Liberalism of the Enlightenment Era thinkers like John Locke and Adam Smith was about political and economic liberty. Individual freedom, human rights, minimalist state, democracy and economic liberty were its desideratum.
Frederic Roosevelt (FDR) had added welfarism to it after the Second World War and projected it as the Progressive Liberalism or simply the Progressivism.
The ‘Second Bill of Rights’ that Roosevelt talked about in his State of the Union address in 1944 was about ‘a useful and remunerative job’, ‘a decent home’, and ‘a good education’ to the citizens.
There is another kind of welfarism pioneered by Bismarck in the united Germany in the nineteenth century. It was Liberalism without liberty. He created an authoritarian state while keeping people happy with trinkets.
Marx had described it as ‘democracy in substance’ as against the ‘democracy by election’ of the West.
The leitmotif of the Chinese Communist state is the Liberalism of Bismarck or the Prussians, in which “alleviation of material and educational poverty, and liberation from old dogmas and old faiths” was considered the substance.
“China is a country more focused on the welfare of the totality of its people, and these government actions are considered acceptable paths to alleviating poverty and ensuring shared prosperity,” the official Chinese media claims.
Chinese leaders admonish their American counterparts for raking up issues like Xinxiang and Tibet or the authoritative control of Communist Party of China (CPC) insisting that their system is based on ‘Asian values’.
Progressive Liberalism has been the mainstay of the socio-political value system of many countries including India for centuries. Indian Constitution has also been founded on those principles.
There was just one bizarre exception during the Emergency in 1975-77, but largely the Indian political system has always stood for democratic freedoms and economic welfarism in the last more than seven decades.
Incidentally, Liberalism has not stopped with Progressivism. A Neoliberal creed has emerged in the West in the last few decades. It is a negationist creed based on identity politics.
Once champions of universalism and critics of identity politics of the Conservatives, the Neoliberals have reduced all the classical and Progressive Liberalist ideals to identity politics of racial minorities, queer groups and imagined communities.
Those causes per se may not be unworthy. But the problem with the Neoliberals is their propensity to use identity causes like same sex marriages, live-in relations and minorityism as political weapons to challenge the establishments ignoring larger cultural and social consequences.
Their war is not against the Conservatives alone, it is against the Progressive Liberals too. In their ebullience, the Neoliberals do not mind siding with dictators and supporting violence.
Many Liberals believed that the Soviet Union was the freest place on earth. John Dewey, a renowned American Liberal scholar of the last century, had authored a series of articles on the Soviet Union for the New Republic magazine, gloating smugly that it was a grand ‘experiment’ for the “liberation of a people to consciousness of themselves as a determining power in the shaping of their ultimate fate”.
Today, a section of them want the American leadership to see virtues in China.
“The consequences of not getting the Chinese challenge right today will be vaster still. A cold war with China is likely to be much longer and more costly than the one with the Soviet Union, with an uncertain outcome,” warned Liberal commentator Fareed Zakaria in Foreign Affairs magazine recently.
When race riots broke out on the West Coast city of Watts, there stood American Liberal elites unapologetically supporting the rioters. They blamed White America — “the system” — for the violence, and provided a morally admirable name for it — ‘rebellion’.
Hubert Humphrey, the Liberal vice-president of America, lamented that if he’d been born poor, he might have rioted also. An entire ‘riot ideology’ was discovered, and the Liberals use that to justify the race riots in America and the Delhi riots in India.
These Neoliberal shenanigans have arrived in India long ago, in universities and academic and intellectual hotspots. They champion all destructive causes and insist that they should pass off as fundamental freedoms.
When challenged, they blame the ‘system’, calling it ‘revisionist’, ‘Fascist’ and ‘Hindu nationalist’.
While spitting out volumes of calumny against the government on a daily basis, they still shout from the rooftops that there was no ‘freedom of expression’.
If action is taken against wrongdoers, they immediately google for their caste, religion and community to badger the government for being ‘illiberal’.
One journalist’s arrest for wrongdoing becomes ‘an assault on entire free press’. When the judiciary follows Constitutional procedures, it gets branded as ‘compromised’.
The agencies become ‘agents’ for performing their duty. There are not many takers for these Neolibs in India, but they have amplifiers in international Liberalosphere aplenty.
The Liberalosphere has the potential to damage the reputation globally. Recent Freedom House report lowering India’s ranking from to 67 is a case in point. By their relentless campaign the Neolibs have succeeded in creating an impression that freedom is at risk in India.
A careful scrutiny of the report indicates that it is largely based on heresy and hypotheses. India was at 71st rank in the last report and was in the category of a ‘Free’ country. It dropped by 4 points and became ‘Partly Free’ now.
Its score dropped in four areas — judiciary, pandemic-time harsh lockdown measures, restrictions on foreign funding of the non-government organisations (NGOs) and sedition and other charges against free speech.
The Freedom House believes that Indian judiciary is compromised because the Supreme Court has given a few judgements favourable to the government. It says that the lockdown during Covid was harsh and caused suffering to poor citizens like migrants.
There can’t be more frivolous arguments than these. Equally ludicrous are the exaggerated insinuations that the NGO sector is being harassed or ‘dozens of journalists’ have been incarcerated under sedition laws.
The suggestion that journalists have been co-opted by the government is a serious charge against the Indian media, which has to respond to Freedom House slander.
However, self-righteous indignation is not enough to handle such Liberal caterwauling. Irrespective of what we say in Parliament and outside, we care for the image of the leader and the government.
Hence respond to the ‘sermons’ with facts and arguments. The ranking of America has dropped from a past high of 94 to 83 this year. Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Special Representative, has used last year’s race riots to attack America at the Alaska meeting. US’ Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s response is instructive. The US was engaged in a “constant quest to form a more perfect union and that quest acknowledges our imperfections”, he said with dignity.
(The article was originally published in Swarajya Magazine on 27 March 2021. Views expressed are personal.)