Slippery slope of liberalism

“It is not that humans have become any greedier than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed have grown so enormously” – Alan Greenspan. Photo: Rob Crandall/

There are those who argue that our country is passing through an ideological void, with political talk lacking ideological substance, overtly emphasising the need to listen, but giving little indication as to what our politicians really stand for. Sounding more like survey-driven computers, pragmatists and advocating relativism, calling themselves liberal, brushing off any deferring opinion as “conservative”.

I don’t know if this is modern politics. If so, I don’t like it.

The local political debate seems to be exclusively concerned with ‘giving’ new freedoms and running an efficient economy. ‘Live and let live’ is the only phrase that resonates in whatever argument ones tries to make.  But is the era of ideology over?   I say no, in fact politicians are not doing away with ideology but embracing an old ideology, the liberalism.

They think it ‘modern’ but liberalism is older than socialism, nationalism, and Christian democracy. Liberalism was only newer to conservatism which sought to preserve the monarchy. These ideologies were born to counter the ravages of the liberalism which in 1776 gave birth to capitalism through the writings of Adams Smith (The Wealth of Nations).

Primarily liberalism is an economic concept. Smith believed that an “invisible hand” directed individuals and firms to work towards the nation’s good of wealth maximisation as an unintended consequence of their efforts to maximise their own gains.

Liberal thinkers in essence saw institutional roles needing to be kept to a minimum, opposing restrictive trade practices, monopolies, trade unions and regulation, termed the laissez-faire approach to economics. Sounds like ‘live and let live’. The only problem with economic liberalism was that although countries became richer, only the richer became richer, the rest are means of production or consumers.

The situation is not much different in Malta. As we feel more empowered, financially better, boundaries, morals and God simply stand in our way to attain the affluence we desire, maximising our earthly goals. This answers the question why despite our labour laws workers remain paid enough to stay where they are, tax evasion is rampant and social benefits become a drag on the economy. At some point, such a society breeds destruction.

This form of liberalism was credited with the Great Depression of the 1930s, and in more recent times, the world economic collapse of 2008 that left millions jobless. Policymakers saw deregulation a means to accelerate economic growth that served no other purpose than growth itself, consequently the enrichment of the few at the cost of many.

Alan Greenspan, the US Federal Reserve governor for nearly 20 years said: “It is not that humans have become any greedier than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed have grown so enormously.” And let me add, with devastating effect on many who lost their savings, pensions, jobs, their lives.

Many confuse liberalism with freedoms, because liberals seem to champion more freedoms. But liberalism is not akin to democratic freedoms

It is not uncommon that man falls into the same pitfalls, and there is not much that is different after all, call it classical liberalism, modern liberalism, neo-liberalism and so on.

Many confuse liberalism with freedoms, because liberals seem to champion more freedoms. But liberalism is not akin to democratic freedoms. In fact it was Augusto Pinochet’s Chilean dictatorship that coined neo-liberalism in the 1980s, seeing in liberalism a means to weaken institutions like the Church that opposed his regime. Interesting Pinochet often sought to justify his actions on the basis of Catholic principles, but by 1975, 300 priests viewed as a threat to the regime had been thrown out of the country.

Economic motive is behind liberalism. Institutions are perceived as barriers that need to be dismantled, including regulators (economic) or social (religious) as these hinder such goals.  As ‘new’ freedoms percolate in a more liberal society that cares less, this in the end rewards the privileged few over the many.

When we learn our lessons we do so the hard way, like in economic terms. After the 2008 world economic crisis, governments stepped in to reintroduce regulation, losing trust in the ‘market’ to self-control its accesses. Society moves into extremes, when everything is good we want more freedoms, ignoring the consequences. When things go wrong we swing to the other extreme of restrictions as we realise we need boundaries to protect society and the common good.

Liberalism hates boundaries, ignores the vulnerable, wanting to believe that as long as I am okay then everyone can be okay, which is completely untrue.

This is why when Health Minister Chris Fearne as a doctor argues that marijuana is harmful, but believes in its decriminalisation, saying it is matter of a personal choice, is wrong. Calling it a recreational drug makes it no less harmful and addictive. We invest in our children love, time and money to give them what is best.

The State – from our taxes – invests in their schooling from childcare to post-grad, millions of euros, just to flush them down the drain, and for what reason? For the financial gains of the few in the name of combatting trafficking? Oh I see, and those who disagree will be accused of protecting traffickers, how ironic.

Anthony Gatt, a Caritas drug expert said the legalisation of marijuana will increase the black market activity of other drugs (more dangerous). Why? Criminals seldom convert into legitimate businesses, as their profits are too low. They will simply push our young adults to harder drugs.

Don’t play with our youth, pressured and stressed with exams and passing from a strenuous phase in their lives, some mentally fragile and now seemingly ‘legal’ sharks. ‘Live and Let Live’ turns into ‘Live and Let Die’?

People are not stereotype mature self-controlled adults. Many are vulnerable, easily prey to peer pressure. Some pass through depressing moments and sold relief and destruction. We don’t need ‘recreational’ drugs, we need a strong government that fights traffickers and puts them in prison.  If the government is failing, it should be thrown out and not allowed to push its failure on our children. If the government wants to win the youth vote, it should take off the unnecessary pressure from the education system, make places of entertainment safe and not give them drugs.

The more liberal world around us has no qualms with abortion, as they tell us that a woman should be able to have sex without consequences, like men. Some propose to kill in the name of equality, rather than do away with the ridiculous system of allowing mothers to declare a father ‘unknown’ and disown them of any responsibility. Another ‘Live and let Die’ instead of introducing means to force fathers to share responsibility.

While our national broadcaster throws at us a story of a terminally ill person who speaks about his desire to be able to terminate life when the situation becomes too painful, if we disagree we become heartless. In Holland, they are openly discussing assisted suicide for perfectly healthy people. Recently I met a Dutch who brought up the subject. “Why is it wrong if say, a pensioner, struggling to economically survive, decides to leave, just like a party that is over?”  Another ‘Live and let die’.

In a few years’ time, when life stops being sacred, the debate will move to who decides who leaves and who stays. From our choice it will become the State’s prerogative; liberals will argue that our taxes should not provide for a person beyond a pensionable period and say at age 80 if the elderly has no financial independence he should be ‘sent away’ in the name of economic fairness and efficiency.  If life is not intrinsically valuable, why should the State protect and support you?

These are the liberal thoughts the world is moving into, where a human is not intrinsically valuable but merely a head count, a means for production, a consumer or dependent. The world still needs Christian Democratic values, whose political focus is the human in his vulnerabilities, weakness, difficulties, challenges and disabilities.

If we are all strong we need no order, we need no governments. The law of the jungle would be a deterrent from potential aggressors; we only need to howl like lions. We need politicians that put the vulnerable not the privileged first.

In the coming debates on the legalisation of prostitution, drugs, the changes expected to the Embryo Protection Act, and so many other issues, will we protect the vulnerable or will we ‘Live and Let Die’?

Tonio Fenech is a former Nationalist Party minister.