Fight For Liberty

Overview 3/5

Essentially a modern take on The Federalist Papers

Outlines threats to liberal-democratic values. Some of the authors are much better than others, overall a mixed bag but worth a read. Not much in the way of actionable solutions though, it's mostly a collection of polemics.

Introduction - Jon Meacham

Since the crisis of capitalism in the 1930s, it is contented the public has in large part taken for granted these democratic norms. The positive values of which are

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of press
  • Rule of law
  • Fair play in the marketplace
  • Free movement of ideas and people
  • Integrity of the governing classes

Contrary, the negative values that emerge when these norms are taken away are

  • Authoritarianism
  • Nativism
  • Kleptocracy or “rule by thieves”

An American Dilemma was referenced. Earliest literature on the oppression of blacks in America that I’ve heard of to date. Written by a Sweedish economist.

Nothing but harmony, honesty, industry and frugality are necessary to make us a great and happy people – George Washington

Should read more about Franklin Roosevelt, 32nd president of the US, and in some sense creator of American liberalism.

Facts are stubborn things – John Adams, 2nd president of the US

First Principles

The first part of the book quotes “valorisation of civics and civility is essential to discouraging hatred and extremism”. “Valourisation” is a very weird term to me, but apparently it means the creation of value, or capital. Not sure what it means even in this context.

Ultimately, a toleration of dissent is crucial for a liberal democracy.

The need for truth - Roger Scrunton

Starting with Nietzche, an meme formed that there is no absolute truth, only relative truth. Also known as relativism. If there’s no truth however, there’s no trust. Each individual stands alone, an unassailable collection of relative truth that is beyond reproach.

Humanities departments in the 1960s popularised relativist scholarship. Foucault is a prominent figure, an “archaeologist of knowledge”. He believed that truth is a product of power, and the goal of the historian is to unmask the power and liberate the victims of that power. He hated the bourgeois and in Scrunton’s opinion, committed sophism which means a deliberately deceptive argument that is also very clever.

Value without borders - Elizabeth Cobbs Often the west is blamed for forcing its values on the rest of the world, but Cobbs argues the tenets of liberal democracy are more Human than Western. She starts off saying that since the mid seventeenth century, it has been widely acknowledged that all Human life is equal, of course it’s been widely ignored since then as well.

Cobbs outlines the three pillars of effective governance, Arbitration of dispute (i.e., institutions like the WTO, EU, US, UN, …) Access to opportunity Transparency Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of US called for “collective security”, that is countries getting together to protect everyone. This idea is often attributed to him, but actually goes much further back. The removal of papal authority in Europe in 1648 was the first rumbling of this idea. It directly inspired the Law of Nations work in 1758, which in turn was much loved by George Washington. This so called ‘Peace of Westphalia’ stated simply that, States are legally equal Right to self-determination No state can intervene in another The problem was there was no provision to stop a brutish neighbour taking over a weaker border. The american constitution dealt with that, setting up the federal ‘umpire’ to oversee, i.e., arbitrate, any disputes. It works very well. This is the arbitration rule.

After Napoleon bled Europe white (a saying that means to take someone's wealth, often via blackmail, I believe), a number of peace processes started. ‘Federation of the World’, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Parliment of Man’, Victor Hugo’s ‘United States of Europe’. Even Russia, via Nicolas II in 1899 tried to start a ‘Permanent Court of Arbitrators’, which was well received, but failed to prevent WW1. It was however a precursor to the UN, EU, WTO and African Unity Organization.

Liberty is the practice of equality. The powerful are not allowed to withhold reward from fair competition. The law protects the pursuit of liberty.

Liberalism got its start in England, 1689. The Bill of Rights. John Locke famously commented that everyone was entitled to ‘life, liberty and property’. He asserted that monarchs are contractually obliged to protect their citizens, and if they fail, they should be removed. England invested representational government, which America took even further, they didn’t like the monarchy.

Adam Smith in 1776 said that ‘aristocratic monopolies perpetuate monopolies’. In Britain, the open markets => common ingenuity => the industrial revolution. US took it further to define a common market and then in 1811 general incorporation law and limited liability enterprise. This the access of opportunity.

Finally, transparency was best demonstrated as a virtual after around 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Before this time, all information was heavily concealed by monarchs. It’s slowly getting more accessible. Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1985 reforms were another example of how being transparent (in Russia) mean’t lots of external help came.

Civics and Civility - Michael Singer

Created: 2021-11-28 Sun 17:57