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Examining the Liberal Manifesto

Though I don’t favour any political ideology, it is interesting to explore “Centrist-Liberalist” ideology. Liberal International is an umbrella organization for many liberal political parties. Its regional members include the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats. In this article, I set out to list their principles and beliefs, largely based on the Oxford Manifesto of 1947, 1997 and the Andorra Manfesto of 2017.

Brussels’ Manifesto – 1946

It states:

  1. We oppose every form of Government which fails to guarantee to all its people liberty of conscience, liberty of the press, liberty of association and of the free expression and publication of their beliefs and opinions.
  2. We oppose every reactionary or totalitarian form of Government. We assert our faith in political liberty and democracy. Government must safeguard the fundamental rights of the human personality, personal freedom, the right of free criticism and fulfill its responsibility towards its People.
  3. We oppose those solutions which place all the National Economy in the hands of the State. We affirm our confidence in an economic system which respects private initiative, the spirit of enterprise and responsibility.
  4. We assert that our aim is to develop among men a faith in education and in the value of character, to give them a sense of liberty and responsibility and to fit them for service to their country and to mankind.

Not only do they state their beliefs, but also what they oppose! It’s quite clear that they oppose authoritarianism (no democracy), communism (govt.-controlled economy) and socialism (no private property). The essential freedoms to consider are: (1) worship/religious belief (2) the media (3) expression (4) association. We’ll see below that they will expand this list.

They not only talk about rights, but also responsibilities. The responsibility of being fit to serve one’s country and mankind at large.

Oxford Manifesto – 1947

  1. Man is first and foremost a being endowed with the power of independent thought and action, and with the ability to distinguish right from wrong.
  2. Respect for the human person and for the family is the true basis of society.
  3. The State is only the instrument of the community; it should assume no power which conflicts with the fundamental rights of the citizens and with the conditions essential for a responsible and creative life, namely:
    • Personal freedom, guaranteed by the independence of the administration of law and justice;
    • Freedom of worship and liberty of conscience;
    • Freedom of speech and of the press;
    • Freedom to associate or not to associate;
    • Free choice of occupation;
    • The opportunity of a full and varied education, according to ability and
    • irrespective of birth or means;
    • The right to private ownership of property and the right to embark on
    • individual enterprise;
    • Consumer’s free choice and the opportunity to reap the full benefit of the productivity of the soil and the industry of man;
    • Security from the hazards of sickness, unemployment, disability and old age;
    • Equality of rights between men and women.
  4. True democracy is inseparable from political liberty and is based on the conscious, free and enlightened consent of the majority, expressed through a free and secret ballot, with due respect for the liberties and opinions of minorities.
  5. The suppression of economic freedom must lead to the disappearance of political freedom. We oppose such suppression, whether brought about by State ownership or control or by private monopolies, cartels and trusts. We admit State ownership only for those undertakings which are beyond the scope of private enterprise or in which competition no longer plays its part.
  6. The welfare of the community must prevail and must be safeguarded from the abuse of power by sectional interests.
  7. A continuous betterment of the conditions of employment, and of the housing and environment of the workers is essential. The rights, duties and interests of labour and capital are complementary; organised consultation and collaboration between employers and employed is vital to the well-being of industry.
  8. Service is the necessary complement of freedom and every right involves a corresponding duty. If free institutions are to work effectively, every citizen must have a sense of moral responsibility towards his fellow men and take an active part in the affairs of the community.

Pros:

Cons:

Rome Manifesto – 1981

Rome 1981 - 6608 words

Helsinki Declaration – 1990

Cons:

Oxford Manifesto – 1997

Certain gems from the Oxford Manifesto

  1. Decentralisation and Freedom
    the greatest possible devolution and spread of power in the economic, social and governmental fields, especially by determined action against monopolies;
  2. We believe that the community has a special responsibility to protect natural resources, cultural treasures and the beauty of cities and countryside from indiscriminate development, either by public or private interests.
  3. A growing population demanding a disproportionate increase in consumption will provoke inflation, and endanger social and economic achievement and progress by promoting monetary instability. In a free democracy this can only be avoided by a system of voluntary, balanced restraint on the part of the state and all social groups.
  4. We advocate regional economic groupings provided they do not become instruments for regional protectionism or for economic exploitation by one country of other countries and do not degenerate into bureaucratic-technocracies operating outside a system of democratic controls.
  5. For the individual, this involves security from the hazards of sickness, unemployment, disability and old age, and the provision of adequate housing.
  6. It also requires the provision of the best possible educational facilities, physical as well as intellectual, humanist as well as technical, for everyone, irrespective of birth or means.
  7. It also involves the need to fight against the feeling of alienation in employees by giving them the right to participate responsibly in the running, stability and development of the enterprises in which they work and enabling them to acquire a financial interest therein.
  8. We believe that aid to poorer areas should not be given for selfish political or economic motives, and we stress the need for cooperation by the authorities and inhabitants of the areas and for the development of their sense of freedom, initiative and responsibility. With the same aims in view, we believe that close coordination between governmental agencies, private enterprises and voluntary organisations is necessary.

Andorra Manifesto – 2017

Quoting:

Liberals deny many of the charges against them:

Many people see Liberalism merely as a Western excuse for economic selfishness and irresponsibility.

They claim that rising inequalities of wealth is just a suspicion, not yet proved:

These anti-liberal developments often feed on the suspicion that rising inequalities of power and wealth are preventing the liberal social contract from delivering fair opportunities for those who are most disadvantaged.

They disregard the wisdom of our ancestors (i.e., anti-tradition):

Liberalism builds on human ingenuity and creativity rather than merely clinging to the received wisdom of the past.

Liberals have toned down their chest-thumping on indivudualism since 1947, so much so that in 2017, they’ve highlighted the importance of community now. In fact, the Andorra Manifesto is a “big-tent” document which encompasses pretty much any political ideology.

Liberals recognise that human rights are individual, not collective. It is about the freedom you can use to live a life you value, without limiting the freedom of others. That is not to say that Liberalism is mere individualism. Community is also important. Liberalism is about liberty - the freedom of the individual - but it is also about liberality - generosity of spirit to ‘the Other’, not just our close friends and family, but to the whole family of humankind.

Coming from the Abrahamic West, they’re a proselytising ideology, i.e., they want to interfere in other countries in order to spread their ideology:

All members of our societies can be authors of their own lives and should enjoy the same human rights. This is a core value of liberal democracies, which stand for individual freedom and the rule of law and against unfair discrimination. Liberals defend these rights both at home and abroad.

Now they proceed to make vague claims on “what” we must should do, without explaining “how” liberals would do it:

We must overcome rigid social divides in our societies. Governments all over the world can and must create institutions and pursue policies that are more inclusive and strive to empower their citizens in freedom.

Just like socialists, they’re now arguing for equal outcomes, not equal opportunities anymore. They want “even distribution of property” for women:

…inequalities for women…still remain… especially in the uneven distribution of property and political representation.

They’re pro-abortion in the name of “reproductive rights” of women:

… as well as the widespread use of violence against women and the denial of their sexual and reproductive rights.

They’re pro-refugees:

Where a state violates these human rights, liberal democracies must stand ready to offer refuge to those fleeing such violations… It is clear to us that asylum is the responsibility of the international community as a whole. At the same time, liberal societies also recognise their responsibility to help identify and fight the root causes of people fleeing their home countries whether those causes are economic, political or violent conflicts.

Note that they exclude “religious conflicts” in the list of refugees.

The key words are decentralisation, transparency and accountability. Probably no person of any political ideology disagrees with these, so nothing special:

As a form of government, democracy makes it possible to hold those in power accountable for what they do. Accountability, in turn, is a key for a better government, and so are transparency and a sufficient decentralisation of decision-making, which guarantee more direct participation and control of government by citizens.

They call for the separation of “church and State”, i.e., secularism in the true sense and not minority appeasement:

Religions and other beliefs have a natural place in civil society but Liberals advocate the separation of organized religions and state institutions in order to avoid the centralizing of power and maintain the diversity of our communities.

They introduce yet another right which was forgotten previously, the “right to privacy”:

… a rules-based framework guarantees the integrity of individual private data, online privacy and freedom from surveillance.

Information about public authorities must be publicly-accessible, simliar to the Right to Information (RTI) Act:

In order to provide the media and general public with the ability to control public authorities, it is crucial to ensure access to information regarding the affairs of public and democratic institutions at all levels.

Now they answer on how to achieve “equality of opportunity”:

Providing a high-quality education to all irrespective of social or economic background is the best guarantor of equality of opportunity.

They’re pro-reservation or affirmative action, not just based on economic needs of a person but also “socially disadvantaged” (i.e., SC/ST but not OBC?):

This can only be accomplished if additional support is provided for those who are economically and socially disadvantaged to enable them to work their way into active participation in society.

Government must provide healthcare for everyone, but they don’t say whether it means universal healthcare funded by tax money or also private hospitals:

All national governments and the international community must make improving health standards and providing access to health care for everyone an ambition and primary objective.

On environmental sustainability, they concede that the rich countries must help the poor:

Liberals believe that economic growth and progress must be sustainable environmentally, fiscally and socially. These are the three key attributes of the quality of growth. Economic progress must not be based on local or global environmental degradation, on excessive borrowing and largesse, on elite capture, tax evasion or the domination of one group over another.

Climate change is the greatest environmental threat humanity knows. This means that on economic as well as moral grounds, global support is necessary for poor countries to adjust to more sustainable growth.

Note that they seem to call for a “large government” which makes up a lot of rules and regulations. They don’t like excessive debt-based spending by the government:

Similarly, Liberals support rules-based frameworks for fiscal responsibility so that governments cannot rely on future generations to pay for current growth and cannot degrade democracy via excessive debt-based public spending.

As before, they oppose monopoly:

Liberals support local, national, regional and global legal frameworks that prevent exploitation of individuals and groups by others as well as the emergence of monopolies, whether of the state or of the private sector.

They want to use technology for the good, not evil:

Technological advances must never be used for war or armament. Curing illness, achieving food security and development and fostering the expansion of freedoms should be their main goals.

How to achieve that? Yup, government should make up more rules.

Governments, international institutions and civil society should prevent well-defined abuses through transparent supervision that does not unduly hinder the process of scientific discovery, research and individual development.

What if the government itself abuses technology for spying on its citizens or dropping bombs on innocent foreign countries? No answer.

As expected, they want a global economy and no protectionism for businesses:

Resistance to economic protectionism remains a key liberal commitment as is our obligation to ensure that as many people as possible benefit from a liberalised global economy. While we recognise that the market system by itself does not guarantee a fair distribution of wealth, we will fight to provide equitable access to markets, property, capital, infrastructure, health and education for everybody.

They’re ok with refugee quotas:

We accept that in some cases there may need to be limitations to the size and the pace of population movement given the capacity and size of the receiving country.

As expected, no one wants wars or armed conflicts:

Nevertheless conflicts over territory, resources, government, ethnicity, religion and ideology arise, and old feuds re-emerge. For Liberals the preservation or development of peaceful, respectful relations between communities, instead of the use of illegal, aggressive force, remains the basis for any civilised resolution of conflict.

Takeaway

It is important to note that they use certain words sparingly or not at all: “secularism”, “diversity”, “identity”, “equality”, “inclusive” or “rationalism”: