Once again an article published by the Daily Friend has received a wave of criticism. This is the article by Jonathan Katzenellenbogen supporting the idea of vaccine passports, ‘Vaccine passports, please’.This is most pleasing as it means that our readers are engaging with our articles and presenting opposing views (by early Wednesday afternoon there had already been over 200 comments).
What we do take issue with are the accusations that we ‘shouldn’t be supporting’ a particular view or that a classical liberal entity should not be publishing these ideas. The Daily Friend is an online opinion portal . It is fundamental to classical liberalism that contentious ideas be expressed and debated.
What the Daily Friend implicitly recommends is that we have a comprehensive public discussion about a subject; a free and open exchange of opinions (especially on the most contentious subjects) is very much what the IRR stands for, and always has.
It has been suggested that an argument for vaccine passports should not be tolerated on the grounds that discrimination – of any kind, one critic suggested – is illiberal, and would be contrary to liberal opposition to, for instance, the pass books black people were compelled to carry during apartheid.
Liberals (including the IRR) do indeed assert that all people are equal and deserve equal rights – but this does not mean we are opposed to any form of discrimination based on any criteria. We discriminate, for instance, between law-abiding citizens and criminals (while, naturally, recognising the rights of both), and we argue for a free and fair society that is founded on judging people by their merits, and thus recommend discriminating between individuals on their skills and abilities and the particular features of their lives wherever this is relevant. In neither of these examples is the equality of people or their rights contradicted.
We are opposed to discrimination on the grounds of factors over which people have no control or choice (such as race), because that is manifestly unfair and unjust, and thus does undermine equality and human rights.
There is no sensible or plausible comparison to be drawn between the dompas (inflicted on people because of the accident of their skin colour) and the notion of a public health measure (vaccine passports) that discriminates between people on the basis of their choices.
The debate, then, is very different, since (as in the case of vaccines) it is a debate about what reasonable steps a society can take to protect itself against the consequences of choices people make and whether a vaccine passport is a sensible measure or if it is an unacceptable infringement on liberty. These current debates are being expressed exactly because there is no absolutely settled wisdom.
This is precisely the justification for sustaining rather than curbing debate – especially on the most important (and usually most contentious) issues.
This is the basis on which the Daily Friend publishes material, whether from IRR staff or contributors, all of whom are free to choose what they write about. They are equally free to contest or respond to positions adopted by fellow Daily Friend writers (and we are happy to consider contributions from readers who are moved to take issue with content published on the Daily Friend, subject to the right to edit such contributions for comprehensibility).
The same principle – sustaining debate on the most important questions facing us – applies to our enthusiasm to share readers’ comments. (Publication may be briefly delayed, as each one is moderated. We decline to publish comments only on extreme grounds, such as racism.)
The Daily Friend cleaves to the conviction that no idea is above scrutiny, and that seeking to avoid contention and argument is never a good reason to avoid a discussion.
This is, ultimately, an expression of confidence in our readers.