Liberal Democracy Can’t Survive Without Freedom Of Expression

The free exchange of ideas was an essential part of the success of the Western world. Abandoning that for ‘safety’ or ‘political correctness’ will lead us in the direction of authoritarian states like China & Russia, the exact opposite of where we should want our society to end up.

One of the most surreal and disturbing things to witness has been the decline in the quality of argumentation and debate, especially at the ‘highest levels’ of various governments.

It was long believed that whomever resorted to calling their opponents a ‘nazi’ would instantly lose the argument, since such a comparison is seen as an admission that you have no real point to make, and are just going for the most easy path to demonize your adversary.

Yet, what have we witnessed from ‘world leaders’ when arguing against their opponents?

The lowest-common denominator argument possible.

In Canada, we saw how Justin Trudeau and some of his Liberal colleagues tried to demonize the freedom convoy – and those who supported the convoy – as ‘nazis’.

The Liberals even accused a Jewish MP of “standing with people waving swastikas”.

In Europe, the ‘accuse your opponents of being nazis’ strategy has been used in a far more sinister and brutal fashion.

Vladimir Putin has attempted to justify his invasion of Ukraine by claiming the country needs to ‘denazify,’ an absurd claim given that far-right groups are less popular in Ukraine than they are in Russia, and that Ukraine is led by a Jewish President who is descended from Holocaust survivors. Notably, Zelensky won about 74% of the vote in the last election, something that is hard to imagine taking place in a ‘nazi’ state.

The fact that leaders of countries feel comfortable using the weakest possible argument against their opponents is a bad sign.

Abandoning our values to save our values?

Canada, the US, India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, much of Europe, and some other countries are Liberal Democracies.

The word ‘Liberal’ in this case doesn’t directly track with how we use it in Canada, and indeed in much of the world ‘Liberal’ is used to describe centre-right parties and political movements.

But, the basic idea is that Liberal Democracies are countries where the government is democratically elected, and where – to varying degrees – individual freedoms are protected.

Liberal Democracies are at varying points led by populist parties, neo-conservative parties, social democrats, liberals, socially-conservative parties, libertarian-leaning parties, and many other electoral permutations, but the basic foundation of free elections and individual freedoms remain in place.

The values of Liberal Democracy are deeply ingrained in our society, so much so that everyone – regardless of their place on the political spectrum – claims to be defending those values. Everyone says they are in favour of freedom (though it can mean very different things to different people), and everyone claims to support democracy.

The challenge then is to look deeper, and see who is really defending the values and principles that made Liberal Democracy so successful in the first place.

The truth resides with different groups at different times

No party has a monopoly on the truth, and through different eras in history political movements go through changes that bring them more in line, or less in line with Liberal Democratic values.

For example, right-wing parties in Canada and the United States were often very rigid when it came to personal freedom, seeking to use the state to impose their personal values on the entire population. Left-wing parties were often more in favour of personal freedom, yet opposed the expansion of economic freedom, seeking to centralize power in the government.

Over time however, left-wing parties have increasingly sought to impose their own rigid set of personal values on the rest of the population through government power, rather than persuasion.

Parties like the Liberals – who once adhered more to the spirit of their name by supporting limited government intervention in the economy and personal responsibility – now more closely resemble a socialist party, as their deal with the NDP makes even more clear.

The Liberals – at least at the top levels of their leadership – appear to have largely lost faith in the ideals of Liberal Democracy, and now believe that the centralized power of the state – rather than local experimentation and individual choice – is the most important thing.

Consider legislation like Bill C-11.

The attempt by the Liberal government to expand the power of government over what you can say and consume online represents a direct rebuke to the ideals of free expression that have been so important to Liberal Democracy.

Here’s what Michael Geist says about it:

“Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act that serves as the government’s follow-up to Bill C-10, was the subject of debate in the House of Commons yesterday as the legislation slowly makes it way through the legislative process. There are still committee hearings to come, but it is readily apparent that many of the concerns that hamstrung Bill C-10 have returned: virtually limitless jurisdictional, overbroad scope, and harmful discoverability provisions. Further, this bill has attracted mounting criticism from Canadian digital-first creators, who note that one of Canada’s biggest cultural exports could be hurt by the bill leading to millions in lost revenues.”

In the short-term, we know the Liberals will face the temptation to use this legislation in order to narrow the bounds of debate.

But there are also long-term costs.

Canada will be a less creative nation, and creative minded-people will often seek their potential and their dreams outside of this country.

Our ability to debate and correct government errors through the free flow of information will be reduced, meaning the potential mistakes made by governments will be even higher, with more damage being done to the country.

And, we will fall further behind countries that remain more open to debate.

Finally, our core values will be weakened, and one of the strengths of the Western world will be lost to us. A smaller and smaller elite will have the power to shape and influence public opinion, while more and more Canadians will be locked out of the ability to share their thoughts.

The impact of this will be to make Canada a country that is less free, less prosperous, and less creative than we would otherwise be.

The fact is that Liberal Democracy cannot survive without freedom of expression, and every move the government makes to expand their power over the internet and the media moves Canada further away from the kind of country we are supposed to be.

Spencer Fernando

Photo – Twitter

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