Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It is not Liberty who sits on the edge of extremism

In today's Times, Tim Luckhurst in the Thunderer column has railed against Shami Chakrabarti as a "pin up for extremism" he argues,
"the trick known as triangulation seeks to popularise government policy by contrasting it with the views of unpopular minorities... Almost single-handedly [Chakrabati] has shifted the civil liberties lobby so far beyond the parameters of mainstream opinion that ministers pray she will oppose them. Their logic is simple: if Liberty objects, Middle Britain will automatically conclude that a policy is pure common sense."
This argument in itself is not particularly wrong, the nature of triangulation is such that it plays this intellectual trickery with the positioning of argument in order to make unpalatable policies appear sane. The problem of course is that which is positioned to appear sane is not by necessity right.

However, where Luckhurst fails is not in his argument outlining the worrying tendency toward triangulation on fundamental issues of Enlightenment principles, but instead in his two arguments to justify the limitations on liberty. His first argument is that the liberty of the "errant individual" should not be protected at the "detriment of the majority". Such an argument wistfully ignores de Tocqueville's warning of about the "tyranny of the majority" and the rise of mobocracy.

Luckhurst continues then to argue that Liberty's decision to support a man who was banned from a number of pubs in one town simply because of one incident in one pub is wrong because the PubWatch scheme "achieves the utilitarian ideal of the greatest good of the greatest number". It may be true that the utilitarian ideal is indeed achieved, but again this position is one that can prop up tyranny and could easily be used to justify, for example, the mass internment of all Muslims.

I am not, I should add, arguing that all that Shami Chakrabati and Liberty does is necessarily right, however, in the case of Luckhurst examples, and his arguments it is in fact he, not Liberty, who is flirting on the edges of extremism. For it his arguments, not Liberty's that have the potential of slipping into, and justifying tyranny. He is essential arguing, in the case of antisocial behaviour schemes, for a separation to be made between liberty and justice, and to paraphrase Burke, when any such separation is made then neither liberty nor justice is safe.

1 comment:

CityUnslicker said...

Great fisking this. I read this article today and was broadly in agreement. You sway my view sucessfully.