Martin Kettle Posted October 26, 2004 Share Posted October 26, 2004 A hundred years ago, John Locke's position at the head of a still vibrant British liberal tradition seemed utterly secure. Since then, the liberal tradition has declined, faltered, and has even seemed to have spent itself. For much of the 20th century, socialism appeared to be the philosophy and programme of the future, a stronger weapon to achieve wider social justice. In those circumstances, Locke inevitably appeared a more distant and less relevant figure. More radical and obscure 17th-century icons, like the Digger Gerrard Winstanley and the Leveller Thomas Rainborough, seemed to have more to say to our times. But socialism has failed. Even the era of the labour movement is passing inexorably away. We inhabit a world that has passed through the industrial socialist era and is emerging on the other side of it, dazed, disorientated and in search of new and more relevant signposts towards modern social justice and liberty. Capitalism has won the economic battle, albeit in a form that no 19th-century capitalist would easily recognise. Socialism has become a religion not a programme. And liberalism, which to socialists seemed for so long to be merely temporising and cowardly, has outlasted socialism. Which is why, in turn, it is time to return to Locke and the tradition at whose head he still stands. Liberalism without social justice is not a political programme in the democratic age. But nor, we should have learned from the 20th-century experience, is social justice without liberalism. The things that Locke thought were important - government by consent, the parliamentary system, civil liberty, freedom of thought and religion, the rights of minorities, an education that is more than functional, the rule of law - have never seemed more modern than they do today. Disregard for these principles has marked every instance of the failed socialist experiment. And it is also perhaps the most lasting - and least excusable - of all New Labour's failings too. To the politics of the future, as of so much else, Locke still holds the key. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1335926,00.html Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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