'Kant vs cant: How liberals lost their way' - Spectator Life, June 18
I recently attended an academic seminar, along with some of the most thoughtful and distinguished members of what is sometimes called the ‘liberal establishment’. The topic was ‘the crisis of liberalism’. Many of those present believed that there is such a crisis, and that it is caused by the inability of liberal ideas to prevail over the growing threat of ‘populism’. The thing called populism is amorphous and eludes every attempt to define it. However it is out there and ready to pounce, as it did with the election of Donald Trump, with the vote for Brexit, and with the recent emergence of the Italian Five Star Movement, the German AfD and the National Rally in France, formerly the Front National.
Whether or not there is such a thing as populism, there is certainly such a thing as liberalism. It is associated with the great names of Enlightenment thinking, including Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, Kant and Smith, according to whom the business of government is not to gratify autocratic power, but to maintain individual liberty. Liberalism is the philosophy of limited government. It seeks to reconcile the liberty of citizens with the equal liberty of their neighbours. It has an ideal of civic patriotism, which unites us in a shared commitment to defending the government that protects us all. It leads of its own accord to democratic institutions, since it aims to make government accountable to the people.