Monday, 10 September 2007

Separating Libertarianism and Political Liberty

I wrote an article in the Guardian on Friday arguing that libertarianism and political liberty needed to be kept separate in our minds, and that civil libertarians should be prepared to engage more in discussion than they do about the relative merits of various suggestions for change that affect the first while being extremely careful about any new laws or practices that threaten the second. 

The immediate handle for the piece was Sedley LJ’s suggestion that there be a compulsory DNA database covering not only residents but UK visitors as well. What has been interesting has been the level of vitriol his proposal, and my article, have attracted. There is an extremely strong belief among at least a few people that the government really is motivated by bad faith in seeking to deploy technology so as further to invade basic rights and liberties. There is also an equally deeply-held opinion that we live in a society with a very authoritarian-minded government. 

Part of the purpose of my article was also to challenge this idea by putting the Blair/Brown administrations in some kind of historical context. In my new book Civil Liberties I do emphasise the law and practice of political freedom which is what I say my subject is about, ie not invididual liberty as such, other than of course as a building block for freedom. This afternoon I am presenting my ideas to the annual conference of the Society of legal Scholars – the UK’s premier gathering of academic lawyers. I shall be very interested to see what their response is.


John Flood said...

Motivations are an important factor here. Sedley's seems to be that minorities are being unfairly treated because they are disproportionately represented in the current DNA database. This would suggest present profiling policies are set up towards this end. If they are over-represented then I would query the solution that everyone therefore be included in such a database. What would the purpose of a DNA database be? If it were used solely for exclusionary purposes in the case of crime, I could perhaps understand it, but what if its use, eg. were extended to making policy about disability (a number leave genetic markers some among particular ethnic groups)? This raises questions of trust in our institutions: do we have sufficient trust?

global citizen said...

Can I change the subject to Economics since you hold a post at LSE. As an ex student of the first UK Centre for the Study of Global Ethics continuing the research for several years since 2002/3 I am greatly concerned about the Ethics of Economics and its affect on Human Rights which appears to be your strong point. I wonder - could you turn some attention specifically to the ethics of free "credit" or "bank" money - creation of which is now for the benefit of commercial banks, which far exceeds the Cash money created as currency created by government (which we the public receive the benefit of) - see . the first few minutes of which describes the problem

I would be very interested in your comments and whether you and your readers could support my attempts to bring a reasonable adjustment into the public domain? I have proposed a re-direction of the Base rate of Interest to the public purse via the central bank so stabilising the financial system and allowing energy sustainability investments which would help to reduce climate change via an ETI as shown on

Stefan Molyneux, MA said...

Hey, nice blog! - I thought you might be interested in the libertarian philosophy show Freedomain Radio.... :)