Sunday, July 12, 2009

Liberty in the Age of Terror: A Defence of Civil Society and Enlightenment Values

Liberty in the Age of Terror: A Defence of Civil Society and Enlightenment Values, by A.C. Grayling. I haven't read the book, but it's certainly of interest, although, like such books, it will already be speaking to the converted. Like so many things, I wonder if we're not continuing the polarization of ideas and positions.

Grayling takes on the British government's invasion of civil rights and the public's acquiescing of the intrusion.
And besides, even now many supposedly sensible people lazily believe that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. If a few Koran- toting chaps with beards and funny names get banged up in Guantánamo or have to put up with a "control order" to stay in Britain, so what?

It is this complacency that Mr Grayling, with passion and elegance, takes on. He describes the if-you-have-nothing-to-hide argument as "one of the most seductive betrayals of liberty" imaginable. The assumption behind it is, he says, "that the authorities will always be benign; will always reliably identify and interfere with genuinely bad people only; will never find themselves engaging in 'mission creep', with more and more uses to put their new powers and capabilities to; will not redefine crimes, nor redefine various behaviours or views now regarded as acceptable, to extend the range of things for which people can be placed under suspicion-and so considerably on."
Of course, my favourite is taking self-censorship too far. While it's not nice to be impolite, legislative solutions can be dangerous, as evidenced by what the Irish recently did.
Above all, Mr Grayling seeks to uphold the values of the Enlightenment, of which the most important is freedom of speech, the freedom that supports all other freedoms. To that end, he reserves special scorn for the craven willingness of the British government to legislate against causing offence to people with religious sensibilities and the self-censorship of some media organisations in the face of bullying and blackmail. The only thing a tolerant society cannot tolerate is intolerance. Mr Grayling says that people who think differently must either lump it or go and live somewhere else.
Read the book review at the Economist.com.

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