What’s in an ideological tag? Some argue that in today’s liquid societies, ideologies are as outdated as typewriters.
Others believe their own political stance to be objective and correct, to the contrary of other stances that are labelled as being ideological, subjective, biased and so forth. Such labelling is sometimes articulated both by extreme liberals whose liberalism morphs into dogmatic authoritarianism as well as by ultra-conservatives who fail to understand social changes of our times.
Being closer to the liberal side myself, I am quite preoccupied by a new dogmatism which is being pronounced by extreme liberals who believe in inevitable ‘progress’ that demolishes traditions that they may detest. They believe that history should be accelerated towards their preferred direction and that critics are mere reactionaries who are clinging to prejudice.
Such extreme liberalism is articulated in various ways. For example, economic progress is seen as inevitable no matter the social and environmental impacts. Body politics is dubbed as the triumph of identity and technology even if critics raise queries on natural characteristics that cannot simply be erased through social construction.
Like other extremists of all stripes and colours, extreme liberalism may also shun compromise, moderation and measure because they may interfere with their absolute ‘truth’.
Critics of this approach include moderates within both the liberal and conservative poles. They may argue that society may be too hypercharged to give time for reflexive dialogue and to value the inherited wisdom of tradition. Mind you, not all traditions are to be valued. But this does not mean that tradition should be rubbished just because it happens to promote constructive continuity.
In all truth, it is power which implements ideological positions, though this may often be influenced by other factors and unintended consequences. Whether such ideologies are supported by evidence or by holistic consultation is another matter.
I will supplement my argument with examples from Malta. The Labour government was democratically elected on a mandate to carry out social changes, and its big parliamentary majority gives it the comfort to keep pressing its accelerator. A key aspect of Labour’s strategy is to deliver electoral commitments to specific groups even if there may be ramifications on sustainability and the common good.
But as long as such commitments do not impinge on the immediate interests or concerns of other groups, or if the latter are seen as being electorally less significant than the groups benefitting from Labour’s commitments, then the changes in question go ahead.
One may say that this is the essence of democratic politics, and in a way this is true. But such politics also require responsibility, and this in turn also means evaluating the different forms of impacts of policymaking.
Extreme liberalism may shun compromise, moderation and measure because they may interfere with their absolute ‘truth’
Let me give some examples. Quite a good number of people are making lots of money out of Labour’s lax planning policies. Extra storeys can be rented or sold, development on ODZ land can result in super profits, and low construction standards save costs. In turn this results in votes for Labour.
People who oppose such practices may be resigned, may be seduced to participate in the new order or may belong to the demograph of voters who already do not support Labour. But are such policies responsible, when Malta’s landscapeis becoming increasingly polluted, urbanised and congested?
Labour’s policy process on IVF and surrogacy are other cases in point. Granted, there are different views on these issues, including opposing expert positions, and one also notes that surrogacy was not included in the recent IVF reforms.
But is the government really listening to different voices and recommendations? Given that the Nationalist Party in government itself introduced IVF in 2012, could Labour have done more to reach consensus, or did it give absolute primacy to its own ideological position and its electoral calculations?
I believe that it is only normal to have different ideological positions in a liberal democracy, and it is such diversity which gives life to the democratic processitself. But when such positions become entrenched in enclaves of political calculation or dogmatism, we become all the poorer through a lack of dialogue.
Yes, Labour has a big parliamentary majority and a strong mandate for various reforms. But if anything, this should give extra comfort for proper dialogue, comprehensive consultation and thorough analysis of evidence.