Well we've been covering liberalism and its implications in the U6 ideology lessons, and there have been no less vigorous debates about the nature of a free society in allegedly liberal Britain than in the L6 set as well. In its classical form, liberalism is about the freedom of the individual and assumes that freedom to be an absence from any external constraints (a view later characterised by Isaiah Berlin as negative freedom). The modern liberal, of course, has trouble with this, for he wants to promote freedom by promoting the 'potential' of the individual, and on the assumption that such potential usually requires a lift, he comes up with the notion of government intervention via such forms as the welfare state (positive freedom). Now no-one would dispute that these are noble notions, but the modern liberal problem remains that the more you increase the power of the state the more you compromise the freedom of the individual. The two exist as opposite forces to each other. The debate that has been exercising us recently has been the extent to which modern government is so keen to legislate our every activity that it has ceased to have any regard whatsoever for the concept of negative freedom.
This is not a debate confined to the walls of the politics classroom. It came up as I was dining last night with one of my politics mentors (and former student!!) and his wife. He mentioned, in between frequent growls about the amount of money the government takes off him in tax, a recent Independent story which suggested that such was the present government's taste for legislation, that it has effectively created a new offence for virtually every day it has been in power. A crime a day thanks to New Labour. So, cheers Tony, we are all 3,000 times more likely to be criminals than when you first came to office!
It is refreshing to note that the founder of this alarming statistic about the impingement on our individual freedoms is a Liberal MP, Mr. Nick Clegg (and frequently touted possible future leader). For a brief summary of the article, which ends with the fascinating news that the government have created, amongst their 3,000 new offences, one that makes it illegal to 'create a nuclear explosion' (and thanks for that - we all feel a whole lot safer now), click here. Unfortunately, one freedom you do not have is the freedom to read the whole article for free - such is the Indie's cash strapped status that you need to buy the full article for a quid. But you can get the broad picture, and that's bad enough.
So, a liberal society? Depends on how free one needs to be I guess.