Monday, August 27, 2012
The trouble with freedom – By John Gray
Not long after the start of the 21st Century, we like to tell ourselves an uplifting story in which freedom expands whenever tyranny is overthrown.
We believe that freedom and democracy are inseparable, so that when a dictator is toppled the result is not only a more accountable type of government but also greater liberty throughout society.
This belief forms the justification of the repeated attempts by Western governments to export their own political model to countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. In this simple and seemingly compelling story, freedom and democracy are a package that can be delivered anywhere in the world.
An older generation of thinkers recognised that freedom and democracy don't always go hand in hand. The 19th Century liberal John Stuart Mill was a life-long campaigner for greater democracy, but he also worried that personal liberty would shrink once governments could claim to express the will of the majority.
Born in 1872 and dying in 1970 at the age of 98, Mill's godson Bertrand Russell agreed and shocked many people when he observed that while Britain after World War II was a more democratic society than the one he'd grown up in, it was also in some ways less free. For Russell, as for Mill, liberty was one thing, democracy another. It's a deeply unfashionable view, but I think essentially correct.