Politics

Is liberalism “like sex” or an “orgy of consumerism”? The autumn … – Varsity


On November 3, the semi-annual Munk Debates hosted its autumn debate at Roy Thomson Hall, arguing whether “Liberalism gets the big questions right.” George F. Will and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg argued in favour of the motion, while Ash Sarkar and Sohrab Ahmari argued against. 

Both proponents of liberalism in this debate identify as conservatives. They define ‘liberalism’ in the classical sense as representing democracy, as well as individual rights and free market capitalism, and their view may diverge from that of the Liberal Party of Canada. 

Before the debate, the audience voted 75 per cent in favour of the motion, and of liberalism. By the end of the debate, audience support for the motion had lowered to 61 per cent — which gave victory to Sarkar and Ahmari for persuading most people with their arguments. 

Major themes of the debate included the role of liberalism in producing economic development, inequality, climate change, and democratic freedoms. The Varsity broke down debaters’ main points.

George F. Will

The Washington Post’s 50-year-long columnist George F. Will argued that liberalism preserves social peace by taking divisive questions — of religion, thought, and virtue — and leaving them up to individuals to decide for themselves.

He said liberalism leaves the allocation of wealth up to impersonal market forces rather than political power, which, he claimed, avoids creating bitterness and maximizes efficiency. This produces inequality, which Will embraced as a feature of liberty. People can freely choose to teach kindergarten or to manage hedge funds, but the rewards will not be the same. Liberal meritocracy, he said, allows the best among us to rise to the top.

Will claimed that the illiberal tendency to limit speech, on the pretense that it could cause harm, is a path that ends “either with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia or on a typical American campus today.” 

Discussions over the limitation of speech have come up at past Munk Debates. In 2018, student protestors — who objected to the Munk Debates’ inclusion of far-right Trump strategist Steve Bannon as a speaker — tried to physically prevent the public from entering Roy Thomson Hall. Police used pepper spray and batons against protestors and made 12 arrests. 

Will concluded by quoting a British Member of Parliament (MP) who had compared democracy to sex, quoting Woody Allen, saying, “If it’s not messy, you are not doing it right.” As his final words, Will added, “So I leave you, as you prepare to vote on this: classical liberalism is like sex.”

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg

Sir Jacob, described by Macleans as the most posh man in the British parliament, is a conservative British MP, former cabinet minister, and was a leading voice in the Brexit campaign. He argued in favour of liberalism, saying that rather than having the state tell people how to behave, it trusts individuals to make good choices for themselves. 

Sir Jacob has often clashed with the leader of his party, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who recently announced his intention to permanently ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after 2009. In the past, Sir Jacob criticized the idea of a cigarette ban and received pushback for failing to disclose significant financial links to the tobacco industry. 

He said that the “totalitarian” regime in China has been the world’s biggest polluter, whereas the liberal economies of the UK and US have been able to transition towards sustainability.

Sir Jacob praised the stability and freedom brought by liberal constitutional principles like democracy and equality under the law. He argued that liberal economic values like free trade have uplifted millions of people out of poverty, that property rights have given people security and allowed them to reap all the fruits of their own labour, and that capitalism may have produced some inequalities but has given everyone a higher standard of living and more leisure time. 

Ash Sarkar

Ash Sarkar is a British journalist and communist political activist. She said that liberalism runs contrary to efforts to overcome bigotry, inequality, and the climate crisis. She said that while it may alleviate poverty, liberalism creates unequal and, therefore, unfree societies. 

Sarkar argued that the liberal economy is inherently coercive because when people are faced with unfair prices for necessities like food or shelter, often their only recourse is the freedom to starve or become homeless. “When you need and the others have, there is no real competition… in the marketplace,” she said.

She challenged the argument that liberalism has guaranteed the freedom of the press, saying that conservative oligarchs dominate media in the UK and that expressions like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement have faced censorship. She described instances where liberal states violated freedom of religion during the “war on terror” when individuals were subject to harassment and illegal treatment by the government because of their Muslim background. “There’s only one freedom that’s truly sacrosanct [to] liberals… It’s the freedom to hoard wealth,” she concluded.

She claimed an “orgy of consumerism” has fueled the climate crisis, wrought by the liberal system’s exploitation of the global south. 

Sohrab Ahmari

Sohrab Ahmari is an Iranian-American author and a devout Catholic. He began by arguing that many of the innovations that we attribute to liberalism actually predate it. For example, he argued that fair trials were as old as the Bible, self-government as old as Greece, and impartial administration as old as Rome. 

Notably, democracies in ancient Greece would not meet most liberal standards of self-government today because they generally excluded women, slaves, and non-citizens — a vast majority of the population — from voting. In addition, contrary to Ahmari’s claim, administrators in ancient Rome also notoriously used their authority for personal enrichment or political advancement, often staging coups or initiating civil wars.

Ahmari decried liberalism for seeing people as inherently selfish. He contrasted this with “the human civilizational heritage” — a worldwide tradition of classical philosophy which he believes includes the Catholic Church, Aristotle, and Confucius and which sees people as better, social creatures yearning towards a common good above individual advancement.

He articulated a system where the government and labour unions should work together to tame the worst excesses of the free market, pointing towards Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the US as a model. 





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Raven Asher

Hey there, I'm Raven Asher, a writer and blogger currently studying at McMaster University. My passion lies in arts and culture, and I love exploring and sharing my thoughts on different aspects of this field through my writing. I've been fortunate enough to have my articles featured on several blogs and news websites, which has allowed me to connect with readers from all over the world. Apart from writing, I'm also an avid traveler, and I love experiencing different cultures and learning new things. Join me on my journey as I explore the world and share my insights on everything art and culture!

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