In contemporary times, with the New World Order and the Great Reset being not mere buzzwords but a forced policy push, there has been a massive increase in authoritarian tendencies of government with their tentacles penetrating almost every aspect of human lives. Citizens are treated as mere subjects of the state with their rights regularly trampled upon and them being forced to comply with dictates from coercive centralized powers. The COVID-19 pandemic was a major inflexion point which acted as a catalyst in greatly exacerbating the situation, with citizens being further divorced of their freedom to navigate economic activities and choices. Such tendencies should seriously make us introspect on how to devolve the power back to the people and arrest the massive rupturing of institutions which should have been at the forefront to safeguard citizen’s rights. In this essay, I present a case on why liberal ethos and values are essential for human civilization to prosper. I unpack what all core ingredients can be in today’s time for such a liberal society to flourish.
Freedom of Expression :
In polarized times of social media where communication is shrill and the scope for nuance is minimal, Freedom of Expression (FoE) is taking a backseat, despite technological advancements providing multiple forms, avenues, and opportunities to reach out to wider audiences due to network effects. The dominance in Academia and Institutions by a cabal of Marxists-Leftist has only resulted in the propagation of only one type of intellectual discourse and any deviation or alternatives presented have only been met with suppression and humiliation of the opposing side. This counter-productive culture has now spread all over society, with individuals forming very rigid viewpoints and unwilling to engage in dialogue with contrasting viewpoints. Rampant cancel culture and woke culture have added fuel to the fire, with people losing their jobs or getting de-platformed on social media for just presenting an alternative or counter viewpoint. FoE should be absolutely non-negotiable, where people critique the merit of an idea rather than a person. If someone doesn’t like a book or movie the solution lies in not being reactive by banning it and ostracizing the creator, but rather being responsive by creating a new movie or book to present your thoughts. We need to nurture an atmosphere where people with opposing thoughts can discuss and resolve their differences through dialogue in a civilized way. The State must ensure the FoE is maintained by ensuring a stringent rule of law by penalizing people who indulge in violent actions to suppress voices to create a strong deterrent. Coercive shutdown of media houses and ban on social media points during elections points to adisturbing trend globally curbing FoE and information discovery for voters to make the best decision. To quote Salman Rushdie “It’s no trick to support the free speech of somebody you agree with or to whose opinion you are indifferent. The defense of free speech begins at the point when people say something you can’t stand ”.
Independent Institutions :
A strong sovereign democracy requires strong independent Institutions at arm’s length from the executive and legislature. These institutions ensure fair play by all participants in various spheres like economic, political, and social. As Max Weber famously stated, “A government is an institution that holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence”. Therefore the government might tend to use coercion to meet its objectives, and therefore it becomes imperative to have strong independent institutions to keep a check. These institutions can ensure legislative oversight, tame the temptations of executive discretionary powers and ensure market competition and no special privileges for some entities for the benefit of consumers at large. They can prevent any sporadic foreign intervention wars, curb uncontrolled money printing and control temptations of cronyism in the economy. Chester Arthur rightly opined “Men may die, but the fabrics of free institutions remain unshaken ”. In Indian context , Institutions like Judiciary and Election Commission do get a rough rap for under-performance and slow pace of work but have been at the forefront of safeguarding citizens from tyrannical decisions of government at crucial junctures. It becomes very critical to ensure the health of these institutions so they don’t get corroded and compromised by vested interests. A vibrant democracy with active citizenry will ensure non-partisan institutions deliver.
Rule of Law, Contract Enforcement and Private Property :
A strong rule of law and contract enforcement by the state creates a strong incentive and trust for citizens to engage in market activity essential for growth and job creation. It ensures that miscreants who try to disrupt the social fabric and violate other citizens’ natural rights are penalized as per the due process of law. Similarly, contract enforcement becomes essential to ensure people deliver what they agreed to, otherwise a lax culture might develop where people get away without honoring delivery. These core setups are needed to ensure emergent orders and kickstart the power of human ingenuity and innovation. Private property is also very essential as it creates a strong incentive to preserve and accumulate wealth and then leverages it to pursue endeavors whatever the owner decides. Recently the Polish government passed a law to abolish private property which is a draconian step to meddle into people’s lives and received criticism from citizens also leading to a law and order crisis. It’s one of the core tenets of a liberal society to exercise choice on how one’s economic resources are spent. The state also needs to bolden up and develop the capacity in delivering rule of law,
Minimal Government Regulation and Low Taxes :
For Industries to run efficiently and optimize their production, they have to be free from bureaucratic red-tapism and adherence to a plethora of regulations as it takes away their energy to focus on their core competencies like production and understanding market trends. This interference by regulations and extra compliance costs create unnecessary impediments to business expansion which could have a positive ripple effect on creating jobs and economic prosperity. Similarly, the tax policy should be a minimal flat charge so most of the economic resources are best spent by people rather than by governments who are inefficient and don’t have complete knowledge of ground conditions. Acharya Chanakya in his magnum opus Arthashastra said: “A tax collector should collect taxes from a taxpayer just like a bee collects honey from a flower in an expert manner without disturbing its petals.” Just like we pay fees for Netflix subscriptions, a tax is also like subscription fees for benefits the government provides concerning rule of law and individual protection as there are “no free lunches”. A low flat tax would keep the base high and would prevent incidents of tax evasion. The prudent approach here is not to extract a bigger pie via taxes, but instead, make the size of the pie bigger which will shore up government revenues. It can then use these fiscal resources to correct some of the market failures and finance its projects.
This was a humble attempt to present some prerequisites for a liberal society. Although my attempt is non-exhaustive and incomplete and rightly so, as defining only “THE” attributes of liberty will be anti-liberty in approach. I rest my case to keep striving for liberty by taking refuge in the words of poet Kahlil Gibran who said “Life without liberty is like a body without spirit”.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.