Guy Verhofstadt MEP was appointed as the European Parliament's chief negotiator following the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union. Having served as Belgium's Prime Minister, Mr. Verhofstadt entered the European Parliament and, shortly afterwards, was elected to lead the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Group. He is known for his passionate defence of European values and is a staunch advocate for reforming the Union.
Mr. Verhofstadt's made international headlines with his address to the UK’s diplomatic, political, media, and foreign affairs community at the world-renowned think-tank, Chatham House.
Governor Howard Dean was the 79th Governor of Vermont, USA, and a 2004 candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination – his ability to harness the internet in this campaign, and later pursue a 50-state strategy, are cited as major contributing factors in the presidential success of President Barack Obama.
Amid a highly unconventional primary season, Governor Dean addressed a capacity audience at the prestigious London-based think tank, Chatham House. In this presidential election year, the former Chairman of the Democrat National Committee spoke of the US elections and the future of liberal democracy.
Commissioner Cecilia Malmström is the European Union’s Chief in charge of navigating the implementation of the largest global trade deal in history – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – between the United States and the EU.
As world leaders gathered in New York City to address the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, Commissioner Malmström spoke of the benefits that world-wide trade has brought communities in every part of the world but recognised that world trade is changing and that politicians must provide new policy responses.
As leader of the Dutch Liberal Party VVD, Mr Rutte is one of the most influential contemporary liberals. In Europe, he is a key decision maker in the way that the EU addresses the economic crisis. Worldwide, he is one of the leading liberal heads of government.
The Prime Minister, who was joined by LI President Hans van Baalen MEP and British Cabinet Minister Dr Vince Cable, spoke about the importance of the EU–US trade negotiations and the future of the European Union.
Liberalism is a family of common allegiance. We believe in limited government in the service of individual liberty and fiscal responsibility in the service of social compassion.
Our creed is a pragmatic vision of good government that adapts to context. The context that matters to me is Canada. So tonight I will focus on what liberalism looks like when viewed through a Canadian lens.
Let me begin with the commitments that all liberals share.
Being a liberal is a habit of the heart. Before it became a political label, ‘liberal’ was a synonym for ‘generous’. A liberal helping on a plate was a generous helping. A liberal person was both a generous host and an open-minded thinker.
Liberalism should never lose its founding association with generosity of heart and openness of mind. These are the habits of heart that we need to keep to save our beliefs from curdling into political correctness or ideological dogmatism.
A liberal politics puts freedom first.
A liberal’s disagreement with a socialist or social democrat comes down to this: we both seek equality, but the only equality a liberal thinks is worth striving for is an equality of freedom.
A liberal’s disagreement with conservatives comes down to this: we both seek freedom, but a liberal believes no one can achieve it alone. There is such a thing as society, and government’s purpose is to shape a society in which individual freedom can flourish.
We put freedom first but we are not libertarians. We think that individuals cannot be free without a free society. The institutions that create freedom include, but are not limited to, public education for all, free access to medical care, retirement pensions in old age, assistance for the disabled, public security in our streets and the protections afforded by a sovereign nation state.
The liberals who fought to create these institutions were inspired by the belief—best expressed by Franklin Roosevelt—that men and women who live in fear are not free. Liberal government exists to lift fear from the souls of free men and women.
A society without fear is unthinkable without equality before the law. A person discriminated against because of their gender, race, creed, sexual orientation or economic circumstance is not free.
Liberals believe that freedom is indivisible, and that to defend our own, we ought to defend those of our fellow citizens, and those fellow human beings outside our borders who call for our help.
Liberals are optimistic about human nature but skeptics about power. To control power, liberals believe that majority rule needs the checks and balances of an independent judiciary, a bicameral legislature, a free press, and charters of rights that protect individuals and groups from the tyranny of the majority.
We regard government neither as an unlimited good nor as a necessary evil, but rather as the framework of opportunity that makes liberty possible.
Our view of economic power is as skeptical as our view of political power. We believe in free markets and free competition because we want to protect individuals from economic tyranny. But we know that markets do not naturally serve the public interest. Left to themselves, they generate unwelcome externalities, like extreme income inequality and pollution of the environment. Protection of the public interest requires regulation. The challenge is to achieve the proper balance: allowing markets to allocate risk, reward and resources, while safeguarding the public interest with skilful, precise and light regulation.
Today there is a new challenge to the liberal idea of limited government. In order to avert systemic economic collapse, governments everywhere have intervened in markets, taking over banks, car manufacturers and insurance companies.
All governments are now recognizing the potential moral hazard of these interventions. Bailouts create the expectation among risk takers that they can return to risk-taking with impunity, because they will be rescued once again. When governments step in, ordinary citizens wonder why their taxes are being spent to rescue a foolish few from their mistakes.
The fact is that the mistakes of a few were threatening the livelihoods of the many. Governments stepped in to save the jobs of auto workers, to keep credit flowing for small businesses, and to preserve the pensions and investments of small investors.
Protecting the public interest in this way is what government is for. But these new demands for intervention leave the role of government in a free society anything but clear.
Socialists decry bank rescues as state bailouts of failed capitalist elites while conservatives decry intervention as creeping state socialism. Other conservatives, like the ones in power in Canada, have been forced to carry out liberal stimulus programs their own ideology previously rejected, only proving that it is tough to do something well when you don’t believe in doing it at all.
Liberals might be expected to welcome the interventionist turn. The problem is that we don’t actually believe in big but in good government. It is not obvious that we get good government when government is asked to do everything.
Market de-regulation may have led the global economy to the edge of disaster, but heavy-handed government intervention may only slow economic recovery. Further government bailouts may push the deficit up to unsustainable levels. Further government borrowing may push up the cost of credit and reignite inflation.
Liberals accept the necessity of deficit spending to get the economy going again. But we want the scarce resources of government to be invested strategically on public education, science and technology and the infrastructure, especially green energy, that creates long term growth.
In the short-term, governments may have to own banks, insurance companies and car manufacturers, but in the medium term, they should return these businesses to the private sector as soon as they have recouped the public investments necessary to keep them from going under.
Governments will need to regulate markets but will have to find a way to do so without stifling market innovation. Governments can require markets to be transparent to both buyers and sellers and they should set capital and collateral requirements for lending, backed by tough sanctions.
If the global economic crisis presents challenges for every liberal government, not every government handles them the same way.
Liberalism, Berlin taught us, is not a bloodless breviary for rootless cosmopolitans. It is a fighting creed for men and women devoted to the fate of their particular national communities. So it is with me.
The Canada I grew up in, the Canada that shaped me is a liberal Canada. My party fought for publicly funded health-care for all. We campaigned to guarantee charter rights of equality for all Canadians. We have stood for recognition of the national identities of our constituent peoples. We believe that government has a standing responsibility to overcome inequalities of life between rural and urban, northern and southern, eastern and western regions. Finally, we believe that our example of a bilingual, multinational, multicultural nation state has a lot to offer to a wider world of nations ravaged by linguistic, cultural and national conflict.
We are a cold northern nation of 33 million people spread out across the second largest expanse of territory of any nation state. Canadians understand that individuals can survive and prosper only by banding together in community.
Canadian rights culture strikes a distinctive balance between the individual and the collective. Individual freedoms are not unlimited or unconditional, as they are in the American constitution. In Canada they are “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” These words appeal to a tacit understanding of a distinctively Canadian balance between liberty and community.
A liberal Canada is very different from a liberal America, even under a Democratic administration. Next door, American liberals are still fighting for rights—public health care, a woman’s right to choose and a person’s right to marry the person of their choice —that are settled questions for most Canadians. Affirmative action programs created in the 1960’s by American liberal administrations are now under court challenge. In Canada, affirmative action is explicitly mandated in our charter of rights and freedoms.
The Canadian idea of limited government is also different from the American. Our domestic market—a weakly populated band of settlement a hundred kilometers deep and five thousand kilometers long– was too small and diffuse to mature without the fostering hand of government. With the most powerful nation on earth on our doorstep, Canadian governments had to master the complex balancing act of protecting a domestic market, maintaining our sovereignty and keeping our American border open to trade, ideas and peoples.
The enduring character of our linguistic, cultural and national differences has also shaped our philosophy of government. One hundred and forty two years ago, four independent British colonies agreed to form a federation. Three were majority English speaking, Protestant and ordered by English common law. One of them was Catholic, French and ordered by the French civil code. And then there were the aboriginals, recognized by treaty, as constituent peoples. From the beginning, we had to make a complex unity out of these differences. We had to anchor collective rights to language and education in our constitution. We had to respect claims to land and territory that pre-existed our political foundation. We had to learn to compromise, to reach out across divides that have broken other countries apart. As we have expanded to ten provinces and three territories, encompassing five distinct economic regions, and providing a welcome to immigrants from every land, we have sustained the whole edifice of our federation on the constant practice of conciliating difference across languages, identities and cultures.
Government is central to Canadian survival, but at the same time, our federation distributes its powers so that no single order of government can dominate. The decentralization of our federation allows government to be close to the people and keeps its powers in check, while safeguarding the necessary rights of self-government of our regions and founding peoples.
The sheer difficulty of keeping this complex unity together has bred compromise and conciliation into the Canadian soul. Because our unity cannot be taken for granted, we understand that pragmatic political leadership and moderate government are conditions of our survival.
This is the deeper reason why conservative ideologies run into difficulty with us. Getting government off the back of the people is not a persuasive slogan for a country like ours. Canadians know that wise government is essential to keep regions from falling behind, to keep Canadians equal and to keep us together. They also know that liberal habits of mind —compromise, generosity and pragmatism—are as important as government itself.
The now officially disbanded Progressive Conservative Party of Canada basically accepted liberal Canada and its vision of enabling government. The Conservative Party currently in power is a different animal entirely. Its leadership harbors an incurable distrust of liberal Canada. It cannot conceal its instinct that less government is invariably better government. For liberals, limited government is the condition of Canadian existence.
The battle between liberal and conservatives in our country is therefore a battle over the role of government in maintaining the unity of the country.
In other countries, the unity of the state is a settled question, and so a politics of division can have no fatal consequences. In the United States, intense partisanship, attack ads and ideological vituperation do not endanger a country that settled the question of its unity in the American Civil War. In our country, a politics that arouses ethnic and regional resentment, creating wedges in order to mobilize a conservative base vote, is playing with fire. Last December, the current Prime Minister sought to survive a constitutional crisis of his own making by playing region against region and language group against language group. In our country, this is a dangerous game.
Canada is sturdy and enduring, but it is also fragile. All politics, in our country, is the politics of national unity. Leadership that fails to understand that is bound to fail.
Furthermore, in a time of crisis, leadership is about preparing a country for the future. Crisis foreshortens time horizons. All we can think about is getting through the crisis. Leadership is about pushing these time horizons back and preparing for the future.
Conservatives tend to believe that when markets correct and growth returns societies simply adapt to new economic conditions. In reality, without foresight and planning by government, people can be left unprepared for new opportunities. The new economy that will emerge from the creative destruction of the last eighteen months will need new skills, and government will need to invest continuously in scientific and technological training for the next generation. That new economy will have to support ever larger numbers of older people on a shrinking base of the working employed. So a government with foresight will have to encourage immigration, raise productivity support retirement pensions and provide health care for those who have left the work-force. It will have to do all this while stabilizing climate change and pollution. Markets cannot do this alone. Without action by government, the future will not be prepared for our children.
Liberalism is well-suited to these tasks because liberals believe in government and understand that pragmatic adaptation is a better guide for leadership than ideology and dogmatism.
Isaiah Berlin always believed this about the liberal creed. He remains an inspiration because he was so lacking in doctrinaire rigidity, so sensitive to context and national character, so realistic about the limits of the possible and so committed to the possibilities of a compassionate politics.
For a liberal, governing is always about choosing. Choices between good and evil are obvious enough, though hard; the choices that bedevil democracies are choices between competing goods. Berlin was often asked how a liberal should make such choices. One of his replies is worth quoting at length:
“You weigh up the factors as best you can, you rely upon all the knowledge at your disposal, scientific, your own experience, your general sense of what is likely to occur, what human beings are like, what the world is like. You discount your capacity for error, you listen to persons you think wise, in the end you decide as you decide, and you are responsible for what you have done, and if what you have done is foolish, then no matter how pure your motives, you have committed a crime. All you can say—all you can ever say—is that you have done your best to behave well in accordance with such moral values and such facts as you possess.”
The humility of this is as becoming as the stoic willingness to take responsibility for failure. This may make a liberal politics sound like a lonely road indeed. But Berlin did not believe liberals faced the hard choices of politics alone and without guides or inspirations. Always and everywhere, liberals could turn for help, first to the enduring principles of the liberal creed, and then to their country, to its institutions, its memory and its traditions. His motto might be said to have been: in all matters of principle, stand fast for freedom and in all particulars, let your nation be your guide. Mine is Canada. Thank you for listening.
21st Century Politics: Reconciling the Spirit and Ethics of Liberalism
Let me begin by telling you that I’m very happy to be here tonight for a number of reasons. Firstof all, speaking to liberal groups is always a pleasure. I often begin my remarks at Partyactivities in Canada by saying how much liberal groups are a pleasure.
I believe that liberals are much nicer than individuals of any other political ideology! In fact,they are much nicer people precisely because of that ideology. I believe that being a liberalcarries, beyond our philosophy, an attitude toward others and toward life that is very generous,open and makes us enjoy life. As liberals, our attitude of openness and of tolerance, and ourability to see diversity not as a threat to our own identity but as an opportunity to deepen it, isvery healthy.
I would be remiss if I did not thank you for your invitation to give this year’s Isaiah Berlinlecture. This represents a great honour for me. Isaiah Berlin was a very big star in the Oxfordfirmament when I arrived there in 1973. I was very pleased to discover such a wonderful thinker.It was also then, at Oxford, that I discovered the Oxford movement, the declarations of 1947 andthe new draft in 1967, all of which led me to become very interested in Liberal International.That interest shaped my political beliefs. I became a member of Liberal International before Iwas a member of the Liberal Party of Quebec and the Liberal Party of Canada.
It seems appropriate to start with a few remarks about Canada, and about being a liberal inCanada. It is not a coincidence that Liberals have come to govern Canada for the majority of thelast century, a rare feat for a Liberal party. As Liberals, we have contributed a lot to shapingCanada as an original country, and I dare say, as an original political project. I see Canadianvalues as a reflection of liberal values.
Canada as an Original Political Project:
I often speak of the Canadian exception, a country that possesses two features that are at theheart of liberal ideology.
First, Canada is truly original in that we long ago rejected the traditional nation State model,which bases its citizenship on a common ethnicity or language. The second exceptional featureof Canada is that we have developed among our citizens a strong sense of solidarity andcooperation. These two features, in my mind, are at the heart of Liberal ideology and haveshaped Canada since the beginning.
Canada made a conscious choice to chart a different path from other nations of the time, a choiceparticularly pertinent for this era of globalization and increased mobility. I see its foundingmoment in the early 1840s, when Lafontaine’s and Baldwin’s “golden handshake” showed theirdetermination to ignore Lord Durham’s Report (which recommended a form of assimilation ofthe “inferior” French population). Our unique choice was reinforced in 1867 with the passage ofthe British North America Act, which indicated that, in the process of adopting federalism, Canada would further accommodate the French minority.
We were not proposing to be a solely English speaking state, nor a solely French speaking state.Instead of having the traditional nation state with one language, one religion, one legal system,and one culture, we created a country in with two languages, many cultures and religions, andtwo legal systems, represented in both the common law and the civil code. As a result, waves ofimmigrants found a very different, diverse and welcoming kind of country, where they wereencouraged to celebrate their own roots. These immigrants contributed to forming the originalmosaic that Canada became over the years.
In fact, our dual legal system offers great insight into the advantage that the Canadian modeloffers. It allows Canada to understand the cultural differences between the Americans andBritish, who base their society on common law, and the French, and indeed all the continentalsocieties based on the civil code. I see it at the World Trade Organizations (WTO) when Europeans, with their civilist tradition, demand that everything be codified and carved in stone, whereas North Americans are more prepared to count on jurisprudence.
All of this is to say that citizenship in Canada would not be based in linguistic groupings or othertrappings of the nation state. Instead, we created a political citizenship that incites our citizens toabide by certain cardinal values, including respect for the individual characteristics of eachperson, a common sense of justice, and a sense of moderation in the use of power. I believe thatis the heart of liberalism. We did not strive for a melting pot in which identities are blended, butrather a mosaic. Your groups, your personalities and where you come from, are assets to thecountry. This great Canadian mosaic, a non nation state, makes for a country that in my viewreflects many of our liberal values.In avoiding the traditional nation state model, we have built a country exactly the contrary.
Canada offers an identity built on political citizenship rather than ethnic citizenship. By rejectingoutright policies of forced assimilation of minorities and elimination of differences, and byencouraging people to keep the cultures and traditions from their country of origin, Canada hasbecome rich in diversity and tolerance, a modern country well prepared for the post-modern eraof polarization.
The second characteristic of the Canadian identity which contributes to our exceptionalismstems from the fact that we are truly northerners. Indeed, solidarity is at the heart of our identityas much as winter is. When it’s minus 25 degrees, and minus 35 degrees with the wind chillfactor, even the strongest, most autonomous individuals learn very quickly that to surviverequires solidarity. With our vast land mass and trying climate, a smoking chimney in thedistance serves as a welcome call for travellers in need. Shelter protects us from the harshenvironment, as does the warmth and strength of our communities. From a historicalperspective, we learned to survive with cooperation from our aboriginal communities. If youdon’t cooperate and build a spirit of solidarity, you won’t live past October!
Having refused to build itself upon one language, one religion and one culture, Canada chosefrom the outset to define itself instead by a shared belief in certain cardinal values: respect forthe distinct characteristics of each person, a common concern for justice, and a sense ofmoderation in the use of power. In short, one might speak of a passion for balance incharacterizing the Canadian spirit. This passion for balance is still reflected today in ourdiscomfort with radical ideologies, in an active concern to find the happy medium in humanaffairs. For Canadians, prosperity without fairness has no meaning, cohabitation withoutsolidarity has no meaning, power with no counterweight has no meaning, wealth withoutgenerosity has no meaning, diversity without sharing has no meaning. Like liberals, Canadiansare resolute in their cultivation of the passion for balance!
Two Pillars of Liberal Ideology: Confidence and Conscience
Thus, I believe that the Canadian experiment has a lot to do with the two pillars of liberalphilosophy and liberal ideology. One pillar is what I call the confidence factor. The other pillaris conscience.
Confidence, the first pillar of liberalism, is a fundamental element of the human spirit. Each ofus, at different points in our lives, can pinpoint where we have been individually confident in ourendeavours. It is an inherent feeling of knowing that you are on a just and prosperous path. However, confidence can also be understood by the collectivity, as whole societies can beconfident in their collective endeavours. A confident western society after the Second WorldWar, for example, created the ties that now bind us socially, economically and politically,reflected in institutions such as the United Nations, for peaceful resolution of disputes; theWorld Trade Organization, for establishing rules to foster global commerce; or the Internet,which links individuals and societies in the ultimate form of democracy—free informationsharing.
Confidence is more than simply liberal markets, but rather is reflected in relations of trust thatbind us. A hallmark of confidence is courage; this courage that has allowed more individuals andsocieties to enjoy unprecedented prosperity than ever before in our common history. That is thepillar of confidence.
Conscience is the second pillar of liberalism. It is more than awareness or tolerance. It meansprosperity within our means, reflected in choices made by individual citizens and societies aftercareful reflection. That reflection requires an evaluation of our future goals and the greaterhorizons we wish to achieve, based in an ethic of morality and compassion. Conscienceencompasses social, economic and political prosperity, but requires individuals and societies tohave the courage to consider what kind of prosperity they wish to enjoy, which may requirechanges and choices.
In past centuries we have confidently consumed greatly. This second pillar of liberalismsuggests that in the future, while we must remain confident, we must embrace an enhanced ethicof conscience.
At this, the dawn of the 21st century, I am convinced that we are entering into a new civilization.In my view, at this time in our history, we are reaching the limit of what confidence, alone, canbuild and produce. We are extremely confident, but we are missing a counterweight to ourconfidence, as existed for most of the 20th century, through communism and socialism. A betterand much more “liberal” counterweight, in my mind, is an ethic of conscience, which is centralto the liberal ethic.
From this perspective, I think that the emblematic figure of Isaiah Berlin constitutes a source ofincomparable inspiration. One need only read “Freedom and Its Betrayal,” a compilation byHenry Hardy of famous radio lectures that Berlin devoted to the six enemies of liberty:Helvétius, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel, Saint Simon and Joseph de Maistre. Today, freedom isunder major threat even from those who would claim to be its servants.Just as his dire reminder invites us to be cautious, so too do Berlin’s positive reflections on thenature of liberty. They invite us to be ingenious in its promotion. The work of Isaiah Berlin,assembled by Henry Hardy in “Liberty,” provides a salutary lesson that we urgently need toadapt for our own time. Liberals, as embodied so well in Berlin himself, have to discover thetragic sense of human existence and at its core, the practice of freedom. Freedom ceaselesslyforces us to choose between competing values that are not necessarily equivalent and that aresometimes reconcilable but often irreconcilable. I believe that we are at this juncture.
I know that in some liberal circles, conservative, pure market economics have met with somesupport. In my view, this very conservative economic approach, the so called “Washingtonconsensus” that elevated the guiding principles of privatization, deregulation and liberalization,brings with it certain dangers, as all dogmas do. As the theory goes, “if you do all of thesethings, in all circumstances, in every country of the world, you will meet with success.” I believeit’s more complex than that, and I believe Isaiah Berlin knew that. To every particular problemyou have to find an appropriate solution.
If we reduce the human being to a consumer, a producer and an economic actor, we are missingthe whole spiritual dimension of human existence. As a liberal, I feel that it is imperative thathuman freedom and the ability of the individual to develop, to grow and to fulfil his or herdestiny, be central to our vision of society. Indeed, equality of opportunity must remain a keyliberal objective.
In my view, just as Marx eliminated all metaphysics by reducing the human being to a mereeconomic player, the so called “Washington consensus” has made the same error; their angle ofvision is far too simplistic and reductive. If we attribute a scientific character to the laws of themarketplace we commit the same colossal error as Marx did with his theory of historicalmaterialism.
For, in the end, it is the human being—not some scientific pretension—that is the driving forceof history. That is why I turn with no hesitation toward liberalism. Liberalism is the mosthumane perspective there is, and the one best suited to adapting to the rapidly changing worldthat we find ourselves in. There is a balance and a dynamic that has been central to the liberalapproach. Balance has been a key feature in the progress of modern society.
The Spirit of Liberalism and Confidence:
Liberals, and liberalism, have contributed substantially to that immense progress—thatmodernity—for 350 years. It has also been at the heart of that extraordinary miracle, becausedevelopment remains the exception on our planet and it is a miracle, made possible by theconstructive “tandem” of the state and the market, a relationship that has been fashioned byliberals. Indeed, markets would not even exist if there had not been a state to guarantee propertyrights and other individual rights in this very country.
The United Kingdom and Holland were the first countries where individual property rights wererecognized at the level of a national market and where the modern economy first emerged. The formation of a market economy, and then an industrial economy, required the formation ofintermediate-size communities between the cities which segmented economic flows and theempires which stifled them. Economic modernity involved the weakening of the traditionalallegiances that impeded the logic of the marketplace, and the introduction of a social division oflabour.
The state market relationship is a dynamic one and in my view, we are just as wrong to want toeliminate government intervention in favour of market forces, as were those in the communistcountries who suggested that governments should make all the decisions. Here, more thanelsewhere, a search for balance is indispensable.
As an abstract entity, the essential goal of the state is legitimacy, that is, the deliberate quest forthat which is fair, reasonable and equitable. Its time horizon is the long term, by means of lawsand constitutions. The state makes privileged use of constraint. This is the universe ofconscience.
As for the market, it wants to respond as well and as quickly as possible to the consumption andproduction needs of societies. The market has as its essential objectives, efficiency and profit.Closer to instinct and desire, it does not share the time horizon of the state: its horizon is theimperious one of immediacy. This is the universe of confidence.
And so, it is clear to see that the state market dynamic is highly important, and the need toregulate it will not disappear. In fact, it is essential to liberalism, and its mode of production,capitalism. For this reason, the rule of law is the essence of liberalism.
We saw examples this past year of the type of excesses that can occur when market actors ignorestate regulations and act without conscience. The New York Stock Exchange fell 16 percent lastyear because confidence evaporated in the wake of the ethical failures of Enron, Worldcom andothers. Investors lost confidence when they sensed that their trust had been misplaced or abused.For confidence to continue to be the engine of progress, we have to make sure that there is aconscience and an ethic to counterbalance it, as the two go hand in hand. Moreover, our systemmust be respectful of the public conscience.
The Limits of Modernity: the Case for Conscience:
A second argument I would like to propose in favour of stronger ethics concerns the limits ofmodernity, and the role that liberals have in helping our civilization move into post modernity.Modernity, of course, was a great success for those who have had the privilege to experience it.Consider that we have vanquished many of the epidemics that killed millions of citizens aroundthe world for centuries and centuries. And yet, we cannot ensure that the poorest of the poorhave access to essential medicines.
Indeed, our progress through modernity has had an effect on our size. Whereas there were onebillion human beings on the planet in 1850, there were three billion when I was born in 1951.Today, we are six billion, and estimates are that there will be around ten billion people on earthby the end of this century.
Culture of Excess Must Give Way to Goal of Sustainable Prosperity.
If we look at the culture of excess that some of our consumption has spawned, we are in deeptrouble. While it is true that the “limits” of the planet have not yet been reached, our planet’sresources are not infinite. As our population grows to 10 billion, and as prosperity spreadsthroughout the developing world, we will have a critical problem if we allow consumption tocontinue at the same rate and with the same pattern as it has over the past 150 years.
I want to make sure that we have not just sustainable development but a sustainable prosperity.Modern society’s culture of excess must give way to allow us to achieve this goal. Buildingwealth is an objective all nations can share, but this process needs to be undertaken with aconscience if it is to bring truly sustainable prosperity. There will be choices to be made. I willmake some observations to this end.
For instance, the production of just one kilo of beef requires 2,000 square feet of land and100,000 litres of water, a precious and scarce natural resource. In comparison, the production ofone kilo of soy, which yields comparable nutritional value to beef, requires less than one percentthe amount of land and less than one percent the amount of water.
Under current conditions, how can we persist in our dietary habits? If we are going to have onebillion cars and SUVs on the planet with all the pollution that this entails, we have a problem.
I am very committed to the WTO’s role in achieving a sustainable prosperity. I believe that thenext round of WTO negotiations—which are referred to as the Doha Development Agenda—will not only spread development and prosperity, but also make certain that progress occurs in asustainable manner.
The Tragedy of the Common Good:
Without question, reason has enabled us to achieve some incomparable feats. However, thepowers it develops and the rights it ascribes itself cannot be divorced from the responsibilitiesthat are its necessary corollary. Development is a by product of confidence, but we also need todevelop a conscience to counterbalance the effects of unrestrained consumption. Confidence isimportant in an economic sense, but there’s more than that to our common humanity. We needan ethic of consideration and care that must go beyond the administration of justice that we haveexperienced in modernity. We need more than an ethic of justice; we must also couple that ethicwith an ethic of care.
The introduction of an ethic of consideration, of care, is much needed. In my view, the presentpotential of the human brain without the ethic of care leads to dire consequences. In psychoneurological terms, the problem can be posed this way: human beings have attained a level ofintelligence that enables us to act upon our environment to the extent that the consequences ofthose actions are often beyond our ability to rectify. From the standpoint of our species,enterprises such as the development of our informatics capacities or artificial intelligenceresearch are intended to make up for this phylogenetic shortfall, for no one knows when weshould be biologically caught up in this regard. As human beings, we have “evolved”[developed] so much that we can now cause serious problems that we are manifestly unable tosolve (at least, at the moment).
For example, we can spill millions of litres of oil into the sea but we are relatively impotent orinefficient when it comes to repairing the damage. We are producing more food, but cannotprevent one part of the world from suffering from famine and the other from obesity, cholesterolrelated cardiovascular disease, and so forth. We have refined water treatment technologies, butone part of the world still lives in drought zones while another wastes water without eventhinking about it.
We can now intervene on the genetic code, and in certain spheres we are even preparing forbioengineering that targets nothing less than the whole of the human genome, but we knowalmost nothing about the consequences of such transformations. We have been able to createformidable weapons—e.g., chemical, atomic, biological—but have difficulty ensuring theircontrol and limiting access to them.
In short, more than ever, we find ourselves in the position of the sorcerer’s apprentice!
Without question, reason has enabled us to achieve some remarkable feats; however, the powersit develops and the rights it ascribes itself cannot be divorced from responsibilities. And,responsibility means conscience: for indeed, how can we feel the weight of responsibility if wehave no conscience of the consequences of our actions? And, mutatis mutandis, what is true forthe individual applies also to societies.
This conscience, or ethic of care, must be applied throughout society, at every level:government, corporate and academic, with the individual level as the foundation. Thesignificance of each individual’s shift toward a new consciousness cannot be overstated. Thecurrent situation is of an urgency rarely encountered in human history.
The individual now finds himself in a situation where his or her smallest private decisions—combined with those of others, of course—can bring about veritable catastrophes. And it is notjust people in wealthy societies who too often abuse our planet—for example, by operating gasguzzling automobiles—but also individuals in developing societies, when their dream is toooften to behave like their counterparts in rich societies.
Consciousness Raising: Building the Momentum
But the story here is not all doom and gloom. There are individuals who are beginning to adoptand demonstrate this ethic of conscience, individuals from whose actions we can derivemomentum, until the ethic of conscience becomes an integral part of each individual’s decisionmaking process. More and more individuals are volunteering in their communities. In Canada,for example, 7.5 million people, nearly one in three, volunteer their time. More people arechoosing to take public transit, recycle, use fewer pesticides, and buy ethical funds rather thanregular mutual funds.
There is increased evidence of responsible corporate behaviour. At its Peru operation, theToronto-based company, Barrick Gold, is focusing not only on revenue, but on communitydevelopment, by helping to provide education and training for the local population. I was veryimpressed with what they were doing when I visited the Pierina Mine last fall. Scientists aroundthe world have been working on genetically engineered products to help a greater number of people produce more nourishing food.
For example, a product called “Golden Rice” has been engineered to address vitamin Adeficiency, the leading cause of blindness among children in developing countries. In India, theyhave developed a genetically engineered “pro tato” that will be disease resistant and yieldgreater crops.
Governments, too, have been showing an increased sense of conscience. As International TradeMinister, I can point to the labour and environmental side agreements to NAFTA, as well as ourcommitment to greater transparency and development in the new WTO round. I am also proudto be part of a government that has ratified the Kyoto Protocol.
All of these examples point to more socially responsible behaviour inspired by a greater sense ofconscience. This is a good start, but if we want to enjoy truly sustainable prosperity, we must becommitted to instilling all of our respective activities with an even higher degree of conscience.And if we want this ethic of conscience to permeate all levels of society we must ensure thatindividuals use their power, particularly in democracies, to influence the state and their society.Many believe they can’t make a difference.
The Role of Politics
Political involvement has been in decline as the population’s confidence in its public leaders hasdiminished. In Canada and in most Western democracies we lament the lower turnout electionafter election. We must, as liberals who believe in democracy, make individuals want tocontribute. We have to fight the widespread cynicism of so many about the present politicaldebates. We have to re instill confidence in public leaders and the role of government.
Moving beyond the political passions to the ethical passions that animate today’s actors in “socalled” civil society will contribute a lot to re-instill this confidence in the role of politics and ofgovernment. The political project aims at re establishing conscience in its appropriate placealong with confidence in the liberal philosophy. This will create a space where conscience willinform confidence, which has been the driving force of modernity. That space will allow for adialogue with engaged citizens who have turned their back on politics. Liberals and democracyboth need this dialogue. For it must be acknowledged that the triumphs of confidence haverecently led to the narrowing of conscience—I thus hope for the emergence of ethical passions.
As we respect the intelligence and interest of citizens, we must counter the dumbing down of the political discourse and both modernize and actualize the issues central to this era of revolutionary changes. I believe this political liberal project will connect us with many who have abandoned the field of politics. It will re engage individual citizens in the crucial role thatpolitics plays in shaping our society.
We have to move beyond the political passions of the 19th and 20th century that focused a greatdeal on social advancement and national liberation movements. Both were important andengines of history. Both of these political passions brought forward groups, mostly led by men. It is no accident that many new social movements are for the first time being led by women,whereas the union movement and national liberation movements were and still are mostlyheaded by men. I believe the leading role of women in the emerging society will inevitablystrengthen the ethic of care, because in centuries past, men have been more responsible for theemergence and endurance of the ethic of justice.
It has long been thought impossible to move beyond the horizon of a commutative justice basedon retribution, reparation of wrongs and the punishment of crimes. Post modernity has invited usto look beyond this horizon, as strikingly illustrated by the work of the Truth and ReconciliationCommission in South Africa.
It is time to move beyond the great message of the philosophers of the Enlightenment wherereason meant a belief in progress and justice. We need to consider how to reconcile ourconfidence with a conscience, which will require tough choices. But this reconciliation, in my view, is central to liberal political objectives.
American Supremacy and the New Conscience
The United States has attained a predominance unequalled in the history of humanity. Itsgovernment has unparalleled power and its society has extraordinary might. Thus, the Americanhegemony extends into the private lives of every individual, and into their very homes, notablyvia radio and television. I have been surprised of late at the immense surge of anti Americanism,even among its European allies. It is not the traditional critique seen on the continent, but aprimary anti Americanism that is frankly not very helpful or productive.
By the sheer immensity of its weight on the planet, the United States may have become imperial,but I do not see an imperialist intention. Quite the contrary, the United States often has thetemptation of isolation on its continent.
If the political task I see as crucial to the future of the planet is to succeed, we need thisreconciliation of confidence and conscience to take place in a country like the United States,given its influence.
In many instances in its past, the United States has been up to it. Consider that the United States,within the past year, has made its firefighters heroes, just as it has jailed its corporate icons ofthe 1990s. The United States has shown that it can make such an important shift.
Consider Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year for 2002. They were not business or governmentleaders, nor were they men. They were the three female whistle-blowers who tried to warnEnron, WorldCom and the FBI about the problems looming on the horizon. That is a sign ofconscience in the United States, one that has been seen as part of the United States’ ethic in thepast, and one that we need to see more of in the future.
In the United States, nascent capitalism was marked the most by the austere Protestant ethic, bythe asceticism of accumulation, by long term work and by a concern for the benefit of the wholecommunity. It was not simply “get rich as fast as possible and ignore the rest.” The nobility ofthe motives and objectives of the country’s founders, fleeing famine, disease and war, andwanting to build a new, classless society, continues to constitute the framework of Americanpublic life.
It is in the U.S. that Franklin D. Roosevelt developed the New Deal that gave birth to theProvidence State. The New Deal is a brilliant example of energetic liberalism, the audacity ofwhich salvaged capitalism, following the stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression of the1930s. In retrospect, no one doubts the undeniable contribution that the Americans tried to makeat the Conference of Versailles in 1919: the famous Fourteen Points of President WoodrowWilson. After World War II, the Americans made an extraordinary contribution through thecreation of the Bretton Woods Institutions, the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperationand Development] and the United Nations.
At the same time, it is regrettable that the United States has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, theInternational Criminal Court and the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel mines. We mustrecognize, however, that no country in its time of predominance has ever readily acceptedlimitations on itself in a multilateral arena. Furthermore, when Americans act internationally,they are charged with being arrogant unilateralists. Yet, when they decide not to intervene, theyare accused of egotistical isolationism!
The United States, however, has a choice between coercion and persuasion. If they choose to useforce too readily, military or other, they will almost certainly succeed in the short to mid term. Inthe longer term, however, they would likely face a growing number of hostile states or groups.This is likely an unsustainable route. The alternative, of course, is to use a more subtle approach,which relies less on military and economic might, but more on international leadership based onconsensus, and on their solid values that have had such extraordinary appeal to so many on allcontinents.
Accepting this approach would mean that Americans would have to accept not having their wayevery time and everywhere. But, in the longer term, this “softer” approach would likely earnthem increasing respect and the goodwill that accompanies genuine respect. I often tell my American friends that they cannot go around the world bullying people.
The alternative, of course, is to translate their values and their objectives into institutions thatwill promote them long into the future. It is in my view that this is the sort of advice that weshould be giving our American friends.
This is our project at the dawn of the 21st century. I’m convinced that we are entering into a newcivilization. I believe it will be a post modern civilization. I want liberals to be at the heart of itas much as we have been at the heart of modernity, with an emphasis on reconciling the spiritand ethics of liberalism. Liberals have a perspective that can help us respect the values of northand south, of the privileged and the less privileged. We must always remind ourselves that thewhole purpose of the exercise is to allow people to fulfil their ambitions and to foster happiness.
I have had the great privilege this evening to share my views with you. I would like to leave youwith the following. To those who tell me “Minister, you dream in colour; it is impossible toreconcile ethics and the spirit of liberalism; it is too late,” I say “NO.” Not only is it notunthinkable, actually it is inevitable; inevitable because when conscience dissipates, confidencecollapses. Reconciling the two is in my view, the political task of our generation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,My standing here tonight to address you is entirely of my own making. A few weeks agothe Liberal International held a bureau meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania. The day had beenlong and rewarding, spring was in the air after weeks of chilliness and dampness, and wehad just eaten dinner, and had a few glasses of wine. When our secretary general reportedon his unsuccessful search for a suitable speaker for our second Isaiah Berlin lecture, I,ever in search of a challenge, suggested the President of Liberal International.And so here I stand, to share some thoughts with you on the following question: do we,liberals, offer a unique, irreplaceable and therefore indispensable approach to present dayworld affairs, or do we have nothing better to offer than diluted environmentalism, toneddown social-democracy, watered down conservatism, or some revisited third wayapproach?Today, having lived through more than half a century, I am able to answer the question inwhat I hope will be an articulated manner. Need I say that this was not the case when Ifirst became a liberal activist? In those years, my liberal beliefs were more like a mindset,more of an inclination bred by my upbringing, fostered by my marriage to liberal, andgradually strengthened by the friendship and sympathy bestowed on me by many liberals,some of them personalities of international stature and prestige, many others almostanonymous activists without whom political liberalism would not have survived andthrived.A mindset, I said, a state of mind. Yes, a mindset, the one so beautifully described byGladstone, and engraved on the pedestal of his bust in the entrance hall of the NationalLiberal Club: “Conservatism is mistrust of people, qualified by fear. Liberalism is trust inpeople, qualified by prudence.” Trust in people, at the root of liberalism.Now you may ask: do only liberals put trust in people? Of course not.. Nor are onlyliberals trustworthy, nor, I must add, are all self-avowed liberals trustworthy. I am not, inother words, claiming some moral superiority on behalf of liberals. I am not pretendingthat liberals are inherently better persons than those who hold non-liberal views are. WhatI do claim, is that no other ideology is so fundamentally rooted in trust in people, asliberalism is.Every ideology stemming from a transcendental worldview, be it religiously inspired orteleological inspired, rests on the submission of man and woman to some grand design notof their own making. The grand design may originate from a religion, or may be aimed atthe realisation of some man-made plan, it will be imposed upon the people, and the peoplewill be expected or forced to submit to it. Ideologies based upon such grand designs donot trust people to realise their own lifeplans. Ideologies of this type deny people thefundamental freedom to govern their own lives, or do so only within tight boundaries.This also applies to environmentalist ideologies, as soon as they move beyond thepromotion of sustainable development, and start talking about mother earth or fathernature, who know best and to whom we should submit.So no grand design, no transcendence, no finality of history, Francis Fukuyamanotwithstanding, for liberals? No indeed. Liberals entrust people with the task to shapetheir own lives, communities and societies and expect to be entrusted with the sameresponsibilities.Need I stress, Ladies and Gentlemen, the strong appeal of grand designs? Socialism, evenin its much weakened form of The Left (la Gauche in French, New Labour in English)survives all the denials inflicted upon it by actual history. Michail Gorbachov told me lastweek that Russia would have been much better off if the 1917 Revolution had stopped inFebruary, and not gone on to the October Revolution.He certainly is right, but the images reconstructed by Eisenstein prevail up to this veryday. At first sight, liberalism has not much to offer in the way of grandiose undertakingswherein to lose oneself. Liberalism certainly has no readymade plans to offer no wellmappedroads to eternal bliss and happiness.Why did I say “at first sight”? I said that because I strongly believe that when we movebeyond the “mindset” I mentioned earlier towards a truly political approach, we do indeedhave a very powerful message to offer, and one with potential universal appeal.The mindset is one based on trust (qualified by prudence) in people; the basic attitude isone of confidence in man and woman, in every man and every woman, in every part of theworld. A political approach equally based upon trust, confidence and therefore uponoptimism, puts respect for individual freedom and recognition of each man’s and woman’sdignity at its centre. Such a political approach also entrusts each woman and man with theright, the task, the responsibility to shape her and his own life and does not subject them toany readymade design or plan.Only liberalism can truly and truthfully offer such an approach.Now mind you, this is no easy undertaking. The hurdles are many, and some of them areour own biases and prejudices. Let me take our attitude to developing countries as anexample, and let me start with an anecdote.Last year, when I last met with Sam Rainsy, the Opposition leader in Cambodia, he had awonderful story to tell. As Sam Rainsy was travelling the world to meet with Cambodianexiles, he encountered a Cambodian farmer in New Zealand, who said the following.“Cambodia once was a rich country. It had everything: fertile soils, dense forests, game,gems, talented people, a great history and culture. Communism took all that away andtoday Cambodia and the Cambodians live in poverty and misery. New Zealand has onlygrasslands and pastures, but New Zealand and the New Zealanders are rich. That isbecause they are free.” (I could add, and because an enlightened Labour Prime Minister,Mike Moore, turned New Zealand into the most liberalised country in the world, but Imust not stray) Sam Rainsy’s farmer had coined a great truth: individual freedom is thekey to development, and it is a universal key.Does that sound naïve; does that sound so simple that you have discarded it even before Ifinished the sentence?Well, think again, liberal presidents as Abdoualye Wade from Senegal and Chen HseiBien from Taiwan, liberal leaders like Taiwanese Vice-president Annette Lu, like SamRainsy and so many others have put their life at risk, have served prison terms becausethey hold the view that freedom is not a privilege reserved for those in power. They notonly hold this view, they have acted accordingly, and that of course is why they met withfierce opposition and persecution from those in power.I myself, like so many others, have thought for quite some time that fundamental civicliberties like freedom of speech, assembly, worship, that economic freedom and politicalfreedom were non-vital rights, luxury rights so to say, the fulfilment of which could onlyfollow the fulfilment of really vital needs like food, shelter and education.Why did I ever think that freedom and liberty were fundamental to me and to my fellowcitizens, but not for those born in other parts of the world? Why didn’t I see sooner thatfreedom does not develop from development, but that development develops fromfreedom?It is hardly an excuse that the view “first development, and only then (eventually)freedom” was and still is common wisdom. This view, which generally suits those inpower in developing countries, explains to a large extent the colossal failure of westerndevelopment aid. The prejudice, the bias we need to free ourselves from, is that freedom,individual initiative, civic liberties are results of development. We need to do away withthe illusion that development should come first. We need to stress and spread the viewthat freedom, individual initiative and civic liberties are the very tools of development.In order to provide for the framework in which freedom, individual initiative and civicliberties can thrive, democracy and the rule of law are essential, and therefore we mustcontinue to insist on the need to put them into place. We now witness a growingrecognition of the universality of these most basic rights, but that does not mean theserights are universally accepted or respected yet. The simple fact of the growingmembership of Liberal International, with more than eighty parties in more than seventycountries in the world, testifies to this growing recognition, but the battle is far from won.Consider for instance the situation for women. Entire cultures and religions deny womenthe most basic rights. The plight of women in Afghanistan and Pakistan is appalling, andworsening as Jasma Jahangir, the latest laureate of Liberal International’s Prize forFreedom, told me last autumn.What nation has the courage to put at risk it’s mineral and geopolitical interest byspeaking up loudly against the fate of women in Saudi Arabia or Iran? Well, the EuropeanUnion did make the government representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council pledgeto respect the equality of men and women and that is how progress gets going, first bymere phrases… This growing recognition of the value of individual freedom fuels thegrowth of political liberalism. Every setback of that recognition is a threat to thedevelopment of political liberalism. More importantly, it is a threat to the peacefuldevelopment of humankind. I can think of many such possible setbacks: some aredeveloping under our very eyes, in this part of the world.Shall I name just a few, to get the debate going? The third way to begin with, which isconservatism, disguised as new socialism, to forego and smother liberalism? Or shall Ievoke the irrational rejection of free trade, initially fuelled by the communicativeineptness of those who had learned nothing from the debacle of the multilateral agreementon investment?You have certainly watched the broadcasts from Göteborg, the violence in the streets, butmore importantly, the thousands of peaceful young demonstrators. They demonstratedagainst multinationals, nowadays called transnationals, capitalism (always a good one,that), George W Bush, the European Union, vivisection, gmo’s, and many other things.Now mind you, I respect peaceful demonstrators, but I cannot help to be amazed by thereturn of the demons of my own student days. Liberalism runs the risk to be overwhelmedby this growing protest movement, unless we develop an intelligent answer to it. Weshould avoid two errors. Error number one: howl with the crowds, be it in a slightly morecivilised way.The masochism of the European Union is a case in point. Why should people support aninstitution, which its leaders themselves ceaselessly call inefficient, insufficientlytransparent, insufficiently accountable, suffering from democratic deficit, and what haveyou? No wonder the Irish stayed at home or came out mainly to say, no, thank you.Error number two: tackle the players rather than the ball. I mean, fight the arguers, thedemonstrators, rather than the arguments. Most of the demonstrators are beingmanipulated by for instance leftist groupuscules, which had gone into hibernation and nowremerge, smelling new battles.Denouncing them will not make the arguments disappear. One overwhelming concern ofthe young demonstrators is the gap between the developed world and the developingworld. They are being told that economy, commerce, trade and capitalism are to blame.Liberalism has, of old, been associated with each of those, and rightly so, because they allare tools of development. That means that the protest against liberalism cannot be faraway. We must not try to dissociate ourselves from what we rightly view as tools ofdevelopment, we must stress relentlessly that this is what they are “tools of development”,and that it is the development which matters. We must add that they do not suffice toinsure sustainable political development, that democracy and the rule of law are needed,also in developing countries.As an International, Liberal International must continue to reach out to political partiesand their leaders in developing countries, we must continue to assemble and work there,with the local parties and leaders. This newly emerging protest movement is not the onlythreat to political liberalism. Another threat is posed by those, in our own countries andelsewhere, who reject the very notion of universality, who believe in cultural, linguisticand ethnic purity, and who spread the view that cultures, languages and nations shouldkeep to themselves and should on no account mix, lest they lose their identity andauthenticity.Need I stress that both strands of protest beautifully merge into one single protest againstglobalisation?Again the abovementioned errors must be avoided, but the case for universality, openness,cross-cultural and cross national Cooperation should be easier, at least in theory.The latest developments in Northern Ireland and in Macedonia show how difficult it is toovercome centuries of prejudice, discrimination and separate development. That is true inEurope, it is no more and no less true outside Europe, in Indonesia for instance, or inCentral Africa. The very reason for these tragic developments is not the openness, theuniversality, but the lack of openness, the absence of universality. Not globalisation is theculprit, but the absence of perspective beyond one’s own village, one’s own community,settlement, religion, ethnic origin, and language…The case for universalism is our case.Ladies and Gentlemen, the time to conclude nears.I have tried to show that liberalism offers a unique, indispensable and irreplaceableapproach to world affairs because it is rooted in trust, because it entrusts people with theright and the plight to shape their own lives and communities, because it considers thatindividual freedom and individual initiative are the indispensable tools of development. Ihave also shown that this approach is universally valid, if not universally accepted.I have pointed to several threats posed to liberalism by recent developments, in Europeand elsewhere and have indicated how, in my view, these threats should be answered. Thebattle for liberalism is far from won, but it is a most worthwhile battle Because it is thebattle for the recognition of the universal right to individual freedom. It is a battle I ammost grateful to be able to contribute to.I thank you for you kind attention.
During the Liberal Democrat leadership election last year, the contenders were regularlyasked, “Who are the major influences on your political thought?” Many of the namesbelonged to people known more for their actions, than for being leading lights of politicalideology. But there were plenty of each. We all listed several. And with six candidates,that made for an interesting list. Gladstone, Lloyd George, Mill. They were all there. Theusual suspects.But the list also included Nancy Seear and Nelson Mandela. David Penhaligon and RoyJenkins. Hobhouse, Hobson and Keynes. And Bobby Kennedy. No prizes for guessingwho threw the Kennedy name into the ring.One name was missing from the list. Conspicuously. Isaiah Berlin.Why was that? Why did nobody list Berlin as a major influence on their thought? Theanswer may in part be found in Maurice Bowra's words: “Isaiah, like Our Lord andSocrates, does not publish muc h”.But that can only be part of the answer.The separation between Berlin’s life and party politics is another clue. Look at thethinkers who did appear on the list. Keynes, Hobhouse, Hobson, Mill. All seriouslyengaged in party politics, Or opted for politicians as their companions of choice.Yet that was not for Berlin. Although he did work as a civil servant during the war, asmany academics did, he was not at the heart of the party political establishment.But there is another reason why Berlin’s work has been separated from party politics. It’sthe most important reason.He offered politicians no easy solutions. No easy answers. Histhinking often raised more questions than answers. It did not easily translate into practicalaction. It did provide soul-searching and questioning in abundance.But that is not what politicians seek. Too often they seek a code. A dogma. A key to allmythologies. That will allow them, with certainty, to pronounce. On the issues of the day.On the actions of individuals. On the solutions required. And that means politicians needto be challenged. That is why we should take more notice of Berlin’s legacy.Let’s stand back, just for a few moments, and look at what that legacy was. What should itmean for politicians? And I then want to say a few words on the Liberal Democratconcept of liberty.Berlin’s 1958 lecture ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, is the text we must always come back to.What John Gray calls Berlin’s “subversive originality”, was clearest in that lecture. Itformed part of a course I took at university. ‘The History of Moral and PoliticalPhilosophy’ We dubbed it, ‘From Plato to NATO’.In ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, Berlin drew the distinction, between negative liberty andpositive liberty. Negative liberty, he said, means wanting to curb authority, leavingindividuals alone to do what they want, providing that their actions do not restrict thefreedom of others.Positive liberty was different. It meant using political power to emancipate. It meantgroups, or the state, judging what was best for individuals. It meant, in the context of1958, socialism and communism.Berlin did not want us to oppose positive liberty entirely. In fact, as Michael Ignatieff’sbiography points out, Berlin was, in politics, a New Deal liberal. He was neither aconservative, nor a laissez-faire individualist. He accepted that poverty and ignorancewere not the ideal conditions for liberty. In practical politics, he might even haveaccepted, that Hobhouse was not wholly wide of the mark when he said, that in practicalmeasures, “the struggle for liberty … is the struggle for equality”. That means decentschools, hospitals, pensions.But Berlin did urge us to recognise the contradictions between liberties. The conflictbetween negative liberty and positive liberty.He would want us to recognise that althoughwe may tax somebody to create opportunities, we may still be restricting the liberty of thetaxed.And this is where Berlin made his most important contribution, and made life mostdifficult for politicians. He highlighted the contradictions at the heart of the post-warconsensus. Highlighting that the values of liberty, equality and justice, can becontradictory. That is the heart of the conflict between positive and negative liberty.So what does that mean for a modern Liberal Democrat politician? Does that mean weshould go down the path of the minimal state? Is William Hague right when he says thathigh levels of tax are immoral? No. I utterly reject that. It shows the state of modernConservative thought that Mr Hague makes such an assertion. How, really, can a 25% taxbe immoral, but a 24% tax be moral? It’s laughable.The answer to the tensions lies with Berlin himself. And it lies in his belief in pluralism. Avery radical pluralism. The idea that different value systems can exist in parallel, as part ofthe same body politic. Which in turn means that any idea of creating a perfect society,reconciling these conflicts, becomes impossible. That in turn means that politicalmeasures which tend to promote individual freedom, are at a premium. Policies whichpromote choice and flexibility, should be at the fore. Policies which spread power awayfrom the centre, to communities and individuals, should be our aim.That strongly accords with the Liberal political tradition. We start off by trusting people.In 1865, Gladstone defined Liberalism as,- “a principle of trust in the people onlyqualified by prudence”, He contrasted it with the Conservatives’ “mistrust of the people,only qualified by fear”. Little has changed in the modern Conservative Party.But above all, above all, we are committed to the liberty of the individual. Is it negativeliberty or positive liberty? Well, it’s both.That’s not having it both ways, because we recognise the force of Isaiah Berlin’spluralism. We recognise that different value systems, and diversity, are at the heart of thenation’s political conversation. That our political conversation is about the conflicts andtensions between the two.That is different, very different, to the other parties. Labour has a strong authoritarianstreak. The control freak tendency means that they are increasingly unable to recognisediversity. They are increasingly unable to recognise pluralism. The PM may allude toliberal influences, but he seems to equate that essentially with laissez-faire economics. Aliberal wouldn’t devolve power and then seek to control in the way that he has done. IfNew Labour genuinely seeks to be liberal, then it should recognise its own failings once ina while.What else does New Labour seek to be? The phrase ‘radical centre’ is attached to NewLabour. Too often, they fail on both counts.What’s radical about secrecy in public administration? They do that not just by pursuingan illiberal Freedom of Information agenda. They are also spending £1 million a month oftaxpayers’ money on polling, while publishing less than one third of the results. And theyhave attached draconian gagging clauses to research contracts, which allow Ministers toquote selectively, but prevent academics from discussing their own work freely, even afterit is published.As to ‘centre’, it might be better to say centralist. Look at London. Look at Wales. Look attuition fees in Scotland.The Conservatives offer an even starker contrast. They tend to equate liberty with rampantmarket forces. The best explanation of their ‘Common Sense Revolution’, is thatgovernment, especially at a European level, is public enemy number one. Their taxguarantee, means that every other consideration comes after lower taxation. The notionthat large parts of our community, require the assistance of the state, if they are to exerciseanything like individual freedom, remains wholly alien to Tory thinking. So freedom to aHague Conservative, is only for those lucky enough to secure it in an atomised society.And above all else, today’s Conservative Party is incapable, absolutely incapable, ofrecognising the value and strength of diversity in Britain.By stirring up base instincts against asylum seekers, And by seeking to change the law byknee-jerk reaction, Mr Hague is devaluing political life in Britain. Issues like asylum, andthe trial of criminals, are difficult. They have no easy answers. They require calmreflection And it is shameful behaviour to pretend otherwise. It is ironic that with thepound so great overvalued, Britain’s political stock is at an all time low. William Hague’sConservative Party bears much responsibility for that.I want to say a few words about his recent outburst against liberal Britain. His muchtrailed speech to the Police Federation. It rewrites history as far as his party is concerned.He said that for the last forty years there has been a rising tide of lawlessness. He knewwho was to blame. The Labour Government. Judges. The Court System. Theestablishment. Whitehall. Liberals. Those who coined the phrase “institutional racism”.Has he forgotten that the Tories were in government for 18 of the last 20 years? Has heforgotten that during these long years of Tory rule crime doubled? Has he forgotten thathe sat in the same Cabinet as that celebrated liberal, Michael Howard, as they broke theirpromise to increase police numbers by 1000?Once again, we are seeing the saloon bar politics of Sheriff Hague – shoot first (usuallyfrom the lip) and ask questions later.In a wider context, I want to offer you a further contrast to the Hague approach. I want tooffer hope. I want to offer a future in which diversity is an opportunity, not a threat. And Iwant to offer a future where ideals are valued.As I have said, my core belief is that of liberty. As a youngster, learning about theshootings of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, within a fortnight of each other,had a profound influence on me.I was appalled. But their deaths made me determined. Determined not to live in a societywhere the bullet dominated over free speech. I came to believe that everybody shouldhave as much freedom as possible, without infringing the freedom of others, to make themost of their natural potential.Today, liberty is threatened from a variety of sources. Inequality, instability, resistance tointernational co-operation environmental hazards, to name a few.I chose to become involved in politics, because I believe that used in the right way, doingthe right things, government can enhance and strengthen liberty. It can fight threats toliberty.Now that language is not the bread and butter of day to day parliamentary politics. Butunless politicians find ways of articulating those abstract principles, then the quality of ourcountry’s political conversation will be poor.If we never talk about the basic principles, then it’s no wonder that voters, and evenpolitical commentators, ask, “What's it all about? Why do you bother?”Politicians need to return, en masse, to the drawing board, so that they remind themselveswhy they are in politics, and communicate that to the public they represent.If we can do that, then voters will have a much clearer understanding of what the partiesstand for. They will be able to appreciate the fundamental divides and issues, that laybehind disputes over levels of NHS funding or the national curriculum.Then it may become apparent that, when politicians disagree, they are doing so overgenuine issues of principle, rather than sheer opportunism. Once the public has a sensethat we are indeed people with genuine beliefs, then their faith will be strengthened.Linked to my fundamental commitment to liberty, is my belief that the pursuit of socialjustice should be the major task of government. This is where we get into the difficultwater mapped out by Isaiah Berlin. This is where we start to pursue the cause of positiveliberty.In Conrad Russell’s words, “Liberalism is not about minimum government, it is aboutminimum oppression”. I share that view. I firmly believe that, through redistributingwealth and tackling inequalities in society, government can actually promote freedom.I do not accept the Thatcherite mantra that creative government action means lessfreedom. It is preposterous to assert that people are always more free when governmentdoes less. If government did nothing to provide decent health and education services, thenmany people in Britain would be manifestly less free. They would not be able to providethese services for themselves, and so they would have less opportunities, less life chances.The same applies to public transport, welfare benefits, and social services. If governmentwithdrew from these areas, then the best services would only be available to the luckyfew. That would be profoundly unjust.So government has a clear role, in meeting market failures, and providing the best publicservices for all our people, so that everyone has the maximum life chances.For me, social justice, protected and enhanced by government, equals more freedom.The same applies to the environment. But that doesn’t mean government becomes a‘Green Giant’, infringing people’s right to choose. It means encouraging the growth of agreen culture in Britain. It means stacking the system, so that people are encouraged to usepublic transport wherever they can. It means ensuring that, in the economic sector,markets work so that they deliver positive environmental gain, not the pain of pollution. Itmeans that, come election time, governments know they face judgement, on the extent towhich they have improved our environment.All of this, all of this, means recognising that the pluralism Isaiah Berlin stood for, shouldbe central to politics.Accepting that, is the only way we can build the meaningful modus vivendi, that isessential between positive and negative liberty.What Berlin helps us to do, with his radical pluralism, is recognise the tensions andcontradictions between the two, and to realise precisely when and why we may not alwaysbe true to negative liberty.That may lead us to policies that Isaiah Berlin might have had problems with. But I dobelieve that he would approve of the quality of politics that results.