“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Section II, United States Declaration of Independence)
These words, hailed as one of the most monumental and well-crafted sentences in the history of English language, embody the essence of centuries’ long liberal stream nourished during the Renaissance period by some of the most enlightened human intellects i.e. John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Declaration of Independence is unparalleled manifestation of the fact that ultimate destination of all enlightened streaks for the good of mankind, in last observation, appears only in the form of collective, political silhouette.
In Pakistan, the word ‘liberal’ is most often perceived as entirely contrary to it’s fundamental connotation not only by conservatives but self proclaimed liberals themselves. There’s a dire need to look into pages of human history to cast aside all the ambiguities related to this term.
All the words related to this term i.e. liberal, liberty, libertarian, and libertine trace their history to the Latin ‘liber’ meaning ‘free’. Most fundamental definition of liberalism is ‘tenet of freedom and equal rights’ that further encompasses myriad ideas of human rights, capitalism, free and fair elections, liberal democracy, separation of church and state, religious freedom, welfare state, freedom of speech, press and assembly etc depending upon state of affairs. Though liberal currents may be traced back to some of Greek philosophers and Sophists but modern liberal streaks extract their fundaments from ‘Age of Enlightenment’. That era, aka Age of Reason, marked with avowing of reason as the primary source of legitimacy and authority against irrational beliefs of absolute monarchy, organized religion, divine right of kings, superstitions, serfdom and sway of religion over mighty empires. A wide array of cultural, historical, scientific and philosophical movements may be attributed to that era but, more or less, all of them revolve around the common pivot of freedom and liberty.
Early liberal ideas, emanated from Renaissance period, unequivocally challenged the social as well as political structure of Europe and ultimately led to the ‘Glorious Revolution’ –Revolution of 1688 that overthrew King James II of England- and ‘Atlantic Revolutions’ –A wave of eighteenth century revolutions associated with Atlantic history. Basic conceptions, that paved way for uprisings, were predominately consisted of ideas like social justice, social contract and consent of the governed. These terms mainly refer that ‘people give up sovereignty to a government and other authority in order to maintain social order through rule of law and government’s legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that power is exercised’. John Locke suggested the idea in these words:
“ MEN being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent. The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it. This any number of men may do, because it injures not the freedom of the rest; they are left as they were in the liberty of the state of nature.”(Second Treatise of Civil Government, chapter8 section95)
Classical liberalism, earlier form of liberalism, encircles the ideas of free market, limited role of governments, ultimate individual freedom and laissez-faire capitalism. These ideas draw on the economics of Adam Smith, a psychological understanding of individual liberty, natural law and a belief in progress. Cores of this doctrine suggest that human nature is egoistic, coldly calculating, essentially inert and atomistic; hence incorporating the assumptions that only motivation for labor is either the possibility of great reward or fear of hunger, society is no more than the sum of it’s individuals, individuals should be free to pursue their self interests without restraints from society, poor urban conditions are inevitable and starvation would help limit population growth.
Nonetheless, by the end of nineteenth century, the principles of classical liberalism were challenged by downturns in economic growth, growing perceptions of evils of poverty, unemployment and agitation of organized labor. The ideal of the self-made individual seemed increasingly implausible. These hardships led to the materialization of a new belief in liberalism, known as modern or social liberalism marked with ideas of multiparty democracy, social market economy, legitimate role for the state in addressing economic and social issues, human rights, welfare state and progressive taxation. Under social liberalism the good of the community is viewed as harmonious with the freedom of individual. In the United States, the Great Depression led to the development of modern liberalism with introduction of ‘New Deal’ and Keynesian economic model. Most of the prevalent liberal governments around the world are modern liberal to their core. In 1975, roughly 40 countries around the world were characterized as liberal democracies, but that number had increased to 80 as of 2008.
Coming back to ‘land of the pure’, pseudo-liberals – most appropriate term one finds in lexicon – mostly have nothing to do with the quintessence of liberalism. Whilst, professing merely one’s own individual liberty from the constraints of society, one doesn’t qualify the standards of a liberal but a self-centered individual who just pursue his/her well-being. Mocking the religious beliefs of others is not necessarily the emblem of liberalism. To assert on the liquidation of all pluralistic cultural as well as social traits cannot escalate an individual from braggart to liberal. To castigate the nasty popular politics of country doesn’t transform an apathetic person into flag-bearer of liberalism. All of the viewers of a fashion show do not inevitably earn the label of liberal –I beg my pardon sirs, this is not liberalism but narcissism.
On the other hand, a religious/spiritual person; who endeavors for the common-good of his/her clan by actively participating in social/political/economic process, who regards the divergent religious beliefs, who recognizes the cultural/racial/ethnic identities of others, who is the part of electoral process of country, deserves the label of a ‘liberal’ vis-à-vis his/her counterpart.
Take, for an instance, the recent encounter of TV/Film actress Veena Malik with a religious scholar on a television show that was unnecessarily escalated to the self-presumed war between conservatism and liberalism, whilst completely neglecting the fact that that was only a part of popular stream of media broadcasting. Veena Malik is no liberal; she would have done the other way around had she got paid for covering her head with veil, also she doesn’t represent the majority of inhabitants of this region who extract the social values not necessarily from religious beliefs but also from their rich culture -irrespective of religious beliefs i.e. Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism- that is hallmark of this piece of earth [read: subcontinent]. Those, who consider her as black-mark on their national pride are, ultimate ignoramuses but, on the other hand, to hold her as goddess of liberalism is not more than utter idiocy.
Let’s talk about the murder, the callous murder of Salman Taseer that shook the so-called liberals and awoke them to the escalating peril of Islamofascism. The reason, as evident, is that they, finally, feel it an intensifying danger for their lifestyles. Now they perceive fundamentalism as an existential threat that may harm their very beingness. Here, I’m not of the view that only this class of society is responsible for haunting fiasco but I do have solemn belief in my apprehension that so-called-cultivated-class shares proportionate blame for having been so apathetic. History of humankind endorses the fact that no fundamental change in the social fabric has ever been achieved albeit by collective political struggle. How, on earth, a vigil of a handful of people may prove helpful doing away with the venom of extremism running through the arteries of society? Aren’t they being self-centered, again, by isolating themselves from the popular masses-orientated politics? Isn’t the time has, already, come to align oneself with the right side of political divide in order to counter the frankenstein’s monsters?
Political parties emanate from the very fabrication of society and rightly epitomize all the idiosyncrasies of persistent social structure. One may justly criticize the present PPP lead coalition government for ill-governance, substandard performance, involvement of some of its officials in bribery; but on the other hand one cannot neglect the fact that these maladies are earmark of our tarnished society. This isn’t some kind of hidden truth that the PPP is the only liberal party that holds sway over the people of all five provinces. Again, one may argue and criticize the vows of some of it’s officials about preservation of Blasphemy Laws but, as a matter of fact, these are apolitical liberals who have allowed these conservative elements to induce the party by having been so indifferent.
This seems so comfortable to lambaste the labyrinthine political scenario of an almost ungovernable state where security-establishment and religious/ethnic pressure groups hold undeniable influence over the political government. Ground realities of this part of region are entirely different from those discussed in luxurious drawing-rooms. Mainstream political parties extract their vote-bank from the poorer half of society on the basis of, mostly, economic issues. In general, a voter wants to live peacefully with substantial amount of household items and has nothing to do with the issues of liberalism or conservatism. Point is, why not support the party and utilize it’s electoral power for the sake of common-good and to cast aside the specter of extremism, in spite of decrying rhetorically. This, at this turbulent point of our history, is the only workable solution to extricate ourselves from this horrifying chaos. Elseways, as they say, there wouldn’t be our tale in the tales of nations.