There is fear in the air.
The United States, once the undisputed leader of the Free World now faces a level of debt so severe that it risks losing its AAA credit rating. China- a cruel tyranny- is imprisoning artists, yet there is little protest from the West, because the US owes the Chinese at least $ 1 trillion. The political deadlock in Washington produces futile arguments about where the President was born, rather than how to address the decline. The Arab regimes, controlling the majority of the global oil supply, now face disruption as their population demand the rights that they have been denied- with Western connivance- for so long. Russia bribes leaders of the European democracies, and yet those leaders remain in office, or if they have left office, they retain their influence unchallenged. The economic crisis is being addressed with reforms that make the banking system even more concentrated, and even less safe than before 2008. A new crisis is certain, with results that would be worse than the last.
Britain, refuses to acknowledge the need for fundamental change in order to avoid a drastic fall in the wealth of the coming generations as they must pay for the mistakes and selfishness of the baby boomers. The press retreats into a fantasy land of a mythical past, and the political discourse is now completely divorced from facts- and so rancourous and bitter- that no normal personality can tolerate the abuse that is handed out as a matter of course by a chorus of ignorant Yahoos.
The level of social trust is diminishing rapidly under an onslaught of technology and working hours, which is creating an atomised and isolated society. Mental illness is at record levels, as is alcoholism and obesity- none are measures of success.
The outlook in early 2011 is bleaker than I can remember since the 1970s. We may not have the immediate threat of a nuclear holocaust, but China and Russia may yet be able to do with money what they failed to do with ideology and military power. The economic crisis has created a crisis of faith in the institutions, indeed the very idea, of democracy.
This blog is predicated on a belief in Liberal Democracy in the broadest sense. I believe in the value of democratic institutions, I support the widest possible definition of personal freedom. Yet I adopted the nom-de-blog of Cicero, because I recognized that these values are under a powerful threat- a threat which is partly external- the rise to power of anti-democratic states like China aand Russia- but which is also partly a threat of our own making. In that sense, Marcus Tullius Cicero, faced with the challenge to the values and institutions of the Roman Republic became a symbol and a voice. It was to Cicero that the conspirators who murdered Julius Caesar turned- they recognized, as did Cicero himself, that the rule of Caesar would result in tyranny. Yet the process of internal political breakdown was so far advanced in the Roman Republic that even the conspiracy of the ides of March could not halt it, and thus the crisis ultimately led to Imperial rule, first under Augustus, but quickly under a succession of increasingly blood thirsty rulers. Though the Roman Empire would survive for another four centuries, the legacy of the six hundred years of the Roman Republic was destroyed in less than a single generation.
My fear has been that I live in similar times. That without a renewal of Western values we may see the increasing incursion of our barbarian enemies: an erosion of freedom, a rejection of Liberal values which, under the "lights of perverted science" could even lead to a total triumph of evil. As technology grows in scope, so I see an ever greater need to set limits, to protect the rights of the individual to difference and to freedom. Yet so far I see only the bad tempered negativity of the average blog comment. The determination to set the power of money above all else is destroying things which have a value way beyond their economic price. Humanity remembers the artist and not the patron, and that is surely a reflection of honest moral values, and it is upon these values that we build our happiness: yet they are not values that receive much respect in the early 21st century.
I focus on British politics in what I write here, partly because I originate from that island, and also because the richness of the artistic and even political culture resonates far beyond Dover. It has not been a story of complete woe either: the British demonstrate an openness and a toleration that I think reflects some of the best of humanity. Yet the country, like Rome before it, has seen its political power dwindle, and its confidence erode.
Yet there is still hope.
Now, in my view, the social, economic and political disaster of the World Wars, especially the first, could be healed. The reforming political trends of Liberalism, no longer pressured by the deformed zealotry of Socialism, may yet deliver the prosperity and freedom that they promised a century ago. Step-by-step we may begin to build the Jerusalem of our national hope. Yet increasingly I fear that Britain is taking a different path. The waste and foolishness of the Blair years has brought with it a terrible price: a breakdown of trust in the political system. Not only has faith in the system has gone, but so has all hope that the system may be changed. The need for a new contract for government has been lost in a blizzard of anger and misdirection. Even when a minor change- a switch to AV- is offered, it may be rejected simply as a cynical ploy by a corrupt political class.
Despite the present collapse of support for the Liberal Democrats, I remain convinced that Liberalism as an ideology is the most valid solution to our political, and therefore ultimately social and economic problems. I believe that we must stay true to the values of Locke, Mill, Popper, Hayek, Isaiah Berlin and Karl Popper. Socialism is a failed ideology and Conservatism a dangerous, primitive and backward-looking one. I live in Estonia- by far the most Liberal state in Europe- and as a liberal state it is a huge success. Free, increasingly prosperous and tolerant, Estonia in a generation has built a successful state on the ruins of Socialist tyranny.
I therefore can not accept the siren voices that suggest that the West is defeated, that Britain is finished as a viable state, that political, and even military Armageddon is coming to the West.
Of course I see the threat- this blog has been an attempt to answer that threat. Yet I do not believe in defeat just yet. I expect that the Liberal Democrats will face a bad time in the polls and in the local elections this year. I expect that our coalition partners and other political opponents will seek to paint the Liberal Democrats as a busted flush and Liberalism as a dead ideology.
They are wrong.
For their sake as much as for ours, the Battle for Freedom: economic, social and political; whether domestically, internationally or even in ourselves, must be fought continuously. It is a battle that we can not afford to lose.
So, I am worried- of course I am- but I remain a convinced liberal and an equally convinced Liberal Democrat. The past year has seen unparalleled success and unparalleled opprobrium. Our political opponents have tested us, but we must keep faith, even if the next few months remain as difficult as the past year since the General Election.
The process of reform is only just beginning.