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Locke’s Legacy: Neo-Liberalism versus Pop-Liberalism

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Siddhartha Kar
Technologist and Entrepreneur. Keenly interested in India, World History and Current Affairs.
 

The other day, I came across the following on Twitter. I do not recall the exact tweet but, it said something to the following effect:

“Liberals are more conservative in their Liberalism than Conservatives in their Conservatism!”

One of the pressing realities of our times is the steady change in geopolitics. It is growing into a global phenomena. The phenomenon appeared on the global stage with PM Modi’s ascension to Indian premiership back in 2014. It was followed by Britain’s exit from the European Union in 2015 and then very recently, the realization dawned with President Trump’s electoral success in the US. These developments were followed by the keenly watched Dutch elections in which the left wing Labour Party was brutally uprooted dropping from 38 to 9 seats. La Pen in France is already in global headlines irrespective of whether she does do a ‘Trump’ in France and Merkel has precariously dipping approvals in Germany.

On the Eastern Frontiers of our world, China is displaying increasing militancy in respecting legitimacy of nations in the East and South China seas and unapologetically advancing her civilizational worldview which extends way past 1949, the birth year of Mao’s China. Japanese, with a progressive realization of the American paralysis to influence affairs in its neighbourhood, is desperately trying to shrug off its American shackles and has been increasingly trying to secure self-reliance on defense.

In the middle of all of this, the one factor that has exploded inorganically to dominate the global political scenario has been the Arab World. The conservative Arab Islamic approach had already manifested in minority suppression and propagation of extreme religious narratives. However, of late the rise of ISIS and consequential catastrophic annihilation of every other religious denomination in the middle east – Yazidis, Christians, Shias, Kurds and all others alike has triggered dangerous global currents. The brutal Sudanese Arab genocide of the non-Arabs in Darfur is yet another instance of the same.

The myopic Western interference in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan towards very selfish ends, especially under Bush Jr and Obama, has devastated the global equilibrium. With the irreversible demographic alterations their actions have triggered (coupled with European depopulation), the world will never be the same again. The consequences are likely to follow and it appears is only to be a matter of time.

 

Net net – the challenges of the new world order is progressively leading to an assertion of national and civilizational identities globally. This has not necessarily implied inter-civilizational hostilities across the spectrum but, has definitely triggered a rise in ‘Civilizational Self-Respect and Assertion’.

Like it or not – Huntington’s Civilizational World Model has indeed proven itself to be the closest in its formulation of the global political map. Huntington’s thesis was that the world will increasingly be divided into civilization-centric blocks, each block led by a lead-country. The primary civilizational blocks with the potential to influence the course of the human species as a whole are the Western, Islamic and the Sinic (Chinese). There are of course others – but, the likelihood of their having significant global impacts is meager. Though India by the standards of all these three actors is a minor player, nevertheless, the relatively small Hindu population in the global context also did make an assertion of their survival and continuity.

In this uncannily accurate world view, the one additional factor that has surfaced over the last couple of decades has been the split of the Liberal thought stream. This fork has become more tangible recently and the ostentatious torch bearers of liberalism have increasingly come under scrutiny.

 

Modern day Liberalism is a noble and courageous pursuit. Yes, it was a pursuit– difficult to earn and uphold. But with time, conventional liberalism has grown crass, and hypocritical. It has operated at low risk margins and hence shied away from standing up for real but, ugly challenges. This was evident when on the International Women’s Day in 1979, a million Iranian women poured into streets in Tehran to protest the imposition of Hijab and extreme Islamic Laws but, feminists and liberals worldwide chose to conveniently look the other way – because it was difficult to stand in solidarity with the victims.

This was again evident when minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Arab world were cleansed but, liberals chose to stand with the Rohingya Muslims and not Pakistani Ahmediyas, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians; they stood with Palestinian Muslims and not Yemeni or Saudi Jews; Linda Sarsour but, not Tarek Fatah; and MF Hussain not Taslima Nasreen. While Trump is subjected to abusive scrutiny, liberals permitted Obama to take off scot free after having caused one of the worst ever humanitarian crises of our times. And so on and on .. and on.

For those amongst the liberals and even the left, who were more discerning and courageous, this phenomenon was hard to miss. The specifics of these scenarios varied in their respective local contexts– undoubtedly– but, liberalism as is practiced today had been extrapolated to such absurdities, that a number of such people were pushed over to the Right side of discourse. People known to have been influenced by the left, including Marx initially, were left utterly disillusioned with the absurd liberal suicidal mentality. And thus, arose the new brand of liberals – that may be called the Neo Liberals.

While the Neo-Liberals moved ahead with issues that the ‘other’-liberals feared taking a stand on or even discuss in the open, since they feared being labelled fundamentalists, racists, rightists, fascists and so on. The fact of the matter however, has been that this group of people were liberals in the true Locke sense and exhibited courage to take unpopular positions.

The more traditional liberals on the other hand, continued with tokenisms and took intellectual stands that were convenient. The choice of the ‘convenient liberal approach’ is almost always accompanied by anti-tolerant majority sentiment. Stronger the sentiment, the more liberal you tend to sound. This tendency is essentially an extension of an inherent trait of any reformation movement– that of self-criticism. But, this stream of liberalism fails to realize that self-rebuke is not the only measure of reformation– and that the world today has much larger challenges to resolve. In any case, this branch of liberals has gone on to display their embracing of the convenient and popular (yet) liberalism. These could be aptly called pop-liberalism.

These pop-liberals continue to dominate the mainsteam discourse today, India and elsewhere. In India they are manifested in many media channels, intellectuals, artists, and even well meaning ordinary citizens who are still knowledge-and-view handicapped – their outlook having been largely shaped by the MSM, unbeknownst to even themselves.

This tussle between the pop and neo-liberals is now being reconfigured. While the Neo-Liberals struggled to find space in MSM, Social Media however, changed the landscape over the last few years and has compelled vested interests to deal with this alternate narrative, which today as is being repeatedly proven in every electoral contest in India, capturing India’s imagination. An India– that you would not have believed existed had it not been for Social Media and the Neo Liberals!

The Neo-Liberals often find overlap with the Right Wing thought process, though they probably do not ideally see themselves as such. Even so, time has only gone on to suggest that the Neo-Liberals or (even the Neo-Right Wingers) are actually the worthy inheritors of Locke’s Liberalism. They are the ones who have exhibited courage at the cost of being called names, hurled abuses and treated as intellectual parochial pariahs.

Liberalism lays down some very valid concerns. Any well meaning intellect should respect them. However, post the failure of the Left economies globally, the left has now switched their onslaught on the political front. In India, this has happened in West Bengal across over three decades, it is happening in Kerala today, and JNU has emerged as a microcosm of this convenient discourse. For those of us, who have seen the Left in action easily see through flawed nature of this pop-liberal discourse. For those that haven’t seen the machinations of the left, the Neo-Liberals bear the daunting task of putting forth the same before the country so that people are enabled to rekindle Locke, not Stalin, in their intellectual lives.

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Siddhartha Kar
Technologist and Entrepreneur. Keenly interested in India, World History and Current Affairs.

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