Civil liberty – the indivisible right
Imagine a State ruled alternatively by several factions of the same governing party. Factions which work together to oppress and hamstring the opposition party. Imagine that the Powers That Be excluded members of the opposition party from many jobs, changed the electoral system to disadvantage opposition candidates, allowed government-sponsored thugs to close down its meetings and assault its campaign workers, passed laws to lock up opposition leaders for telling the truth about failures of key regime policies, and used media outlets with close links to the government to run an endless smear campaign against it, with journalists under orders never even to report on the opposition unless in such a way as to damage it in the eyes of the public. Such a State, self-evidently, would be regarded by anyone who values liberty and democracy as in urgent need of reform. Liberal pundits would appear on the BBC to urge the British government to withhold aid until things were put right. If the country in question happened to be sitting on significant oil reserves, such behaviour might become the official causus belli for a joint US/British invasion to ‘restore democracy’.
But since the State involved is Britain, since the regime is Tony Blair’s and the out-of-power faction of the governing party is Michael Howard’s, and since the oppressed opposition is the British National Party, scarcely a word is said.
That the BNP suffers such harassment is a matter of simple record. That it is unique in its members being denied so many fundamental democratic and human rights may be established simply by contrasting their situation with that of members of Sinn Fein. Men and women who are known close associates of IRA bombers are allowed – in fact, encouraged, to join the police force in Northern Ireland, while police officers on the mainland are warned by their superiors that even voting BNP will lead to them being sacked.
All the facts above, bar perhaps the last one, are well known to the members of every single pro-civil liberty organisation in Britain, but with the exception of a tiny handful of out-of-step individuals among them, almost everyone seems happy with the situation.
It is self-evident that all fundamental liberties – such as freedom of speech and the right to participate in elections on a level playing field – must apply to everybody or, by definition, be absent for all. Except, of course, when it comes to the BNP which, as all right thinking people understand, is Beyond the Pale. Just as witches who danced with the devil were in Puritan England; medical reformers were who said that germs on unwashed doctors’ hands and not ‘ill humours’ were killing one in four new mothers in 18th century Britain; atheist MPs were in 19th century England, and suffragettes were in Britain before the First World War.
In each such example – and in the case of every other dissident group which has been bullied, imprisoned, tortured or murdered by every form of authority in History – there have been ‘good’ reasons, widely accepted as the received wisdom of the time, why the group in question ‘deserved’ to be so treated. Except, of course, in hindsight.
And so it is today with the British National Party. For every Guardian reader knows that the BNP is possessed of the Original Sin of Racism, that its members are all lumpen proletarian skinhead thugs (who have, unfortunately, the right to vote, but not to organise in a political party), and that its leaders seek to recreate Nazi Germany and establish a death camp on Clapham Common in which to exterminate all minorities.
Now, the BNP of the 1980s and 90s clearly was in essence a fascist party, but even a casual reading of the party’s 2005 General Election Manifesto makes it clear that there has been a massive and irreversible shift in its aims and underlying ideology.
Among other things it proposes Citizens Initiative Referenda binding on government, seeks to spread the private ownership of the means of production and distribution throughout a defining proportion of the population, opposes ID cards and the surveillance state, and advocates the phased creation of a Swiss-style responsibly armed nation as the ultimate guarantee against imported or home-grown tyranny. Such a party may be all sorts of things, but it very clearly is not ‘fascist’.
As for ‘racism’, the modern BNP opposes mass immigration and multi-culturalism on the grounds that human biocultural diversity is being exterminated by global capitalism. It demands for every single people and culture on planet Earth the right to self-preservation which it seeks for its own. Such a position is clearly out of step with the extermination-through-assimilation model of multi-culturalism promoted by the dominant ideology of the USA, but it equally clearly has nothing to do with ‘hate’ or wishing to harm others.
But such arguments, at one absolutely vital level, are in danger of missing the point: Democratic and human rights are not something which are there to be granted – either by the State or by a liberal intellectual elite, or even by you and me as individuals – only to those whose World View and detailed policies we find ‘acceptable’.
The true test of whether such rights are taken seriously is precisely that they are granted as well – nay, particularly – to those whose views are held ‘by all right-thinking people’ to be unacceptable. Quite simply, either everybody is free, or nobody is. Democracy and human and civil rights are empty and hypocritical slogans if they are qualified and rationed. We are all free, or we are all actual or potential slaves.
This is not to say that incitement to violence and proposals from any group to use force to impose its will on the rest of the population are an acceptable part of democratic discourse, of course they are not. But they can be dealt with perfectly adequately by recourse to ancient Common Law provisions against such things, leaving the right to advocate the most outlandish and ‘unacceptable’ changes to society untrammelled, provided only that such right is exercised through peaceful debate and unfettered constitutional means.
There is, of course, nothing controversial about this argument. The only rather unusual thing is insisting that, when it comes to the idea that civil liberty is indivisible and universal, ‘everybody’ includes not just the Liberal Democrats, Communist Party and Sinn Fein, but also the British National Party.
For genuine, far-sighted, members of groups like Liberty and Amnesty – and of other political parties – this really shouldn’t be rocket science, for it is not just a matter of abstract principle, it is also increasingly a question of self-interest.
Leaving aside all the niceties of ideology and principle, the plain truth is that the entire world is now being afflicted by a giant corporate asset-grab of unprecedented proportions. Many multi-national companies now have more wealth and power than medium-sized nation states, and they are using that power to push through a globalist agenda which involves the conversion of vast areas of what used to be civic life and cultural and community cohesion into private profit centres.
Health, the penal system, education, council services (witness the ‘pilot scheme’ take-over on July 1st by German media giant Bertelmann’s of Yorkshire’s East Riding council services), the entire fabric of civil society is being looted in the West, just as debt-for-equity swaps have already seen the most valuable assets of Third World countries stolen by globalist corporations.
This massive transfer of wealth to global corporatism is reflected by a parallel decline in the power of democratically elected governments, and thus in the strength of democracy itself. Nor will this remain a matter of theory or even just falling turn-outs. As popular anger against History’s biggest ever smash and grab raid rises, so the political puppets of global capitalism will become ever more repressive of protests against things over which they have abdicated their power and sovereignty in favour of the corporate elite.
From the police provocations launched against the demonstrators at Seattle, through to the new ban on even one-man demonstrations within a kilometre (!) of the Westminster Parliament, there is an unbroken strand: Our Masters, in order better to serve their Masters and conceal from the public knowledge of what they are doing, are taking away our rights. Not just my rights, your rights.
What is done today against the Beyond the Pale BNP will be done tomorrow against others. The extremist and exploitative nature of the globalist project are inevitably provoking resistance which its political puppets must suppress, but their liberal ideological origins incline them towards incremental totalitarianism rather than the overnight clampdown of the self-righteously anti-democratic tyrannies of the last century.
The problem for the left is that the only real power with which to oppose this newly rapacious post-1989 global capitalism is the power that comes from the moral high ground. Yet in seeking the moral high ground in resisting political repression and the denial of human rights, one cannot compromise on the fundamental principle of the universality of such rights.
To accept that the State, or private corporations, or indignant individuals, are entitled in any way to repress an individual or a group for Politically Incorrect views, is to abandon the moral right to oppose such repression when it is directed against persons of whom one approves.
Similarly, the establishment of a precedent for a certain type of denial of freedom to Group A makes it subsequently virtually impossible in practical terms to resist when the same thing is done to Group B.
The left in particular should have learned this as far back as the early 1980s, when they looked on with approval when British police forces took to illegally halting cars and coaches containing National Front members on their way to perfectly legal demonstrations. Had Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn and the National Council for Civil Liberties gone immediately to the defence of the fundamental principle of the right of people of all views and standpoints to demonstrate, then the new tactics perfected against the ‘unacceptable’ NF might have been stopped before they were rolled out a year later against their real target – striking miners.
Has this lesson been learned? It doesn’t look like it. In fact, even the liberal-left seem more lukewarm or confused about the issue of civil liberty today than ever before. Labour MPs who once fought tooth and nail for women’s rights are now getting ready to drive another nail into the coffin of free speech in order to reward the priests of the last great anti-female religion (which is to be protected by the threat of seven years in prison from scrutiny or criticism) for overcoming their revulsion at Blair’s illegal war and delivering a sizeable chunk of their community’s block vote to Labour in the last election.
Where are the liberals and the left? Demonstrating for the freedom to say that stoning the victims of rape to death for ‘adultery’ is medieval barbarism? No, lining up with the Mullahs who want to impose on Muslim women living in Britain a dress code which is more strict than that regarded as normal in most Islamic societies in history – a code which comes from the same mentality that insists that the stones should be larger than pebbles and big enough to cause serious injury to a woman buried up to her neck in sand, but not large enough so that the first two to smash into her head will kill her.
Where are the liberals and the left? Demonstrating for the absolute right of Brian Haw to embarrass Tony Blair with his one-man peace camp outside the supine House of Commons? No, because their archaic collectivist instincts mean that the rights of individuals – even those on their side – don’t really strike a chord with them.
Where are the liberal and the left? Demonstrating against the hounding of BNP members from their jobs? No, next in the queue to lose their own jobs and rights at the hands of the puppets of global capitalism who, despite their ‘left-wing’ party labels, will have no more time for those who oppose the exploitation inherent in the New World Order than the factory owners who dominated the 19th century parliament had for protesting mill hands.
The persecuted Pastor was right: “… And then they came for me, and there was no-one left to speak out for me.”
Note from Patrick Harrington, Third Way Website Editor
This article has been published unedited. It has also been printed in Taking Liberties a Third Way special edition on the assault on our fundamental rights. I was the victim of political harassment during my Philosophy studies at the Polytechnic of North London and more recently was expelled from the RMT Union for ill concealed and misguided political motives. Third Way defends the rights of BNP members, Communists and Muslims – in fact just about everyone! I would like to personally thank Nick Griffin for contributing this important article.
Taking Liberties is available from Amazon.co.uk