South Africa is a diverse country, the most important and visible aspect being our various cultures, our ways of doing things, our languages. This is the beauty of this place: that so many people of different religions, schools of thought, outlooks and values can still collaborate in the creation of the brilliant things that South Africans create every day. The people who live here, along with their ancestors, have created the best industry in Africa and the best financing institutions for that industry, amongst others.

South Africans are not united; we may have some common interests but in general each person has particular goals and pursues these. We collaborate with different people on different things where the same interest is shared at that moment, but not necessarily all the time or in pursuance of the same ultimate goals. This is what makes this country great, the free expression of this impulse to be uniquely creative and operate only with those who share some of the same interests.

South Africans live in a society riddled with crime, where extreme violence is meted out daily. Yet, South Africans are also peaceful people, wanting to go about their business every day without interfering in that of other people. Here again, individuals have come together to defend themselves against violent minorities, whether through private security companies or community neighbourhood watches.

No one speaks for all South Africans. People can only speak for themselves, and what we can speak for is their right to be free to speak and act. So, when a journalist asks the leader of the opposition “Which South Africans are you speaking to?”, the answer is that he is speaking to and for everyone who has been denied the right to freedom. Even if there was only one such person in the whole country, that goal would be enough. It is important that law should be rational and grounded in the appreciation of and respect for liberty.

The government, in choosing not to have faith in the capacity of citizens to make rational decisions for themselves, also undermines its own legitimacy. In a constitutional democracy such as ours, legitimacy is conferred by the consent of the governed. This consent is not limited to choosing public representatives, it includes the sovereignty of individuals over themselves and their property.

Only free individuals can make legitimate social decisions, including economic and political decisions. If this principle is undermined in one area, it is undermined everywhere. Individuals will no longer be free to express their values, and pursue happiness in any peaceful manner. It is a violation of society, of the individual and the essence of what it is to be human, distinct from all other species on earth.

The experts, including Professor Shabir Madhi, Chair of the Public Health Subcommittee of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, are pointing out that the unintended consequences of restricting freedom through a lockdown could be worse than the consequences of the disease itself. Most if not all of these experts supported the initial hard lockdown but have also admitted that they chose what they judged to be the least bad option at the time, in the absence of data. This reveals some of the flaws in restricting liberty on the basis of advice by scientists.

Scientists should certainly offer advice, but they should simultaneously indicate the uncertainties inherent in making predictions about nature and stress the importance of letting each individual rationally evaluate the evidence as communicated by the experts. It is encouraging that so many have changed their minds about a lockdown, but in order to establish a firmer basis for liberty, we need to set out the principled position why the fact of a lockdown is wrong, no matter what the scientific evidence says.

As indicated, science is subject to uncertainties, and the same is true of social studies. Human beings are complex creatures with an inner life that is impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy. If human beings were generally predictable, there would be no need for liberty at all, we could just organise society on the basis of what we know each person is bound to want.

Real human beings on the other hand participate in a complex dynamic with their environment and their subjective inner experience. They pursue goals that are not necessarily discernible from their actions. They follow complex paths to reach unknowable goals, from the standpoint of most other people.

That is why this beautiful diversity requires some level of inequality across any area of individual self-expression one cares to measure. That is why you need the law to treat each individual equally and objectively, in order for this diversity to express itself and to preserve the possibility that an individual can be happy. The people we elect to represent us, do not become by virtue of that election, privy to the inner workings of our minds.

Politicians need to understand, once and for all, the boundary of where their borrowed authority ends. If politicians do not respect these boundaries, it can only cause conflict in society, not to mention economic costs that make more and more people poor.

It is critical that politicians, the judiciary, civil society and all state institutions understand the importance of the individual, and why the concept can never be abandoned in our politics, no matter what the circumstances are. It is a contradiction to seek to save human lives by violating the one thing that distinguishes human beings: the ability to reason and make decisions. Now more than ever, we should be seeking to expand the domain of every South African by increasing property ownership. There’s only one way to do this, the government must give up what it has taken from us, the people.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t really buy this libertarian take – nor do I think such an approach is healthy for South Africa. Our problem is not enough individual liberty, but that we have very little bonding glue and healthy balance between different social groups. We are still largely two countries and COVID-19 will just bring this out more (Johnny Steinberg had excellent article on this notion in BD).

    Two links I would encourage liberals read on one of the more prominent left-centre post-liberals – Adrian Pabst. Not perfect and the post-liberals have some tough questions that can be directed to their view as well – especially how this is practically done. Any way, the post-liberal critique also speaks to aspects that a moderate right of centre party as an alternative to the ANC might pick up on. (Although Pabst is a left-centre / blue Labour a lot on the centre-right spectrum make similiar claims)

    Review of the book:
    https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/04/30/the-fall-of-the-liberal-elite/

    Basically a summary of many of the ideas in the book:
    https://www.abc.net.au/religion/shared-society-questioning-theresa-mays-post-liberalism/10096056

    If too lazy a broad outline of 2nd article:

    (1) The changing political landscape and how left/right has collapsed under technocratic liberalism of the last two and a bit decades and how new politics also transcend these labels:

    “The revulsion against globalisation is also the harbinger of a tectonic shift away from the old opposition between left versus right and democracy versus authoritarianism towards a new divide between liberalism, anti-liberalism and post-liberalism”

    (1.1) Hard to argue this doesn’t capture the actual liberal politics of the last two decades:

    “…centre-left and centre-right parties across the West fused 1980s economic liberalism with 1960s social liberalism – notably financial and trade liberalisation combined with a raft of equality legislation in pursuit of abstract ideals such as emancipation and choice…Instead, left and right continued to converge around a modernising progressive creed, favouring individual happiness over social solidarity while entrenching power and wealth for the fortunate few…Rather, liberalism in the second half of the twentieth century took a socially egalitarian and economically individualist turn.”

    (1.2) negative liberalism also has unintended consequences

    “The liberal accentuation of “negative” freedom rather than substantive, shared ends underpinned the promotion of abstract ideals such as emancipation, self-expression and choice. And the liberal primacy of the individual over groups led to the preference for state and market mechanisms over the intermediary institutions of civil society, which give people agency…”

    (1.3) popular position among post-liberals is that in practice there has been little difference between progressive liberalism and market liberalism apart from slight calibration

    “The mark of contemporary liberalism is that it combines free-market economics with social egalitarianism and identity politics. It is failing because it privileges individual choice over group ties and mutual obligation.”

    “The current revulsion against key characteristics of liberalism is a rejection against the technocratic version of politics practiced by progressive liberals on the left and the right of the political spectrum who fused managerialism with bureaucracy centralism and ran states like corporations…The anti-establishment insurgencies…offer the electorate another form of manipulative populism that replaces centralised managerialism with mob rule” (See spiked linked for criticism of his aversion to populism)

    (2) The notion that populism is a backlash against liberalism in the main (again in practice) and actually empowers the state (even market liberalism since it helps created the individual-state dichotomy if the missing middle is not promoted)

    “There is thus a double convergence at work in Western politics: just as the main parties converge around variants of individualism, so too insurgent populists are converging around variants of statism. Neither the progressive liberal centre nor the reactionary anti-liberal extremes can be mapped according to the old binary opposition of left and right because both view politics as oscillating between two alternative poles: the isolated individual with her rights and liberties versus the collective power of the state either to secure or override them”

    (3) That the problem is the missing middle between the individual and the state. (Happen to think that classic liberalism properly understood recognizes this as well especially in Scottish Enlightenment liberalism vs French radical liberalism and libertarianism).

    Linking post-liberalism together is an emphasis on the embedding of state and market in the intermediary institutions of civil society, which give people agency…. Post-liberalism begins by acknowledging that the liberal tradition is not all bad. But ever-more individual rights prevent a proper balance between personal freedom and social stability. True human happiness and shared wellbeing depend less on state regulations and economic contract than they do on mutual duties about which progressive liberalism has little to say. The same goes for moral and social virtues – courage, generosity, gratitude, loyalty, fraternity – that nurture the way we live in society.”

    (3.1) Libertarians especially are prone to this critique

    “Appeals to emancipation and social justice ring hollow because liberal ideals too often overlook the relationships with our family, friends, colleagues or fellow citizens, which provide substance to otherwise vacuous values.”

    “The bonds sustaining us as social beings have been eroded by the liberal fusion of market monopoly with state power. Post-liberalism marks an attempt to renew the social realm and embed both economic and political institutions in the civic ties that make society work. While liberals are stuck in the sham debate over “more market or more state” in a quest for freedom or utility, post-liberals argue for a greater balance of interests among social groups at the service of the common good.”

  2. The writer makes an important point, missed by almost all commentators, about the discrepancies in “scientific” advice. When I was a young and naive musician I used to tell my pupils that art is not science. I soon discovered that in the real world science has as little of ‘gospel’ about it as any pronouncement on art. And of course all of the gospels are just as confused and contradictory. Yet autocratic diktats are decreed and justified because they’re premised in “science”. Much worse, so many of the diktats that came with our lockdown, one of the world’s most toxic, and patently doomed to failure, had nothing whatsoever to do with the science of virology or epidemiology but everything to do with a convenient cover for rapidly accelerating the ANC’s oppressive and economically devastating National Democratic Revoltution.

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