Being a liberal
Notice that I qualify such liberalism as a modern American one – represented in the United States (US) by the Democratic Party. It’s a rather different animal than the kind proposed by 18th century philosophers, notably J.S. Mills, who emphasise protection for individual rights (including the rights to property and trade) from the power of the state. This kind of liberalism is often associated with the Republican Party.
Guess what: I am also that kind of a liberal.
This rambling about to-be-or-not-to-be-a-liberal began when my good friend, Philips Vermonte, a political scientist now studying for his PhD in the US, somewhat objected to my calling him a liberal. He sought for possible reasons for my putting him in a “Fellow Indonesian Liberal” category – only to find it in the fact that he had more web-links to “liberal” (read: right-minded, market-oriented) friends than to more left-minded friends.
For an American reader, this must have sounded quite odd: shouldn’t it be the other way around?
But coming from Indonesia, this, certainly, is not the only available interpretation of “liberalism”. The last time the word went public, it was in a fatwa – a religious edict – of the Indonesian Ulemma Council, which considered it an evil ideology. I am not a hundred percent sure what the Council meant with the word, though I can imagine why religious councils would condemn an ideology respecting individual interpretation of holy texts (though I can imagine that most Indonesians who supported the fatwa were associating “liberalism” with “a liberal lifestyle” which includes sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll). It won’t be the first time in human history.
But I’m digressing. The point I was making (if there was any in the first place), is that for me, being a liberal should transcend economic-ideological line of centre-left and centre-right (e.g., between Keynesian and neoclassic). Liberalism, at its essence, is about respect of individuals. Whether one thinks that such respect would be better served by a little more market, or a little more government, is a matter of taste. But the far-left (totalitarian communism or), far-right (to quote Kwik Kian Gie, in lack of a better term, “free-fight liberalism”), and far-up (religious fundamentalism) ideologies – now, they are the true non-liberals.
Going back to my dear friend, I really can’t see him supporting any of the three ideologies I just mentioned. In fact, when I checked his supposed “non-liberal” friends, I found all of them to be liberals – promoting individual rights to choose (religions, what to wear, what to think, what to say), or to be (e.g., a woman). I hope, this clarifies – just in case I get tempted to start including M. Vermonte’s “other friends” next time.