Monday, April 22, 2024
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Lockdown backer Rees-Mogg’s double-speak on liberty


I WAS rather taken aback by something Jacob Rees-Mogg MP said. In fact, I had to read it twice. It was in a Guardian article discussing an upcoming event run by an outfit called National Conservatism.

The Guardian explained: ‘In what some observers see as a sign of the Conservative party’s possible future direction, among the nearly 50 speakers at this year’s conference – a who’s who of the global populist-leaning right – are a string of senior Tories, among them Suella Braverman, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Frost.’

Rees-Mogg said he viewed the idea of national conservatism as ‘a national political ideology by its nature in contradistinction to liberalism or socialism, which since their beginnings have had internationalist ambitions and have attempted to impose similar or identical structures on different nations’.

He added: ‘A clear area of commonality is that the democratic nation state is the basic legitimate polity, and that the liberty of the individual is an essential aspect of conservatism which cannot be subordinated for the convenience of the collective.’

Of course, the Guardian couldn’t get through the piece without mentioning Donald Trump and calling Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán ‘hard-right.’ But what the Guardian says is not important. It is what JRM said that I had an issue with.

It is true that liberalism and socialism are international movements, frequently imposing their ideologies on populations without their consent and through international bodies and NGOs. However, is it also true that the ‘liberty of the individual is an essential aspect of conservatism which cannot be subordinated for the convenience of the collective’?

The first and most obvious problem is that JRM and the rest of the Tory party, including the ultra-liberal then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, were more than willing to crush the liberty of the individual when Covid came along. Once the Tory government were faced with the threatened implosion of the NHS and scary modelling from Neil Ferguson, the ‘liberty of the individual’ meant nothing. We were placed under repeated and ruinous house arrest that has resulted in the current nightmare that we live in. Not only runaway inflation and astronomical national debt, but teenagers still experiencing serious mental health difficulties, delayed cancer treatment, younger children with learning challenges as well as dead kids. Did JRM object? No, he did not. 

When the ‘convenience of the collective’ such as the collective NHS and all the people who demanded more and longer lockdowns came along, the liberty of the individual meant nothing.

During Covid, it was all about the collective and if you weren’t on board with what the collective demanded, namely stopping other people from going to work, preventing your kids from going to school and banning you from visiting your sick granny, you were a killer. You were some mad libertarian who only cared about himself.

Elevating the liberty of the individual and to hell with everyone else was never our argument. Our argument was that the lockdown would cause more harm than good, and we have been proved absolutely right on that by multiple indicators as has been documented meticulously on this website since the entire nightmare ended.

So JRM does not even believe what he says when it comes to individual liberty v the convenience of the collective. Second, however, we must ask ourselves if it is even true to say that ‘liberty of the individual is an essential aspect of conservatism which cannot be subordinated for the convenience of the collective’. I’m not sure.

For one, the convenience of the collective is a negative way of saying the furtherance, or the service of the common good. In fact, our liberty is subordinated all the time in many different ways to further the common good. There are literally thousands of laws, particularly regulatory laws, that limit the liberty of the individual in the name of the common good. Tax is the most obvious, the old chestnut of seat belts (no, they are not just for your own good but also those who you drive with) and most regulation around alcohol and cigarettes, to name just a few.

I for one have had quite enough of the liberty of the individual. Isn’t this what has gave us the sexual revolution, the belief that the sexual desires and freedom of adults are superior to the interests of children? If you want to leave your wife and kids for a newer model, who am I to limit your freedom? Want to smoke your head off on dope? Who am I to stop you destroying your mind?

I thought conservatism was about conserving values that promote the common good, and in particular protect the most vulnerable, those who are too young, old or have limited abilities to protect themselves. It is true that people can abuse this and try to transfer power to the state in the hope of achieving these aims.

As conservatives we believe that it is usually the family and local communities as well as charities that are best placed to achieve the aim of protecting the weak and promoting the common good, not the state. That’s the point. These are certainly aims to help the collective, not to increase our individual liberty.

The truth is that more ruthless individualism is the absolutely last thing we need right now. What we need are more values that place limits on our liberty, values such as duty, loyalty, kindness, respect, moderation and prudence.

We have just had the coronation of King Charles III, and whatever you say about the royal family, you can say this. In this day and age, they certainly do not stand for liberty of the individual. You know who wanted his freedom – Harry. That was literally the name of the book: Finding Freedom. And a fat lot of good it did him.

It is William and Charles who cannot just wake up in the morning and say sod this, I want to be a doctor, or a lawyer or a plumber. They must fulfil the roles designated to them by birth. That is their duty, they didn’t get a choice in it, they just had to deal with it. It’s about time a few more of us thought more about duty and loyalty, and less about our individual liberty. 

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