Marius Redelinghuys
Marius Redelinghuys

The liberal project and DA discontent

Those interested in the DA or inadvertently exposed to it would be aware of an on-going, often heated, discussion about the ideological underpinnings of the party and its political future. Contributors have included Gareth van Onselen (and again), DA executive communications director Gavin Davis and former party leader Tony Leon.

There were also two pieces by RW Johnson arguing that the DA “must re-discover and re-define its liberal roots, develop a far stronger and more explicit sense of its own history and its placement within the liberal tradition”.

The DA’s formal liberal underpinnings are well-documented in its history as custodian of the tradition in South Africa and, since 1984, as full member of Liberal International, the world federation of liberal and progressive democratic political parties.

The renewed debate about the party’s identity, as custodian of the liberal tradition in South Africa, comes on the back of the party’s incredible growth and increasingly favourable electoral prospects.

It is not surprising that this, and the accompanying change, is unsettling to some. Questions and critical reflections abound about what it means to be a DA member and what such people (should) look and sound like.

The DA is not experiencing a crisis of identity or ideology, but this discussion is critical for the party to avoid the ideological wilderness and inconsistencies experienced in the free-for-all ANC-led tripartite alliance.

More importantly, it is necessary because the party has engulfed political vehicles and swallowed members from the old National Party to the Federal Alliance, and more recently the Independent Democrats and Dr Ziba Jiyane’s Sadeco.

The debate thus far has been characterised by some problematic features I would like to address.

There are four fallacies I believe must be rejected, because they are illiberal and should be discomforting to both liberals and scholars of ideology.

The first, the Arrogance of Hegemony, supposes that an individual or group within the DA possesses a monopoly over or can claim supremacy in defining the liberalism of the party and its political values. The earliest manifestations of liberalism rejected such — and many other forms — of absolutism.

Secondly, the Myth of Stagnation which is the vain belief that liberalism was conceptualised at some point distant by great (classical and bygone) thinkers as unchanging truths applicable across space and time. Early liberal expressions included the revolutionary, even radical, challenge to absolutist monarchy in France and England, also advocating constitutional and representative government and criticising the landed aristocracy’s political and economic privilege. Later liberals were more reformist, and then even reactionary as they sought to prevent rolling back dominant liberal institutions.

Finally, there are the interrelated Delusion of Simplicity and Mistake of Uniformity, the false beliefs that liberalism is reducible to a simple set of clear and coherent political beliefs that are uncontested and universally accepted.

An ideology, like liberalism, “is a more or less coherent set of ideas that provides the basis for organised political action, whether this is intended to preserve, modify or overthrow the existing system of power”. It (a) offers an account of the existing order (b) advances a model of a desired future, a vision of the ”good society” and (c) explains how this political change can and should be brought about.

Ideologies, liberalism included, do not have the clear shape and internal consistency of political philosophies because they are more fluid sets of ideas overlapping with other ideologies and blurring into one another.

Within each ideology, and as observed within the DA, a range of divergent, even rival, traditions and viewpoints are housed. This leads to disputes between adherents of the same ideology, often more passionate and bitter than arguments between supporters of rival ideologies because the true nature of the ideology in question is at stake.

This nurtures ideological development and leads to the emergence of hybrid ideological forms like the seemingly absurd pairings of “liberal conservatism” or “liberal nationalism”.

Liberalism’s lack of simplicity, uniformity and its dynamic nature by no means implies ideological relativism or that everyone is a liberal in some shape or form.

Ideologically liberalism is distinguished from other ideologies in its unwavering commitment to a distinct set of beliefs and values, and is firmly rooted in five important pillars, namely the individual, freedom, reason, justice and toleration and diversity.

However, even in relation to these five core aspects two main divergent and often contradictory liberal strands of thought exist, namely classical and modern liberalism.

The DA finds itself at this intersection. It also has to grapple with the intrusion of paternalistic, even authoritarian conservatism and nationalist tendencies in various forms. At the same time the party is confronted with responding to the challenges of day-to-day government, often with practical considerations divorced of ideological abstractions triumphing.

The manner in which the DA collective confronts and deals with it, if at all, will influence the continued political relevance and electoral success of the party.

In the next piece I will expand on the classical versus modern liberal currents within the DA, the challenge of illiberal values and a liberal trajectory for the DA I believe desirable for the contemporary South African context.

This article first appeared on the ChirpRoom, a South African political group blog for and by young liberals.

Source: Heywood, A. 2005. Political Ideologies: An Introduction. (Third Ed.). Palgrave Macmillan: New York.

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  • 38 Responses to “The liberal project and DA discontent”

    1. Marius – Thanks for a clear, sensible article. I continue to wonder if liberalism is an ideology at all and, in a way, this almost accommodates the view that it is not.

      The key characteristic of liberalism, the one that needs emphasising above any other, and I am glad to see you put it first on your list, is that it is grounded in the individual, not in any kind of collective or social group. Once that difference is grasped, not only do the other attributes follow – freedom, reason (a faculty of the individual, after all, not the group), toleration and diversity – but it becomes clearer what forms and institutions are necessary in society as a whole for liberalism in all its varieties to flourish.

      You see I left out ‘justice’. That is not to say I believe liberalism has no investment in it, only that justice is always liberalism’s achilles heel, especially in SA today. I look forward to what you have to say on that in your next piece. Tell readers when that will be so we don’t miss it.

      February 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm
    2. Marius Redelinghuys

      Thanks for the feedback and comment Paul. Scholarly questions have definitely been asked about whether liberalism is still an ideology (versus a meta-theory, etc.) in the light of what some call its “crisis of confidence” (and challenge from pluralism and the like).

      A central and core theme of both classical and modern liberalism is its defining feature: the primacy of the individual. How this is understood / actioned, however, differs greatly between the two strands.

      While neither embraces, and still rejects, collectivism and communitarianism, it is still a very sticky point.

      The same applies to freedom, toleration and diversity, and justice (not reason, understandably, as you point out).

      Justice, because of the commitment to the individual, freedom and reason, is equally critical in liberal thinking, but again differs between limiting this to the rule of law, equality before the law and constitutionalism to expanded understandings of social justice, restorative justice, and so forth.

      Tricky indeed!

      I’ll try to have the next piece out as soon as possible :)

      February 5, 2013 at 1:38 pm
    3. Chris Holdridge #

      Thanks for the article, although it reads like a textbook on liberalism, rather than a local-specific account of the historical trajectory of South African liberalism with its hard-to-throw-off legacy of racial paternalism. Far from being an ‘intrusion of paternalistic’, as you very strangely argue, paternalism has been inherent in the liberal political project in SA. At its worst, it was manifest in the economically-exploitative logic of Cape liberal politicians in the late-19th Century such as John X Merriman and J.C. Molteno, who believed in a version of racial equality, but one which used the framework of a civilising process to keep racial hegemony intact and even to further legislation which entrenched black migrant labour regimes. In fact, it was liberal paternalism that initially supported the 1913 Land Act and the creation of ‘native locations’ during the 1903-5 SANAC Commission. Liberals soon realised the damage caused by such policies and made an about-turn. The United Party and Progressive Party in 20th C made an important contribution to furthering debate about non-racialism, but this was often done with disengagement from anti-segregation and anti-apartheid activism. The internal logic of white paternalism, the shadow of the nineteenth-century impulse of ‘civilising the non-white’, persisted in diminishing form. It is a legacy that can’t be ignored, an uncomfortable truth that history matters. The DA needs to engage with this challenging past to have…

      February 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm
    4. Chris Holdridge #

      As a further brief note, Marius, and I do believe discussion of theory are important, I am intrigued to see what you have to say about South African liberalism. It is a strange animal, as liberalism is. Is liberalism really the holy grail of altruistic democracy, or does it have skeletons in its closet. Is referring to the history of liberalism in England or Europe, as you do without reference to a South Africa-specific case, really helpful? Many theorists and scholars have been sceptical of the Whiggish acclaim for liberalism and its legacy. Have you read Uday Mehta’s book “Liberalism and Empire: A Study in 19th Century British Political Thought” (Cambridge, 1999), for example? If liberalism has a parodoxical history of racial exclusionism, how do we move forward with redefining liberalism in a South African context? Is there a place for liberalism? Do opposition parties in South Africa have to be liberal, or even merge? I think liberalism can find a voice but should never see itself as a saviour– it will always be seen with scepticism because of its history. The DA will always have the shadow of the Progressive Party, United Party, and 19th Century Cape liberals behind it. What it has going for it is a firm commitment to accountable governance and civic responsibility. In tandem with some other robust political parties, with differing political ideologies and without the DA’s baggage, the ANC will hopefully see a challenge to its stranglehold on elections in future.

      February 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm
    5. HD #

      Marius, I am glad there is going to be a follow up piece on the different strands of liberalism. I don’t agree with your four fallacies and think it is a rather simplistic way (textbook way) of approaching the liberal tradition. Two quick things:

      First, there are two distinctive brands of early liberalism – the French rationalist tradition and the Scottish Enlightenment tradition. There are important difference between these traditions and how they further developed into American liberalism (progressivism), US classic liberalism/libertarianism, continental liberalism and more modern versions. Sure, there are broad areas of agreement, but also important differences. These things matter from a philosophical perspective and to its different ideological adherents.

      Secondly, of course there is an ideological hegemony within in the DA – it is the nature of political parties. It doesn’t mean there cannot be differences, but it is very clear that the current DA leadership have embraced and chosen to project the more inclusive and modern variant of liberalism with its more inclusive set of positive rights / bleeding heart rhetoric. I don’t blame them – this is smart politics in a society like ours.

      Following on from above, your other fallacies run into trouble – modern liberalism very much believes – to take a cue from Obama – “when times change, so must we”. Your fallacies very much imply the modern strand.

      I look forward to your next piece…

      February 5, 2013 at 2:49 pm
    6. Tofolux #

      This is so funny because inasmuch as you would want to attach liberalism or ideology to DA, there is none. You have seen people claim Helen Suzman, Madiba and even Helen Joseph. Now that must speak to an identity crisis because not only would Helen Suzman not be impressed with laws enacted by DA as to how many times a dog should bark, she would have balked at the notion that South African citizenry should be called refugees. Furthermore, Helen Joseph and Madiba were freedom fighters, who fought 4 non-racialism which is the opposite of this ”open society” non-sense that is mooted. I really thought that you would have been able to explain the role and relevance of DA honestly, other than the reality of anti-black and anti-ANC that we experience on a daily basis. Firstly, you have many people who supported and voted for apartheid who are prominent in the party. This must speak to an ideological crisis because it is this old guard that should be the face and the voice of your ”ideology”. All we see is service delivery protests and clashes with the citizenry. So what conclusion do we draw from that? Also what about trying to congregate all opposition into one and also the soliciting of Vavi to join forces with DA. Surely this suggests that there is nothing other than a power play and a rule-at-all-cost attitude. Also, I wonder why you have not attributed fascism as DA ideology instead of liberalism? Is there any explanation why you have ignored this?

      February 5, 2013 at 2:49 pm
    7. Marius Redelinghuys

      Dear Chris,

      In discussing this article with a friend (a historian and fellow UCT graduate, such as yourself), I pointed out that the intention was not a historical account of the DA’s track record on liberalism or a history of the ideology in South Africa, but a political scientific discussion on the DA’s ideological underpinning (and yes, an academic foundation for a subsequent piece on the future thereof).

      I pointed out to this friend that RW Johnson (linked, twice above), in my opinion, sufficiently dealt with the history of Liberalism in South Africa and the DA’s role and placement in this.

      When I referred to “paternalistic conservatism”, it too has a very specific meaning as ideology in political science and should not be confused with paternalism simply as social scientific concept.

      The ease at which European and even South African (white) liberals displayed paternalistic tendencies is should be contextualised within the (Christian) colonial project. Equally important is the fact the very interesting intersection, at the time and even now, of economic liberalism and socially conservative and nationalist attitudes / views. This, now better understood as neo-conservatism, is not strictly speaking a child of the Liberal Project, but rather of conservatism as ideology.

      I hope to deal with political paternalism (the nanny state, for example) more generally in the next piece (cont.)

      February 5, 2013 at 3:17 pm
    8. Marius Redelinghuys

      I am more interested in the DA’s future and the type of liberalism it chooses or ends up embodying, not in a nostalgic and historical reflection of the history of either.

      A critical reflection of this history is important but the distinction between the liberalism of then (classical liberalism) and now (contemporary modern liberalism) already addresses the issues you highlight.

      The word liberal is used pejoratively exactly, as I try to point out above, because it has had such vastly different, even contradictory, proponents and projects.

      It is one of those concepts that everyone, you and I very much included, approach with set views, and clearly very different ones in our case.

      My (political scientific academic) approach also differs very much from your, albeit critical, historical approach.

      As the definition of an ideology states, I’m interested in liberalism as “set of ideas that provides the basis for organised political action, whether this is intended to preserve, modify or overthrow the existing system of power”.

      I occupy myself with its (a) account of the existing order (b) model of a desired future, a vision of the ”good society” and (c) programme of action for how this political change can and should be brought about (cont.)

      February 5, 2013 at 3:20 pm
    9. Marius Redelinghuys

      In short, I am personally and politically interested in the debate about the DA now and tomorrow, not about what was done and what should have been done in the name of liberalism. I can’t change that, I can learn from it, and critically reflect on it, but an obsessive preoccupation with it is counter-productive.

      HD:

      You are correct, it is a textbook discussion on liberalism as an ideology, firstly as solid (academic) foundation for the subsequent piece (as pointed out to Chris above) and to address the problematic features of the debate thus far.

      In this, the four fallacies are not about the liberalism of the DA, that is, I don’t argue against the existence of ‘hegemony’ within the party, I argue against who in this debate pretend that only one version of liberalism exists across the board and then desire to impose this on everyone. This desire is underpinned by a mistaken belief in the notion that an ideology, and liberalism more specifically, is stagnant, simple and uniform.

      It was more of an attempt to clarify some of the dynamics of ideologies more broadly, and highlight that liberalism too is susceptible to these.

      I am, of course, also predisposed to a very specific strand of liberalism, as I’m sure you picked up.

      The article then is an attempt at creating a framework in this current (often aggressive) debate in which the ability to have a predisposition different from the ‘mainstream’ is seen as legitimate and acceptable.

      I hope that,…

      February 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm
    10. HD #

      @Marius

      I understand, my point is simply that your fallacies is set up in favor of the modern strand. I can equally set the table in favor of classic liberalism. Any way, I agree that there a different strands and that people pretend that only one version exists – but that is the nature of politics and intellectual discourse when such an important label is up for grabs.

      I think it is also important to make the observation that it is a specific strand that particularly stresses the evolving nature of the liberal political project. (Any way I might be presupposing your argument here – so to be fair I will give you the benefit of the doubt until your next piece…Any way I agree that from a pure political perspective it is better for the DA to adopt a modern liberal posture – but hey that doesn’t mean other “liberals” cannot be critical of some of those policy frameworks – especially if you claim to be doing it in the name of “liberalism”)

      I have long given up on “liberalism” as a particular label worth fighting over – like “capitalism”. But, it will be interesting to see how you setup this framework.

      February 5, 2013 at 4:09 pm
    11. Comrade Koos #

      If the liberalism of the DA will bring about poverty and bloody revolution by increasing the gap between rich and poor, it is worth nothing.

      If the liberalism of the DA supports fracking in the Karoo and climate change from burning fossil fuels which will lead to the sixth major extinction of life on earth, it is worth nothing.

      If the liberalism of the DA is going to kill people from cancer due to eating genetically modified (GM) foods, and hunger and starvation resulting from patented seeds owned by global corporations it is worth nothing.

      If the liberalism of the DA is going to allow nuclear facilities like Fukushima and Chernobyl it is worth nothing.

      The list is endless, lets hope the liberalism of the DA will lead to a healthy and environmentally sustainable planet without human poverty and starvation.

      February 5, 2013 at 8:53 pm
    12. HD #

      I would also caution against arguing that modern/contemporary liberalism is simply a natural evolution from classic liberalism. It is not as I noted in my first post. Rawlsian liberalism for instance draw much more from the classical French rationalist tradition (and progressive tradition in US) and not from the Scottish Enlightenment tradition. The two theories have completely different social theories – in fact critics will argue Rawlsian liberalism lack a realistic social theory and is grounded in an ethic first / political moralising approach (see for instance Geuss, Galston, Williams etc).

      It is a clever trick to simply argue that modern liberalism and its political program is a natural evolution of the ideology simply adapted to the times – it completely misses the point. It is a natural evolution of a particular strand that have always been present in liberalism…(just like libertarianism is of classic liberalism) I think this is the point missed in the internal DA debate – there are real differences between the arguments of a Davis/Maimane vs van Onselen that cannot simply be waved away as new vs old school – there are fundamental issue at stake here…I am interested to hear how these two strands play out within the DA. (Of course I think form a pure political point it makes sense to just wave these difference away in the manner Davis has done…but that is his job right?)

      February 5, 2013 at 10:28 pm
    13. bernpm #

      You say: “Ideologically liberalism is distinguished from other ideologies in its unwavering commitment to a distinct set of beliefs and values, and is firmly rooted in FIVE important pillars, namely the (1) individual, (2) freedom, (3) reason, (4) justice and (5) toleration and (6) diversity.”

      Because of these underlying pillars, liberalism cannot be uniquely defined. It represents a fluid attitude to life and life events.

      Difficult to handle by academics who want to uniquely define things.

      February 5, 2013 at 10:35 pm
    14. At the risk of sounding philistine I’m with Marius on this and believe we should leave out an historical review, certainly to start with. In a society where ‘liberalism’ (of any kind) is a dirty word for reasons we well know, it can only hamper progress. isn’t the task to explore where ‘a more or less coherent set of ideas’ – which seem to be ‘more or less’ agreed in spite of the many qualifications to how they work(ed) out in practice – might lead in a modern (South) African context?

      Where can/could/may the DA take a liberal project forward is a question. What’s an answer?

      February 6, 2013 at 12:18 am
    15. The Creator #

      Obviously the history of South African “liberalism” is not the history of liberalism. In
      South African politics, “liberalism” is a brand-name distinguishing Anglophone big
      business from Afrikaner big business; it never had anything to do with individual rights (as the policies of all “liberal” parties make clear).

      Regarding your “four fallacies”, Mr. Redelinghuys,

      “the arrogance of hegemony” has nothing to do with liberalism; it’s a product of the
      desire for power by a particular cabal;
      “the myth of stagnation” is largely a product of conservatism, although it is always
      worth comparing present politics with historical circumstances and you shouldn’t rule it out (just as comparing the present ANC with the ANC of the past is always worth doing);
      “the delusion of simplicity” is not a delusion at all, because liberalism is really a fairly
      simple doctrine (what makes its application complicated is the need to package
      conservatism as if it were liberalism);
      “the mistake of uniformity” is not a mistake at all, because liberalism is really a fairly
      coherent doctrine (the desire to have massive differences within what is called liberalism arises out of the fact that the majority of “liberals” are not liberal at all.

      I think this raises serious doubts about your understanding of liberalism as a real
      institution, as opposed to your theoretical representation of liberalism (which is so vague that it could apply to almost any political…

      February 6, 2013 at 8:26 am
    16. … The older I get, you understand, the more I suspect it could be about something in people rather than ‘ideas’. The man who has come to believe apartheid was ‘wrong’ has moved further than the man who saw it was wrong all along. How did he manage it?

      We are all growing up – or we can at least believe we may. That that there is a large difference between ‘classical’ and ‘modern’ liberalism with its ‘expanded understandings’ seems to me nothing more than to be expected. It is this capacity for ‘expansion’ that its detractors miss about ‘liberalism’, deliberately or otherwise.

      As for skeletons in cupboards, it’s always pointed out that Jefferson had slaves at Monticello. But if they were able to pop back for a week or two today, who would be more surprised, not to say discomfited, to see where ‘liberalism’ has got now – him or Lenin?

      February 6, 2013 at 8:53 am
    17. I see very little difference between the DA’s ideology and that of the ANC. The fact that Liberalism is nothing but a buzzword instead of a well-thought out, concise and clear ideology is not a comforting thought to me and is one reason why I do not condone the DA’s version of Liberalism.

      It appears that the main difference between the DA and the ANC is that the DA is hellbent on delivering the promises made by the ANC. I am not convinced that the ANC made good policy decisions in the first place. The Youth Wage Subsidy being a case in point: It’s a duct-tape solution, originating from the ANC, with the DA taking to the streets to oppose COSATU to ram it through in what I view to be a cheap publicity stunt.

      I’m more interested in (b) and (c) above. It seems that both are very much in line with the ANC’s ideological vision, thus the DA doesn’t really offer an alternative to someone like me.

      February 6, 2013 at 10:51 am
    18. I ask again: is its focus on the autonomy of the individual (however ‘autonomy’ or the ‘individual’ in turn may be understood or disputed) the distinguishing mark of what even its opponents are happy to name ‘liberalism’?

      If it is, what militates against and works in favour of liberalism’s future growth in SA, adapting and changing as it will to events and circumstances?

      That is the practical challenge the DA has taken on and it’s worth thinking about its chances with it.

      February 6, 2013 at 11:48 am
    19. HD #

      @Paul

      Yes and no. It depends entirely what “liberalism” you are talking about within the context of political theory/philosophy – classic or modern liberalism? (Party political ideology is an even bigger minefield)

      My understanding of modern liberalism is the social democratic strand that is closer to something like that of the Democratic party in the US and Lib-Dems in the UK. This is a left-centre liberalism with an stronger emphasis on Rawlsian notions of social justice and equality. It places an emphasis on positive rights, see an central role for the state in shaping society and embodying the collective good through which individuals can flourish (Obama’s 2nd inauguration speech is a great example of this rhetoric) and has a political project with progress towards clear political goals.

      Contrast this with classic liberalism (market liberalism if you like) and its emphasis on negative rights, improvement instead of progress (this is a big philosophical difference), limited government, free markets and a general skeptical attitude towards politics.

      Now place the individual within these two systems and you quickly realise that things are not so simple…The appropriate role for the state and it relationship to individual freedoms/rights to name but one difference.

      I could go on – any way – that is why I am so interested in exactly what framework Marius is going to use…

      February 6, 2013 at 8:09 pm
    20. bernpm #

      For those who understand Dutch, go to:

      http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalisme

      for an impression of what all covers “liberaal”. The overriding feeling of the word is that it calls for some form of freedom (libertas) best expressed in :

      “my freedom ends where somebody else’s freedom begins”.

      February 6, 2013 at 10:05 pm
    21. ntozakhona #

      It is interesting that liberal historians suddenly want the historical evolution of SA liberalism to be discarded. They obviously realise that liberalism has co-authored apartheid colonialism and was its chief implementor during the reign of Louise Botha and Jan Smuts, that Benjamin Durban, amongst others, had referred to Africans as savages. This who South African liberals are, they may seek to deny it but that is who they are.

      The DA did not only evolve from that but is a merger of the DP and NP, they swallowed other smaller parties but they merged. An alliance of colonialists to further the notion of apartheid democracy.

      Africans were oppressed and imporished as a group, the Land Act did not target individuals but African people and liberals would have us believe that a rederess will be found in the individual. If that is not a subterfuge to maintain the status quo then nothing is.

      The article betrays some of the known liberal duplicity. Debate and differences are acceptable among liberals but when it comes to democrats (ANC) it is labelled as a free for all. The ANC led alliance have a coherent ideology based on an analysis that SA is a Colonialism of a Special Type and is agreed on the transformation route determined in its Strategy and Tactics document. Differences and creative tensions serve to enrich the allaiance, unlike Zille I enjoy writing about the ANC than the idea and clue less liberals.

      February 7, 2013 at 4:21 am
    22. ntozakhona #

      Liberalism has since morphed into an ANC demonisation front inheriting the vile insults of Malan, Vorster, Botha and De Klerk.

      February 7, 2013 at 4:25 am
    23. HD #

      @Bernpm

      I think you need to distinguish between the liberal tradition in specific countries and the history of liberalism in political philosophy/history of ideas. I believe we are talking about the political philosophy in this case?

      Any way, interesting that you should link to the Ducth Wikipedia which very much reflect the Dutch tradition. Compare this to for instance the English Wikipedia entry for liberalism – more in line with my distinction.

      It illustrates nicely how the left/right paradigm changes with time.

      Classic liberals were traditionally on the left opposing conservatives. However since the late 1880s (heyday of classic liberalism) with the rise of socialism / collectivist ideas (leading to a great debate across many disciplines), the left/right spectrum have changed.

      Socialism (left) vs conservatism (right).

      Classic liberal parties basically ended with Grover Cleveland (US) and Gladstone (UK) and increasingly found themselves in alliance/absorbed with conservative parties. Liberals that bought into the progressive/egalitarian debates of the time entered alliance with socialist parties and morphed into today’s left-liberal / welfare-liberal parties. There are some exception in continental Europe, although most of those parties in broadly seen as conservative.

      (Just check how many European parties have “liberal” in their name – yet are scattered across the spectrum – hence the problem with the label “liberal” in party political…

      February 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm
    24. HD – It’s understood there are different strains contained under the general umbrella ‘liberalism’, even contradictory ones; Marius is quite clear on that. It is equally clear liberalism means very different things in different countries at different times and, specifically, is a dirty word at more or less all times in SA. As for Marius favouring the ‘modern’ not the ‘classical’ form, this is also to the point in a piece intended to speak to practical politics today, not give an historical or scholarly analysis.

      I’m still comfortable with that approach as a means to getting the show on the road at all and, like you, interested to hear how Marius sees his basic ‘pillars’ standing up with a new meaning and relevance in SA today.

      February 7, 2013 at 7:05 pm
    25. bernpm #

      @ HD and Paul W:

      Would it be acceptable to say that we can find a “liberal wing” and a “conservative wing” (and anything in between) in any political “movement” (or party)??

      Some of these “wings” will be given a name and identified, others will just exist without ever being noticed until a principle snag appears.
      In that case a new political “movement” might be formed to express the unhappiness with the “snag”.
      The ANC/Cope split might illustrate this.??

      February 8, 2013 at 11:38 pm
    26. Britney's Spear #

      @ ntozakhona

      You are either misinformed (“clueless” is your word), or more likely, deliberately obfuscating the origins of the DA.

      The DP has its origins in the PFP, UP and PP as the official opposition to the NP through the Apartheid years. These parties were vocal opponents of the racist policies of Apartheid.
      The DP merged briefly with the NNP (the dregs of the NP) in the 2000 local government elections to form the DA.
      Importantly, this alliance was disbanded in 2001 even though the DA retained its name.

      I will continue to remind you that as of 5 August, 2005, all NNP members of parliament became members of the ANC, in accordance with South African parliamentary floor crossing legislation, a fact which of course you conveniently and persistently neglect to mention.
      The Minister of Tourism remains a glaring reminder to us all of this wholesale absorption of the NNP into the ANC.

      Why would the DA, a party bred out of 50-some years of opposition to apartheid with principles founded in the Bill of Rights, now morph into “an alliance of colonialists to further the notion of apartheid democracy”? (whatever the hell that is).

      Sorry, but your historical revisionism of the fight against Apartheid is patently disingenuous.
      This does your credibility no favours and confirms your role as a loyal ANC propagandist.

      February 9, 2013 at 3:48 am
    27. @bernpm – Yes, indeed. I think in practice one finds many strongly differing viewpoints and shades of opinion accommodated in a single political party, ‘liberal’ or not, yet the party can remain an effective political organisation, including at the polls.

      If you read the other articles Marius refers to, none of them is clear about ‘liberalism’ (except that is puts the individual first and is therefore not the ANC) or on what it should do next, least of all Tony Leon. Being a professional politician, Mr Leon knows best when to keep quiet.

      Marius has identified certain foundational ideas that he calls ‘pillars’. Uncertain and arguable though they all are, agreeing with everything HD and Chris Holdridge say here as I do, I still think Marius is trying to talk practical politics. After all, that’s what counts in the end. As Tony Blair always used to ask and will to the end, I imagine: ‘Does it work?’

      February 9, 2013 at 9:59 am
    28. bernpm #

      @Paul W: “After all, that’s what counts in the end. As Tony Blair always used to ask and will to the end, I imagine: ‘Does it work?’”

      ..called “real Politik”

      Tony Blair: “Does it work?’” ……Even if I lie about it??

      undermining the general trust in politicians in the process ??

      February 10, 2013 at 12:49 am
    29. HD #

      @Bernpm

      I just want conceptual clarity. I we are talking party politics – there is indeed various parties with “liberalism” in their name and that claim to be following “liberal” political programs. They are all across the ideological spectrum – which I think tells your more about politics than anything else…In this context both Paul and your last post I agree with – it doesn’t matter in this context, especially with regard to the general electorate. People vote more along simple heuristics and ideological purity has proven to matter little, what works is what gets you the votes and mobilises your base or target constituencies.

      If Marius, however, wants to go along the theoretical route – he needs to acknowledge that there are clear distinctions between the different strands of liberalism. Classic liberalism continues as an important strand in libertarian politics and free market friendly liberal parties. Point, being this is not simply an argument about evolution of liberal politics – classic vs modern liberalism has for almost 100 years been to distinct brands.

      You can consult the Stanford Encyclopedia on Philosophy entry to see these competing strands of liberalism:

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberalism/

      cont…

      February 10, 2013 at 5:22 pm
    30. HD #

      Essentially a political philosophy is going to have a (1) justification – the standard for grounding one’s beliefs, flowing from this a set of (2) mid-level supporting principles that articulate the values the philosophy care most about and finally (3) a political program (policy prescriptions) that gives practical effect to these principles. (By the way I think this is a far better framework for approaching political theories).

      Liberalism as a broad movement might share some basic mid-level principles, but differ in terms of their importance, relationship and even more noticeably the appropriate political programs. (You can even argue that within strands the principles have historically shifted – in emphasis – to accommodate certain historical challenges specific to context)

      I might be jumping the gun (since Marius need to still provide his framework): but it is a slight of hand to argue that all liberalism(s) are simply alike or just one big broad movement when there are important differences in (2) that lead to opposing policies in (3).

      You might very well get away with this line of reasoning within party political context – where after all you get alliances of convenience and necessity even within parties. Heck, I will even encourage it for the DA’s political prospects and many liberals probably will vote DA because it is the most “liberal” party – even if they disagree with many specific policies.

      But for those with a genuine interest its a…

      February 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm
    31. HD #

      @Paul

      Yes, all true. I suspect Marius is simply trying the same political PR as Mr. Davies, but with an academic veneer. I would like see the DA to be honest about (2) and how it impacts on (3) – but as you correctly observe the clever and successful politician knows how to avoid (2) or sell (3) regardless…often by appealing to any (2) that the moment requires.

      (I understand this is not an academic debate – I am just very wary of the argument that classic liberalism and modern liberalism are really just both “liberalism” and shrugging away the substantial differences that lead to apposing policies frameworks).

      But I protest to much! (Possibly very unfairly) Lets see Marius get the show on the road with his political framework and proposed liberal trajectory for the DA…

      February 10, 2013 at 6:16 pm
    32. ntozakhona #

      Britney’s Spear

      You claim the DA was disbanded, when by whom. The DA simply bled when a significant number of its parliamentarians fled to the ANC and joined it as INDIVIDUALS during the floor crossing. It needs to be said that the floor crossing was initially advocated for by the DA thinking that the civil non – argumentative ANC MPs will flock to the DA. It backfired big time when Terror Lekota hoodwinked some of the DA members into the ANC. The constitution and the founding principles of the DA remained.

      Fact is DA = NNP + DP whilst ANC remains ANC. I am far from being impressed with the record of the PFP, they were paid to be in the apartheid parliament to make it seem legitimate and had serious clashes with the harmless Desmond Tutu over sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

      The United Party is the one that governed South Africa under Jan Smuts, need I say more? It was the party that continued with the Land Act, the Mines Act, the Master and Servants Act, the Bantu Administration Act and the world knows about the horrendous treatment Mohandas Ghandi received from the UP government.

      Please try some other spin, the one proffered is too lame.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:00 pm
    33. ntozakhona #

      Ps Compare the insults and demonisation the DA uses against the ANC and those Botha-Voster used and tell me that you can spot the difference?

      February 10, 2013 at 10:04 pm
    34. Tofolux #

      @Britney, the topic under discussion is the question of the DA having an ideology and what exactly, apart from a broad claim to liberalism, that ideology could be. Sure it must be the easiest thing(now that democracy has been fought and delivered by the ruling party) to claim that everyone fought against racism/aprtheid. In fact if all of these who now claim to have rejected racism, really fought against it, our society would be very advanced in ridding ourselves of racist attitudes and practises eg none would have tolerated any citizen referred to as ”refugees” etc.It is incorrect to claim that individuals who came through convenience politics came together under the current opposition party simply because all of them were driven by the same ideology. I mean how do you explain that all of those who supported the Nats, now support the DA? Or are you confirming that all of them are driven by the Nats ideology? It must be said, that no person who came from any other party came with any personal ideology and joined the ruling party. Any person who joined the ruling party did so knowing that they will subject themselves to a 100 year old ideology. By the way, what is the DA ideology exactly?

      February 11, 2013 at 9:10 am
    35. @Tofolux and Ntozakhona:
      It’s simply not true that DA is NP Lite. The NNP was swallowed whole by the ANC. I’m saying this as an outsider – I don’t support any of those. Politicians are all the same to me and I think the world would be a better place if we had more technical people making important decisions instead of the most popular people making decisions.

      @Tofolux:
      That’s absolutely right: That’s my main gripe with the DA. What is the DA ideology exactly? Apparently it’s liberal but not classical liberal and more in line with the American dumbed down version of liberals. It’s basically anything goes liberal so just vote DA instead of ANC because they’re more liberal. This doesn’t tell me what the DA stands for, it just tells me that the DA is so desperate for votes it will toyi-toyi one weekend while chasing Gupta money the next weekend. In this case, I’d rather have the ANC in charge because they’re so useless that I can hardly feel their presence in parliament.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:35 am
    36. Britney's Spear #

      @ntozakhona

      I have called you out on being economical with the truth regarding the merger of the NNP with the ANC, but you respond once again by obfuscation or deliberate revisionism.

      Once again, the NNP/DA merger, which was a strategic coalition attempt in the 2000 municipal elections, disbanded in 2001.
      That is why the NNP contested the 2004 general election running against the DA, not so? Look it up if you don’t believe me.

      Following their disastrous lection in 2004 where NNP support had dwindled to less than 2% of the vote, every single one of the remaining NNP MP’s crossed the floor to the ANC in 2005, this merging with the ANC and effectively disbanded the NNP.
      These facts are irrefutable and part of the electoral record, but you fail to acknowledge the unpleasant truth that the NNP fell firmly into bed with the ANC, a marriage of mutual convenience and political expediency.
      Your “facts” that the DA is a merger of the DP and NNP are not facts, but lies that do not stand up against electoral data that is readily available to all.
      Sorry, although this may be prevailing wisdom among the ANC faithful, it is a lie, and a very transparent one at that.

      Will you at least acknowledge that the Minister of Tourism is the erstwhile leader of the NNP?

      BTW: Where do I claim that the DA disbanded?
      Please re-read my post. (I clearly state that the NNP/DA alliance disbanded in 2001). I am not sure why you would put those words in my mouth

      February 12, 2013 at 1:32 am
    37. Britney's Spear #

      @ Tofolux, my above post regarding the ANC/NNP merger is a specific response to ntozakhona’s misinformation. I am not sure why he persists in denying the 2005 floor crossings despite the obvious facts to the contrary.

      Addressing your post: Robust debate and evolution of ideas within any political party is paramount to survival. Why would the DA be any different?
      It is clear that you and ntozakhona are not familiar with the DA’s ideology or history, which vision, policies and core values are well laid out on their website; check it out your personal edification and you can happily answer your own question.

      This persistent myth peddled by the ANC faithful that the DA is somehow a reincarnation of the National Party is shallow political whitewashing and utterly laughable. Your question “I mean how do you explain that all of those who supported the Nats, now support the DA?” is entirely based on the above fallacy and does not deserve a response. If you have proof of this phenomenon, please supply it, and then we can debate… can you name even one?
      It seems inconceivable to me that 24% of the electorate who voted DA in the latest municipal elections would tolerate the doctrine of unreformed or neo-Nats.

      BTW, as a self confessed black nationalist who states racist things like white people have “bad faith ingrained in their DNA”, I am surprised that the ANC’s racially inclusive policies resonate with you at all. Your views seem more aligned with the PAC

      February 12, 2013 at 3:23 am
    38. Britney's Spear #

      @ ntozakhona

      Apologies, my counter-post should read:

      Your “facts” that the DA of today is a merger of the DP and NNP etc…

      Regarding spin: I have no hidden agenda here: like Garg, I also do not support the DA.
      However, lame or not, I do find historical revisionism for political point-scoring irritating and in your case, discordant with and a discredit to your usually well-balanced posts.

      I happen to be in complete agreement with you on Smuts and the UP: my reference to the UP is purely historical and not polemic.
      I will point out though that in 1959 more liberal members of the United Party broke away from the UP after the United Party voted against returning land to the black majority.
      That breakaway group formed the Progressive Party.

      Please expand on your point on how members of the the PFP were paid to be in the apartheid parliament?
      Are you implying that they should have laboured in Opposition without pay?

      I find it very strange indeed that the ANC would sanction the merge with the NNP, who were effectively the NP diehards. Van Schalkwyk himself was a member of the Ruiterwag and Jeugkrag.
      Perhaps you could shed some light on that perculiar horse-trade?

      February 12, 2013 at 4:25 am

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