For many people the terms “liberal” and “left-wing” are used interchangeably. The practice of using the word “Liberal” as a catch-all term for the Left is particularly prominent in the US but also here in the UK.
At certain points in our history it has indeed been the Left which has been the most forceful in pushing for more liberty, mainly in areas relating to social rather than economic policies, but there has always been a powerful tradition of authoritarianism in left wing ideology,and in recent years it appears to have become all consuming.
Nowhere is this transformation more apparent than on university campuses. While it was only a few decades ago that left-wing students often clashed with campus authorities in defence of free speech, now it is primarily left-wing students who are the driving force behind the “safe space” craze, a dangerous trend whereby free expressions of ideas are essentially quashed in the name of preventing anybody from being exposed to opinions they might disagree with.
As a young person in my early twenties who has just finished university, I find it deeply troubling that so many of my generation are rejecting the freedoms previous generations fought and died for – no society can call itself free without freedom of speech.
But it is not just on university campuses where authoritarian Leftism is rearing its ugly head but also in our politics. The previous Labour government expressed great disdain for personal liberty, such as with the explosion of big, intrusive government, the plethora of anti-terror legislation and the failed ID cards legislation.
Since the general election however the authoritarian Left appears to have grown both in numbers and in confidence. Just days after a narrow but decisive Conservative victory in May, left-wing protesters took to the streets of London carrying placards reading “get the Tories out!”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that in the UK we have a proud tradition of forming governments based on free and fair elections rather than which side can muster up a bigger rabble to march through the capital.
A few months later at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, left-wing protesters spat at and intimidated delegates. Apparently, freedom of speech shouldn’t apply to anybody who isn’t left-wing.
In September, the Labour party elected Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. In many respects, Corbyn is the archetypal authoritarian left-winger. For example, although he claims to be a strong supporter of gay rights, Corbyn has a long history of associating with radical Islamists (such as Hamas and Hezbollah) who reject the idea that gay people should have any rights at all.
Corbyn also regularly speaks about the importance of democracy yet he has expressed solidarity many times in the past with the Chavez/Maduro regime of Venezuela, one of the most corrupt and authoritarian governments in the entire western hemisphere.
Indeed, on the whole topic of foreign affairs Corbyn’s sympathies clearly lie with dictators such as Fidel Castro of Cuba, Vladimir Putin of Russia and the ousted Slobodan Milosevic of the former Yugoslavia rather than the liberal democracies of the West. The same can also be said of the Stop the War Coalition, a far-left group (of which Corbyn is a supporter) which has been a regular apologist for the despotic regimes in Syria and Iran.
For many on the Left, their hatred of the West trumps their supposed advocacy of human rights and liberty. The fact that Corbyn’s brand of politics received such a large amount of support from members of the Labour Party speaks volumes about the extent to which the British Left has abandoned the pursuit of liberty in all policy areas.
The terrible implications of this approach are thus: if the values of freedom and liberty are continuously rejected by the left, poisonous extremism will take its place.
I acknowledge that the Left is not a single bloc and that there are Leftists who place a higher value on personal liberty, however the Leftist tendency is not so much an outright rejection of personal liberty but rather a belief that liberty must be secondary to a higher goal – be that the triumph of the nanny state, the pursuit of the “right” to not be offended or the overthrow of capitalism.
Unfortunately, the net result is the same – authoritarianism. The Left continue to reject liberty, and so the Conservative Party must become its champion; the electorate will thank us for it.
Ben is an I’m an international relations postgraduate from the University of Kent. Follow him on Twitter: @btharris93
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty