its greatest triumph - when civil rights were finally firmly established and street revolutions got under way to change the society. Liberalism's defining year may have been 1979, the year of ascendency of Margaret Thatcher, and on the other hand, of Ayatollah Khomeini (which sent President Carter's administration into a free-fall and paved the way for Ronald Reagan). It was then the world learnt to say 'Socialist' in the particularly disdaining way Margaret Thatcher made popular. It was the time when Rupert Murdoch started winning his battles, and International Labour Movement started losing them. The rising inflation and stagnating economies of the West allowed the witch-hunt to start, and liberals proved to be an easy target, caught celebrating their victories at the very time the people were feeling disaffected.

In many ways, this is conservatism's finest moment. They have claimed Arab Spring their own, and the waning forces of Labour Party in Britain and lame-duck administration of President Obama have given them new fillip. The conservative triumph is everywhere: Angela Merkel in Germany looks as solid as ever, President Putin is resurrecting not the Soviet Empire but the Tsarist days, the Saudi king seems to be shaping the Muslim world and even Hindu Nationalism is resurgent in India. The bankers seem more powerful than ever, and despite all the evidence of their folly, the scandals in derivatives, interbank rates, foreign exchange, keep scoring victory after victory. Liberalism stands exposed, clueless, often hand in glove with this unprecedented conservative reaction.

This is, however, a time not to be ashamed of liberalism. The triumph is often a sign of decline, of overdoing. The demise of the Soviet experiment allowed this political triumphalism in the West (which technically lasted only till 11th September 2001) which led to the decommissioning of the Welfare State and unashamed re-establishment of the world Upton Sinclair and Charles Dickens wrote about. This process of expansion of inequality, and hegemony of the self-interest, has now reached a pinnacle, a moment when its false promise of deliverance stands exposed. It is a similar moment as 1979: When the closet conservatives such as Nick Clegg of Britain, Obama clique in United States, Francois Hollande and French Socialists, all those who usurped the liberal agenda to serve the bankers' interests, fade into irrelevance, while human misery and deprivation reaches a new level, the conservative take-over of the liberal ideas are over. This is the hour of Eric Cantor, and the road is all the way downhill from here.

So, at this time, Liberalism stands for talking about issues that are important for the 99%. Liberalism stands for defying the Murdoch clan and Koch brothers, of the ideas of progress and justice and not merely of status quo. The loss of rhetoric may now mean winnable action for the liberals, in a new, invigorated sense. It may mean the rejection of the odious opportunism of Hindu Nationalists in India, resisting the reckless adventurism of the Congress Republicans in the US, breaking the ranks of Lib-Con arrangements in Britain and standing up for a more open world, challenging Vladimir Putin's re-establishment of an Eastern Empire and standing up for the Arab Street against the Saudi repression. It is time to eschew the mistakes of the past and not fall in the trap of embracing the enemy's enemy (and get into defending North Korea, Iran or some ageless African Dictator who refuses to go), but establishing a clear, principled voice explaining what an alternate world may look like. In a way, this is the hour of theory, all over again, and of a return of values, just as the expedient world of consumer abundance starts tearing itself up in a pointless pursuit of glory.  

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