Opinion by Daniel Azaria.
In this age, people refrain from adopting political labels. For both good and bad. The good part is the sense that people don’t want to subscribe to ideologies, or be painted with a brush that they feel does not describe them. The American scientist, Neil Degrasse Tyson, made a great argument why he refrains from labels, while he clearly fits the category according to the essential attributes of certain isms. “I am disappointed by our unending urge to bypass subtleties in character, thought and expression, and just categorize people”.
He goes on to argue that it is intellectually lazy. I largely agree with him but maintain that schools of thought, nomenclature, and categorization are also important heuristics that enable us to move past some unnecessary hurdles in conversation and often save time. Imagine botany without its classifications. It would be difficult to move forward if at each given point we always focus on subtleties of each flower instead of general traits.
What I want to do is discuss some political labels, and describe why I think they are natural political allies instead of adversaries; liberals, neo-liberals, libertarians and neo-conservatives. Especially in the context of contemporary European politics, or in the US where there is a two party system, these natural allies should spend less effort thwarting each other through partisanship, but instead, promote each other, and have a substantive and vigorous debate on main issues where they differ.
What are the essentials of these ideologies that unite them? It is the adherence to enlightenment values, to what others call theoretical liberalism. Liberalism is an ideology that centres on liberty and equality. Elements involved in this are free speech, freedom of religion, freedom from tyranny and abusive governance, disinclination to hereditary privilege such as monarchy or nobility, free and fair trade, individual rights, some social framework that takes care of the worst off within society, belief in rationality and reason, and belief in democracy as the best form of governance. These are not small issues; these are huge philosophical concepts, which I think unite people more strongly than the places where disagreement within these ideologies lies.
A chance to revive enlightenment values
What differentiates each ideology from the other? Well, neo-conservativism is the belief that liberalism and freedom should be spread across the world, even possibly by force. If we see grotesque oppression, we have a duty to intervene and spread freedom and democracy.
Libertarianism has a general mistrust of government. Not that government is necessarily inherently evil, but the efficacy of such a large organization is dubious, to say the least. While the government is needed for certain issues, we should minimize its influence in our daily lives because it will often produce sub-optimal results. Also, it is prone to corruption and causes devastating often unintended consequences, such as in effect limiting our liberty. The best force by which to organize the society around is the free market forces; if we unleash them, Adam Smith’s invisible hand will arrange society at its most efficient and fair way.
Neo-liberalism is similar to liberalism at large but puts a special emphasis on free market capitalism, free trade, and globalization. And social liberalism places extra weight on the government’s role in fostering equality and fairness.
It seems obvious to me that these ideologies, in a political system like America, are natural allies. They should be able to have a vast intraparty discussion on the issues where they disagree, and through elaborate deliberation, they could form a political force that will truly move the world. This could be the new political centre, which the world so badly needs. In Europe, we see encouraging signs that this indeed could be happening. In France, the rise of Macron, which came at the expense of the republican and the socialist parties, is a great example. In Sweden, the party called the ‘Center Party’ has risen to popularity almost unthinkable some years ago. In England, we have the Liberal democrats, which have an outstanding chance to grow rapidly in the wake of Theresa May’s snap election. In Israel, the centre-right party, Yesh Atid, has sprung out in between Likud, which has become a classically conservative party, and Labour, which originates in the Social-democratic movement.
These are some examples of a new centre, which is a response to both right and left wing populist forces. One hopeful sign is how the classically liberal VVD party prevailed in the Dutch elections, soon we will see what happens in France and the UK. There are reasons to be optimistic that we might usher in a new era of enlightenment ideals penetrating politics.
Someone might argue that this liberal block is too big and that almost everyone falls in there, but I beg to differ. Conservativism has a different line of logic then either of these ideologies. While I might not agree with it, Conservatism is a coherent and noble endeavour with some great ideas as well that deserve to be heard and fully articulated.
Add to this the rise of the Alt-right, or what in Europe we term the far right, they too wouldn’t fit into this old-new centre. The same notion goes for old-fashioned European style social-democracy, and for socialism, Marxism and communism. All of these are ideologies that I don’t necessary agree with, have beads of wisdom within them that deserve to be heard, instead of mislabeled as “too liberal”.
The accusation that ‘all politicians are the same’ is a result of that the candidates who lean most towards the median voter generally win. Instead of having leaders from either side pandering to catch the centrist voters, let’s build parties that represent the centre. Even America, the beacon of partisan bickering, at the end of the day is mostly a country of centrists. But with rising partisanship, a situation has been created where politicians who agree on many if not most of the biggest issues, end up smearing their opponents who they might barely disagree with, in the name of partisanship and personal ambition.
There was a time when the Republican and Democratic nominee traveled together from town to town to campaign. It was a time when the opposition were opponents or adversaries, but not enemies, and there did not seem to be a chasm dividing the candidates. Let’s put it this way; Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama ideologically had more in common with each other than with the fringes of their own parties, especially if we look at the fringes of their respective parties today.
This is why I motion to create a new political centre, which consists of liberals, neo-liberals, libertarians, and neo-conservatives. They might not agree with each other on everything but on many of the biggest issues, they do. Let’s revive values that many take for granted, namely those which originate from enlightenment liberalism.
Daniel Azaria has an MA from Tel Aviv University in Political Science and Political Communications, and a BA in Business Administration from IDC Herzliyah. His writing has been published by Jerusalem Post and he has been interviewed by several Swedish publications, such as Aftonbladet and Swedish Radio, to comment on current events in Israel and the Zionist movement. He is originally Swedish, but has been stationed mainly in Tel Aviv for the past 10 years.