Monday, February 07, 2011

Cameron's Muscular Liberalism

The Confusion of Tongues,
by Gustav Doré.

Much is said about David Cameron's speech at the security conference in Munich. I wanted to make only two points here, because I fear that the discussion of his idea of 'muscular liberalism' is drifting towards discussing Islamic extremism only.
1. In the broad sense, Cameron is saying that liberal values must be vigourously defended against extremist – or yobbish, or politically correct – challenges from the left and from the right, from religiously, Christian or Muslim, or ethnically, white European or non-European, defined groups of whatever colour or persuasion.
2. In the narrow sense, it means no more spending of people's money* on extremist institutions or causes or institutions and causes that do not promote social cohesion, internally or internationally.
On both points Cameron was absolutely right to say what he had said. The problems will come when defining what and who is extremist, and where and how to withdraw public funding. But once the thinking is clearly stated, it certainly helps. 
Why Munich? Because the issue has a wide international significance. Making the speech in Britain would have limited its reach. Now Britain has expressed its readiness to take part in an all-European debate on the rise of the extreme right throughout the continent, including the non-EU countries such as Russia and Norway as well as Islamic extremism. It' not possible to tackle one without tackling the other, that's where liberal muscles come in.

Muscular liberalism sounded to me very much like Muscular Christianity,  ‘a term for a movement during the Victorian era which stressed the need for energetic Christian activism in combination with an ideal of vigourous masculinity.’ 
‘By 1901, Wikipedia says, muscular Christianity was influential enough in England that one author could praise "the Englishman going through the world with rifle in one hand and Bible in the other" and add, "If asked what our muscular Christianity has done, we point to the British Empire”.’ Rejected by Jack London and mocked by Sinclair Lewis, the movement went out of fashion and faded. However, replace ‘Christian’ with ‘liberal’ and I don't see why the idea of standing up for your beliefs cannot be brought back.
 *(i.e. money given by the people to the government via tax and other levies to run the country in such a way that people feel secure, comfortable and happy living in it)

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