What would a liberal-totalitarian government look like? Is that too strange a concept to get your head around?
Well. It would be a government which enforced rigidly, and with severe sanction for those who disobeyed, a single-minded worldview of correct and incorrect behaviour. Plurality would not flourish, indeed it would be frowned upon. Such a government might, for example, give succour to an unrepresentative body of religious faith, prioritising something like the MCB over any other community of Islamic faith (and it would prosecute any civil servant brave enough to attempt to bring such misguided policy to light). It might ignore any scientific evidence about passive smoking, or animal cruelty, and enforce a ban on legal activities, such as smoking in pubs, or fox-hunting. It might project itself as “the political wing of the British people” (© Tony Blair, 1997), in order to delegitimise any political opposition. You don’t support ID cards? Aren’t you British? (The irony is intentional).
It would certainly, and with as much velocity as it could afford, take as much child-care into the hands of the state as possible, marginalising, de-funding and eventually obliterating any community-based self-help groups in favour of something like Sure Start. It would most definitely employ Stakhanovite-type statistics to prove that every year we’re becoming cleverer, more productive, more crime-free and healthier, dismissing any contrary opinion as that of psycho-sociological dysfunction.
So far, so Stalinist. Where does the liberal adjective come into play?
Using the definition provided by Andrew Sullivan’s Virtually Normal,
I’d say classic liberalism is about a contract between the state and
the people. For example: while a classic Tory sees marriage as an
institution which should self-evidently be protected, because of the
heavy weight of empirical evidence that it (marriage) is good for
families, and consequently good for the government, a liberal might see
marriage as a contract, first of all between the two people involved in
setting one up, and then between those two and the state itself, in
terms of the rights which flow from entering into that legal contract.
I’m claiming to be neither a classic Tory nor a full-on liberal: my
view of “what is a liberal-Tory” is something I’m still thinking about.
But I believe the marriage thing is quite a good example of the two
“extreme” (not in a political sense) ends of the liberal-Tory axis.
Under Brown (and the other ghastly automata, the Blunketts and the
Balls and the Millicreatures), there is a whole set of contracts in
place between government and the governed. If you think the right thing
and parrot the right clichés, then state patronage will gush like water
from the bath-tap in an American hotel. (I remember listening to one of
the Brown’s mini-ministers, screeching at the Today programme that it
was my “British duty” to be able to prove my identity. Prove it to
whom? For the purposes of what?).
And how else, other than in terms of contractual-enforcement, to
explain the latest and, to me, most repellent idea yet to have arisen
from Brown, that our bodies should no longer belong to ourselves, but
be the property of the state, to be used for organ transplantation at
the state’s behest, after our death.
Now it should not be necessary to offer the following paragraph, since
it has nothing to do with my argument. But anyway. I am a donor-card
bearer, and Mr Keith is well aware of my views: if there’s anything of
use left in my body after I’m done with it, I am more than happy –
indeed it makes me feel a little bit better about existence – that any
organs which could offer a better quality of life to anyone should be
transplanted before the final flick of the OFF switch. It is depressing
that many people are denied the chance of a fuller life, because too
many of us are a wee bit squeamish about what happens to our bits when
But my opinion on this is neither here nor there. You may vehemently
disagree with me. What deductive reasoning is available to anyone sane,
in order to arrive at the conclusion that my view (about the benefits
of post mortem organ transplantation) trumps yours and therefore you
forfeit the right to your own body. That was a rhetorical question. I
can’t even think of a utilitarian calculus which would make it work;
how do you measure the feelings of someone who finds the concept
unbearable against a regime of dialysis?
Of course I’m being “sensationalist”, according to the norms of
behaviour permitted by the government. Of course the caring state will
ensure that anyone sufficiently deviant to not wish to donate their
organs can contract out by signing a form (an ID card?) and their views
will not, underline not, be countermanded by any unaccountable state
functionary – of course not! – nor is there the slightest chance of any
data loss fiasco, leading to a presumption of consent. We’re living in
a country where the government can be trusted to handle the personal
data of the nation in a competent fashion, aren’t we? Are we? Oh.
Clearly, this administration is one of the most incompetent in history.
That anyone in a position of power could even offer up the concept of
government-sanctioned body-part removal as a serious political idea is,
however, demonstration of something much more malign than mere
functional incompetence (as is the implied sentimentalism of the
policy’s supposed appeal: New Labour makes a habit of such doublethink
(see Human Rights Act for details)). Supply your own definition. The
title of this piece sums up my opinion.
I turned 38 this week. Thirty-eight! To think of all that youthful
prom[you said you’d write about politics if I let you back – Ed]. No,
it just made me think. The last time the US elected a president who was
neither a Clinton nor a Bush was twenty of your Earth years ago, when I
was eighteen. Surely there must be something better on offer this time
around? I daren’t offer an opinion – whatever the Platform 10
headline might say – but I was wondering – if the US have decided to go for
alternating oligarchies, rather than any radical change – could we have
George Bush, Senior back? He was my favourite.