The term “liberalism” has been hijacked by every ideology, and by members of every political party. From “liberal communists” to conservatives and third-way socialists, everyone seems to be a liberal. Yet people either misunderstand what it means, or purposefully distort it to fit their narrative.
No, I’m not talking about American liberals. I’m talking about freedom.
By today’s standards, real liberalism would probably be labelled “extreme” or “far-right”, because of how defensive it is of principles like freedom of speech. In an era where constricting debate and banning disagreeable ideas is starting to become the norm, it’s rather strange to see consecutive governments with oversight on this illiberalism now fight to claim a monopoly on which is the most liberal.
In reality, liberals believe humans are rational and tend to make good choices. So people do not need to be shielded from bad or illogical ideas, as they can use their rationality to distinguish between the good and the bad. Despite this, Illiberals have been using the term to describe their own views, for two reasons. First, it’s to paint otherwise extreme ideas, such as restrictions on freedoms of speech, as moderate. Second, it’s to accuse the other side of being illiberal, immoderate and intolerant, in order to create controversy out of the belief or the person and shut them down before the facts, or their intentions, are clear.
But that, in essence, is illiberalism.
Liberalism pushes for diversity of thought, and believes rational humans will pick whichever guarantees the most freedom. Illiberalism is fixated on one idea, believes that’s the only “correct” idea, and any deviation from it should turn you into an outcast, as eternal punishment. In order to annihilate one of your beliefs, it wants to discredit your character, bleed you dry of support, and by association, turn all your other ideas into untouchable taboos.
For political ideologies, it’s not as clear-cut as “good” vs “bad”. Most ideologies are rooted in some factual, emotional and moral-based logic, and the majority disagree on which is best for policymaking.
In fact, most of us don’t even believe in only one ideology.
When it comes to complicated economic systems, healthcare, the environment or any other policy area, it’s impossible to immediately identify the most “liberal” one – all have some liberal, and some illiberal consequences. Not to mention, forcing society to answer “which is considered to be the most liberal thought by the politically engaged” instead of “which do I think makes more sense” when formulating opinions on policy is inherently illiberal.
So naturally, anyone looking to get rid of a person they dislike stops focusing on dismantling their political ideology, because a significant section of society may agree with it. Instead, they start focusing on proven ways to label them an extremist based on something we would all find abhorrent, such as misogyny, homophobia, etc...
Even if it is through hatchet jobs based on lies, everyone is constantly looking for ways to shut down someone’s ideas based on incorrect simplifications of that person’s character. And, by default, tarnish their political ideologies, turning that significant support base into quivering cowards scared of being next.
Here’s an example: a Virtual Pride event was forced to cancel because its director had liked pro-Brexit tweets.
That’s where we’re going. That’s what we’re doing to ourselves.
Many withdrew support, and Pink News covered it with “A British Virtual Pride has been cancelled after its festival director was found to have connections to far-right Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage.”
By connections, they meant liking pro-Brexit tweets…
Wanting to avoid negative headlines, political parties oblige when it happens to their candidates. And over time, journalists learn how to hungrily trawl through the feeds, timelines, and even private messages of others for a gotcha scoop.
Generally, they tend to call this “scrutiny”. But as we saw with the fawning of journo Twitter over Mark Di Stefano following his resignation (for listening into the Zoom calls of rival media outlets), many journalists themselves believe they are above scrutiny.
So now, we have a pack of unaccountable wolves ready to shred apart every second of your life as soon as you gain even the smallest prominence. Every question is loaded. Many interviews are rooted in malice. No wonder why people feel so disengaged with politics…
It’s sad to see how the electorate have so little influence on the self-appointed thought-police, and it’s sad to see so many people unconsciously engage with it. Even sections of the right have began to adopt this nonsensical method to ward off budding politicians, and whilst Labour does tend to be more protective of its members, pushing someone to the centre of a media storm when their honest intentions are blatant is slightly misjudged.
Many on the right defend their mini witch-hunts with “but the left do it to us”. Yes, they do, but that’s because they have found a weakness in you. Because when it comes to it, you weren’t bold enough to defend others in fear of your own reputation being tarnished. You just stayed silent as people lost their careers for life, regardless of whether it was justified, or not.
Putting the word “liberal” before the word “Conservative” in your Twitter bio won’t stop an inevitable witch-hunt against you. Words in themselves don’t save the world. You actually have to believe in the word “liberal”, and stand up against anti-democracy and censorship, in order to win.
Soutiam Alivand, Conservative Activist and Columnist