TOPICS : Freedoms and paranoid arguments

In the current debate about the need for a bill of rights in Britain, it is overlooked that no civil society can rest upon the possession of rights alone. And in the hysteria over the supposed need to protect our freedoms from “attack” it is now even stated that Britain is proceeding towards the condition of a “police state”. Some familiarity with real recent police states — East Germany or Romania — would teach those who bemoan the “rolling back of individual liberty” to temper their paranoid arguments.

Instead, modern free societies, the freest history has known, are gradually disintegrating from abuse of their freedoms. The harms being done to them by exploitation of their liberties are real; the harms being caused to them by the erosion of those liberties are largely imaginary.

It is here too that most of the left, whose socialist ideals have largely been displaced by an open-ended libertarianism, should take care. For the vacuous notion of liberty they now espouse is really a claim to the right to do as one pleases. This is the same idea about liberty as the “free marketeer” who brooks no interference with “choice”, even if it wrecks society and the planet.

Hence, the screeching about “intrusions” upon personal liberty now come equally from left and right. The libertarian left has become one large human rights lobby. To them, any interference with freedom of action is prima facie wrong. The libertarian right objects to the “nanny state” in the name of opportunity, aspiration and entrepreneurialism.

In the convergence of these positions, elementary truths have been forgotten. The largest one is that without the fulfilment of the citizen’s duties the free society cannot endure. Take away the sense of duty to community, environment, polity and nation, and collapse awaits.

Yet the notion that there should be some reciprocal relation between rights and duties is held by many to be wrong, an imposition, even described as an “impertinence” in a recent submission to the parliamentary committee on human rights.

To expect the fulfilment by the citizen of his or her duties is no impertinence. It is essential to liberal democracy. Indeed, government ministers today speak hesitantly of a need for “constitutional renewal” or for a more “contractual” relationship between citizen and state.

Under it, the performance of civic duties would be made a condition for the gaining of rights, many of the latter now routinely and shamelessly exploited by rich and poor alike.

Indeed, the boundaries of freedom have never been so widely nor so loosely drawn, yet the bogeys of the “surveillance society” and the “police state” are being constantly raised before us. Those who do so ought to know better. Their hallucinations bring a large danger, which would be better recognised if they knew history better. It is the danger that a new fascism brings a true police state as the price of our unknowing, rather than the imaginary one the libertarian fancies is being created today. — The Guardian