Liberalism means supporting the freedom of the individual. It means letting people say what they want, do what they want and think what they want, subject to the natural limit of others having the same rights. Liberals believe in this because we imagine the prospect of being forced to serve the ends of others instead of our own, which is a fate worse than death.
Life is not always easy, indeed you can go hungry, you can suffer the predation of people who do not value your liberty, you can die from some horrible illness. Nature can be cruel. The only prospect of solving these problems is through the cooperation of free individuals making uncoerced choices. That is why I have simply taken liberalism to what I see as its natural conclusion: The elimination of the state — that association of gangsters whose sole distinguishing factor is the extortion of other’s property for their own sustenance and often, wasteful consumption. We are told a myth about a social contract that none of us consented to. I despise the concept and reality of the state.
Now, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank, are engaged in a war of words over what true liberalism is. The IRR seems to object most strongly to the DA adopting the African National Congress (ANC)’s and South African Communist Party’s premise of race-based redress, rooted ultimately in the National Democratic Revolution (NDR)’s concept of ‘colonialism of a special type’ which implies white people, many of whom can trace their lineage in what is now South Africa further back than even I can (my ancestors fled Eswatini around the late 1800s). It is a concept designed to enable the wholesale looting of private property — to serve the ultimate Marxist end of abolishing the individual as we know her.
This cannot go unanswered.
It is something all liberals, if they are worthy of that name and that history, should resist with all their might. If we are inheritors of the tradition that saw men and women resign themselves to prison rather than compromise with the hateful ideology of Apartheid; if we are worthy of the men and women who chose to shut down the Liberal Party rather than accept the National Party’s dictate that their party should expel black people. Individuals who were banned, imprisoned, and tortured, not just in this country but in places like Hong Kong, America, Germany, etc., for believing in the sovereignty of the individual.
This is a heavy history, something we have to strive to always be worthy of if we are to claim we are liberals.
It was never been about power for the liberal giants of our history, and it should not be about power for us, now. If standing on principle gains more votes for the ANC, then the voters have chosen servitude. And no, the opinion of a majority is not a liberal principle. What is a liberal principle is the rule of law, which implies equality before the law.
If this is what we stand for, can we tolerate taxes? Welfare? The minimum wage, which robs the poor of the right to freely negotiate contracts? Can we tolerate a racist government driving millions of young people from the country of their birth because they have a skin colour the government doesn’t like?
Can we, if indeed we stand for the individual and identify as liberal, accept that every South African who didn’t vote ANC should be led by the party down the road to economic doom? Can we accept the government telling us which schools our children can go to? What kind of healthcare we can get? Can we tolerate being told that our property is not really our own and politicians can seize it anytime they want on the basis of the flimsy defence of public interest?
We cannot. The public interest is the individual interest, and we have at least 300 years of discussion about how it is best served, putting some of these ideas into practice and witnessing an unprecedented increase in human prosperity because of it. Liberalism is everyone’s target because it frustrates the power-hungry. It forces them to adopt more creative schemes, as we see in the West with the rise of the so-called social liberals and social democrats (the same thing, really). Millions of powerless individuals in this country stand with us, though they may not know it yet, because we stand with them.
So, why are the liberals in the DA seemingly so silent while the proponents of the NDR attack? Could it be the EFF and ANC’s rhetoric and scaremongering is worse than the torture, imprisonment without trial and other deprivations of the Apartheid government?
I find this unlikely. The more likely explanation is that many of them have sold their souls for power. They convince themselves that they are making a change from within, while the monster devours who they used to be.
Make no mistake: It was the liberals who chose the path of tokenism, which is what ultimately led to this current fracas. Liberals accepted the premise that legitimacy meant black faces. It was an easy response to the demographics of the country and utterly immoral given what had been sacrificed for the principle of non-racialism. The likes of Helen Zille, now running for DA Chairperson of the Federal Council position, fell for it. Since majoritarianism was elevated to the level of principle, it was a natural conclusion to reach, no matter the internal contradictions it caused.
Next, we were told about a ‘capable state’ from the same party and the same person leading it: Premier Zille. We watched while liquor regulations were tightened in the DA-governed Western Cape because those people over there couldn’t be trusted with freedom. We watched the same logic being applied to parents and their ability to choose a good school for their children, just like that vouchers went out of the window.
It is therefore ironic that the challenge to the DA’s ongoing abandonment of liberal ideas would come from the IRR, an organisation that was employing the former Premier until very recently. If Mmusi Maimane should leave the DA for his crimes against liberalism, so too should Helen.
Have we forgotten? Zille is the one who supported Maimane for party leader when that other black hope of hers, Lindiwe Mazibuko, left to study overseas (there’s a joke doing the rounds that Mmusi might soon be sent to Harvard as well). While an efficient administrator, Zille displayed some troubling authoritarian tendencies while she was in government, guided by the belief that she knew more than what were often poor people, about what is best for their lives.
I am not sure that exchanging the influence of Maimane for that of Zille makes much sense.
I am sure some of you are already sharpening the knives — if you have bothered to read this far — for me writing this, but opportunism always catches up to liberals, more so than anyone else. We are wholly reliant on our ideas. Everyone else can offer food, comfort, safety. We only offer people the chance to be responsible for their own lives. Not a particularly attractive offer in a market with populists; but we have no other choice. We live or die on this principle.
It is not only Helen Zille and Mmusi Maimane who have displayed opportunistic and power-mongering tendencies from within the DA. We also have the case of Herman Mashaba, who was even appointed as Chairperson of the Free Market Foundation at some point in the past, another liberal think tank.
The DA and its supposed — we never hear from them — liberals stood by as this man, the man they had made mayor of the most important city in the country, spewed hate against ‘illegal immigrants’. Funny enough, some of us can agree that laws like the Employment Equity Act and the Group Areas Act are and were unjust, but I rarely see the same level of critical thinking when it comes to immigration laws. We watched as innocent men and women, people who arrived here from the rest of Africa seeking opportunities, were beaten. The liberals stood silent and let Mashaba fan the flames.
If Hermann Pretorius of the IRR, who I consider to be a friend and no, I don’t know what he was thinking at the time, was aiming to sow chaos and possibly spark a liberal revival in the DA, what a funny way to go about it: Referring to Alan Winde’s race, with scant mention of Winde’s liberal principles or credentials. I fear it may yet be another opportunistic move by liberals, to win an easy short-term victory while sacrificing principle in the long-run.
There are serious problems in South Africa’s liberal community, some of which have been buried for many years, especially this troubling tendency to speak liberty while going to extraordinary lengths to recruit any black person (regardless of demonstrated belief in the principles) to their cause. In my estimation, this contributed to the current fight as much as BEE/AA contributed to the failure of SOEs and the broader South African economy.
Our principles are moral, they are correct, and they also happen to work. If only we could convince the liberals to fight for them.
I have no dog in this tit-for-tat, confused fight. I stand only for principle. Even if the entire so-called liberal community were to reject me, I will still loudly proclaim what I believe in: Life, liberty, and property. I do not need anyone’s favour. My greatest fear is that when the time comes, and hiding is no longer an option, that I may find myself on the side of the enemies of freedom. That is why I examine my mind ruthlessly and constantly — liberty is too important to be taken for granted.