Monday, May 20, 2013

Liberalism and Ubuntu. My personal thoughts




I was recently reading a Letter to the Editor that Gareth van Onselen wrote where he emphatically expresses that the concept of Ubuntu and the concept of Liberalism are not compatible. I feel that perhaps this should be looked at in another way.

I understand where the classical liberals (or what we today call “classical liberals”... as the definition of liberal keeps evolving) come from. They come from a time period in the 80`s where just about every government they dealt had a negative impact on society. You had Reagan's America, Thatchers UK, communist Russians and the Apartheid South African government. It was one massive conservative festival.

So when I listen to classical liberals today I totally understand their absolute paranoia for anything that sounds remotely like social welfare. It reminds them too much of their respective communist and nationalist days.

Times have changed. The world has moved on. There are new battles to be fought. We have noticed how countries like Canada and the Scandinavian countries have pulled ahead of other countries in areas such as education, health and safety. When we look at those countries we see that in many cases the state can and has played incredibly important and vital roles.

These days we have less problems with out of control states than we do have with out of control corporations (though generally the two are synonymous). When we look around the world we see new centers of power forming daily as multinational corporations spread around our globe. These new bastions of power are often more powerful than the countries they operate in. We saw what happened in the Great Recession where these giant (mostly unregulated) corporations pulled the economic systems of the world to its knees.

I feel this raw and almost uncontrollable, unaccountable power is a power that many classical liberals are unable to see. They are still so fixated on the dangers of state power and abuse that they willingly ignore the abuse of power from the market.

Too often I see my classical liberal friends using extreme forms of liberalism to justify their selfishness.  Its no small wonder that these type of liberals more often end as Neo-cons or market fundamentalists. Justifying selfishness was always a conservatives game.

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”~John F. Kennedy
As a modern social liberal I am different from a classical liberal. I believe in civil liberties like a classical liberal does but I believe in two things that a classical liberal does not understand the importance of. I believe in a transparent and accountable state that is managed by the people for the good of the people that creates a well-regulated and open market, and I believe in social justice. 

I am  an empirical human being. I work on empirical evidence to guide my beliefs. Based on empirical evidence all the best countries in the world are modern social liberal countries or have modern social liberal governments.
In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up or else all go down as one people.~Franklin D. Roosevelt
Its pretty self evident that the bigger the gap between the rich and the poor, the more violent a society becomes. You just have to look at South Africa, its inequalities and its violence levels to get a clear picture of what happens to a society when there is a clear lack of social inequality.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.~Dwight D. Eisenhower
With Ubuntu, no one is advocating a classless state control society where everyone gets the same. Ubuntu essentially means, "people for people".  I know other people give it other definitions, just in the same way that the term, "liberal" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but for the sake of this discussion and my mindset, I am working with the above definition. 

I see no logical reason why the word Ubuntu is "anti-liberal" anymore than my other liberal ideologies. Technically, nothing can be truly "liberal" -- i.e. there can not be absolute "freedom", as the concept is paradoxical  You can not have freedom without taking away freedom. Meaning, I cant have the freedom to live without taking away the freedom of the psychopath to kill me.  So we have established the rights of the individual while sacrosanct, does have limits. 

Looking after our fellow South Africans and expressing our humanity by looking after our humanity is not socialism, it is not nationalism, it is not conservatism, it is not communism. It is humanism.
It was once said that the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”~Hubert H. Humphrey
So I am going to have to say, yes. I agree with Mmusi Maimane. You can have Ubuntu with Liberalism.  We can both believe in the importance of civil rights and liberties of the individual and fuse that with the humanity to make sure that the weakest and most vulnerable in our society are not left behind. 

All the best countries in the world have managed to get this right, I dont see why we can’t. 

One of the reasons I initially joined the Democratic Alliance is because internationally they are recognized as a modern social liberal party. In fact, if you look under social liberalism on Wikipedia, South Africa's Democratic Alliance is listed there. However, being a modern social liberal means nothing I believe is set in stone. Everything I believe is subject to criticism and change. As a liberal, being adaptable to change is one of those core values we should continuously endeavor to.

I also accept that the Democratic Alliance has migrated onto being an Open Opportunity Society for All and this is an ideal I can fully embrace.  I love diversity (as should most liberals). It means I get to hear all opinions. Right wing and left wing. Conservative and liberal. What old classical liberals need to realize is that an Open Opportunity Society for All is not just about the "Open". It is about the "Opportunity for All" as well.

There is an African proverb that I think best describes this entire article I wrote but includes the spirit of Ubuntu in it:
If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together.
So are we the type of country that goes quickly and alone, or are we the type of country that incorporates the spirit of ubuntu and goes far together?

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