The Guardian newspaper, which regards David Davis’ resignation as an MP to hold a by-election over detention without trial as a “stunt”, carries this rather sniffy editorial that tells you a great deal about the mindset of those in power and their media lackeys. Excerpt:
He is right on ID cards, but only on the basis of an excessively sweeping mistrust of the state. The liberty he is concerned with is, almost exclusively, liberty from official interference. There is little place in this conception for freedom from destitution, for example, which only the state can provide. There is also a strongly patriotic dimension, baffling to those who see rights as universal. Mr Davis’s defence of the age-old liberties of English common law, such as habeas corpus, is impressive, but his past disdain for the Human Rights Act sits strangely with that. The European convention which that act codifies may not be exclusively English, but it will provide the only legal basis for a challenge if 42 days becomes law. Another convention right is that to life. Liberals who see that as the most basic freedom will be uncomfortable with Mr Davis’s personal support for the death penalty.
As Perry de Havilland of this parish would put it, that is wrong on so many levels. At the most basic level, the Guardian has conflated the idea of liberty and the idea of power. There is “negative liberty”, which says that liberty is the absence of coercion, and “positive liberty”, which blurs the idea of freedom with the ability, or power, to do things, or have things one wants, such as food, shelter, good health, nice weather, and so on. The late, great Isaiah Berlin skewered this reasoning years ago. The problem in claiming, as the Guardian does, that being “destitute” is the same as lacking liberty is that it ignores what has caused such destitution. A destitute person, living in a free country, will not be molested by the agents of a state in the way that anyone, rich, middling or flat broke, can and will be in a society that has the sorts of restrictions that Mr Davis is opposing. Of course, in some extreme cases, a very poor, or handicapped person is vulnerable to being taken advantage of by others, which is why prosperous societies full of people willing to help the weak and vulnerable are far better places to be. But socialism makes the fatal error in conflating liberty with power. In fact that error leads to the idea that somehow, all manner of regulations are okay so long as we have a full belly and somewhere to lay our heads at night. David Kelley, the philosopher, also confronts the nonsensical idea that poverty and coercion are the same thing in his book about welfare. Here is a review of that book that is worth reading.