Saturday, August 01, 2009

A Liberal takes me to task and makes good points

A few days ago I posted my views on the Cato Institute's Will Wilkerson's idea that libertarians should seek some sort of fusion with liberals.

In the process I made a few cracks about the Liberal Party, comments which Ron McKinnon a former Liberal candidate and current president of the Port Moody – Westwood – Port Coquitlam Federal Liberal Association took exception to.

He wrote a thoughtful letter to give his side of the story and made some interesting points. I asked his permission to reprint the letter and he agreed. (Please note - his comments contain to personal attacks or insults, no profanity and no knee-kerk partisan responses. I found it quite refreshing.)

Here it is:

In his opinion "Can libertarians and liberals learn to be friends?" (July 27, 2009) Gerry Nicholls discusses Cato Institute Will Wilkinson's argument for Libertarians to seek alignment with left-wing-liberals.

An odd juxtaposition to be sure, but Mr Nicholls sprinkles his discussion with a number of contentious asides, of which I address three:
1. "Besides the fact that liberals just don't like capitalism ...”

2. "The best way to convince the Liberals to adopt a pro-freedom agenda ..."

3. “... Tories, the more natural allies of freedom.”

These comments suggest a striking misunderstanding of liberalism, yea even Liberalism, for which freedom of the individual is a fundamental tenet.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, et al, liberalism is “... a political and economic doctrine that emphasizes the rights and freedoms of the individual and the need to limit the powers of government.”

More particularly, the constitution of the Liberal Party of Canada itself affirms that the Party “... is dedicated to the principles that have historically sustained the Party: individual freedom, responsibility and human dignity in the framework of a just society, and political freedom in the framework of meaningful participation by all persons.”

It is hard to see where Liberals need in any way to be convinced to adopt a pro-freedom agenda, nor that freedom has any more-natural allies.

From freedom of the individual flows the right for an individual to own his/her labour and the product of such labour, and the right to give or exchange these with others in non-coercive transactions.

Free markets and capitalism itself follow from this. Hence it is similarly hard for me to reconcile the general notion that followers of such a philosophy dedicated to freedom "...just don't like capitalism."

On this point, however, while I contend that Mr Nicholls errs in the general case, I will grant some truth as regards some of our more extreme 'left-leaning' friends: while celebrating the right of an individual to own his/her own labour and the product of their own labour, they do seem to lose track of this by the time such value accrues and is used to capitalize ventures that create profit (even while arguably creating employment and opportunity for others, as well).I find this odd, too, but the crux of the matter is that even rights that we fully recognize are not necessarily unfettered.

Living in a society of free persons means that our individual freedoms must by times be bounded such as to also give meaning to the rights of those other persons. That's where it gets difficult, and that's where it gets really interesting.

That's where we have to find and strike a balance. Such balance will vary of course from person to person according to their individual circumstances, values, understanding and experience.

And reasonable people do sometimes differ, wherein arises our great political conversation that will dwell long into the future.

Ron McKinnon
Port Coquitlam


johndoe124 said...

In other words, individual rights and freedoms must be sacrificed on the altar of a just society.

Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. McKinnon.

dubyadubya said...

Actions speak louder than words. Seems that the Liberal Party has strayed far from its principles. So have the Conservatives. People are lazy and they want the state to take care of them.

Thermblog said...

Whatever ideals the Liberal Party might officially espouse, the fact is I live in a country and province whence freedom has all but fled:

Marginal tax rates fluctuate around 50% with Liberals always pressuring to raise them.

No property rights: in Ottawa I now need a licence to hew a tree on my property; I may not use pesticides but if I grow weeds I am likely to be fined; if my property is declared "wetlands" I can't even give it away.

A "smart electricity meter" was installed to force me to use my appliances at midnight just to keep my bill the same; at the same time I was asked if I would mind giving the province the power to control my air-conditioner. (At least they asked, but you know what's coming.)

I am forced to return empty liquor bottles and to sort my garbage only to discover it often gets put in the same pile anyway.

I have to pay (by law) for grocery bags that have been free since the advent of the supermarket.

In 1998 I was told that there would never be "gay marriage" in Canada. Seven years later I was told by the same government, I should be embarrassed to be against it.

I can obtain health care and alcohol only from the government.


.... just for a start.

Jason said...

I think that Mr. McKinnon needs to read Hayek's 'The Road to Serfdom'...and perhaps Mr. Wilkerson needs to as well. Hayek shows fairly early in the book (within the first three chapters) how the new "liberalism" embraced socialism and was no longer liberal in the old meaning of the word (the definition that Mr. McKinnon grabs from the dictionary).

The only advantage of teaming "liberals" with libertarians is for the libertarians to show the "liberals" their roots and to encourage the "liberals" to return to to them.

This notion of libertarians accepting the welfare state is quite absurd. It is even more absurd that this idea comes from someone who works for the Cato Institute.

dollops said...

Meanwhile, back on topic, Mr. Wilkinson should heed John O'Sullivan's (National Review)dictum that all political entities that are not overtly conservative will gradually devolve to the left. Liberals are so deeply mired in leftish dogma that any libertarian hapless enough to join with them would be sucked down.

potato said...

It's clear from the Liberal constitution that individual rights and freedoms are subordinate to social justice. Not even Mr.McKinnon's attempt at sophistry through juxtaposition can change that.

But the letter is quite illuminating since it not only makes it plain that the Liberals have no genuine interest in defending individual rights and freedoms, but that they will actively curtail those freedoms in the name of "rights" that their government would confer on privileged groups.

What the Liberals are, in fact, is a neo-Marxist tyranny. Mr. McKinnon is being disingenuous at best by conflating liberalism with Liberalism.

Iain G. Foulds said...

... This is the crucial discussion. This is the first discussion before all others.
... Gerry, you are getting the ball rolling, a fair return from Mr. McKinnon, and excelent comments in response.
... The Left's idea of freedom is freedom from responsibility- for one's own life, and for one's own charitable values. Essentially, an escape from the responsibilities of life itself.
... Those on the Left are little more than half-dead observers of life, their "contributions" being nothing more than how to divide up the contributions of others.
... As Ayn Rand highlighted in her first major novel- those on the Right are "We the living".

Farmer Joe said...

" dedicated to the principles that have historically sustained the Party: individual freedom, responsibility and human dignity in the framework of a just society, and political freedom in the framework of meaningful participation by all persons.”

How have the Liberals put this in to practice? In the west it means actually putting farmers who sell their own wheat instead of handing it over to a government monopoly in jail. So much for " individual freedom, responsibility and human dignity" and for "balance".

A balanced position would give farmers the choice, government can sell it on your behalf or you can sell it yourself. The only time Liberals are interested in 'balance' is when they are trying to take away an existing freedom. When it comes to giving one back they are completely intransigent.

Farmer Joe said...

Similarly a "balanced" position on medicare would be one that allowed Canadians the ability and the choice to buy their own insurance or rely on the public system.

The Liberals would never touch this most reasonable idea, even with a ten foot pole. Which leads to the conclusion that they are not an ally of freedom but instead left wing ideologies.

Tim Bloedow said...

If we reduce the federal government to 20 MPs and 20 Senators, have them meet one week a year and eliminate their salaries, I'm probably prepared to live within the parameters of freedom that would materialize in that kind of environment.