Today in my reading on the BBC news website (I know, why would a free-market conservative read it?) I came across this article: France’s Macron urges EU to shun nationalism http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-43794856. This opening line struck me:
“there seems to be a European civil war” between liberal democracy and rising authoritarianism.
One of the reasons why so many people across a range of age groups are deserting traditional media is that they are tired of simplifications and platitudes in reporting and analysis. Rather than ask a deeper philosophical question about the problems and limits of democracy, lines like the above have the potential to dupe gullible readers into thinking that all nationalists are fascists or that democracy is inherently good.
Christianity has a concept of sin – a concept that ought not to be controversial. Simple observation and a cursory glance at 20th century history tells us that people are capable of evil – great evil. Western civilisation’s traditional doctrine of the rule of law was developed in the knowledge that man has certain inalienable rights given to him by God. The state may not behave arbitrarily against these rights – and neither may the people. A war on man’s rights – albeit a democratic war – is a war against the Creator Himself.
When parts of Europe clamour to have our rights defended, not to see them destroyed by democracy or authoritarianism, this clamour is made in the name of liberty, a concept we used to hold dear. One man’s freedom can mean another man’s bondage, however. The arguments made by many that society should accord them more things, really mean taking something away from somebody else. Each suggestion of this should not be met with servile, spineless acquiescence, but a rational examination of the motivation and justification for such a suggestion.
In taking rights away from prisoners, society is acting to uphold justice and the doctrine of individual responsibility. Everything comes at a cost; all human action is transactional. When a criminal breaks the law, he pays the price. This is what the ancient Greek expression for retribution literally means: paying the price. The justification for imprisoning convicted offenders is vindication and deterrence: evil acts should be publicly denounced as evil and people should be discouraged from doing them.
In light of the above, we must ask ourselves whether the same reasoning applies to matters such as membership of the European Union or strict border controls or state provided education. To take the first example, membership of the European Union affords a nation certain liberties, but it also deprives that nation of liberties. The nation can no longer exercise control over its borders in respect of European Union citizens; the nation cannot impose tariffs on goods imported from the European Union or decide to impose no tariffs at all on goods imported from outside the European Union. Once a Directive has been passed, an EU nation has no discretion on whether to implement it or not. Matters decided by the Court of Justice of the European Union cannot be referred to independent arbitrators. The list goes on.
In considering these restrictions, we must ask whether they are justified, and, to the extent that they affect individual rights, whether the democratic majority has the authority to infringe on the rights of individual human beings where no blameworthy act has been committed. If one wishes to argue that the will of the majority is what makes a course of action right rather than a feature intrinsic to that action, we may ask why we should accept such an axiom. Intuition seems to tell us that things are objectively right or wrong, irrespective of the wishes of the majority. Maybe it’s time for the liberal intelligentsia to listen to the reasons given by people along the spectrum of nationalists rather than accuse them all of being authoritarians. Perhaps many – or even most – of them simply wish to defend their rights against onslaught from radical democrats and tyrannical officials.