Con­science is the first ca­su­alty in the race to adopt the ide­ol­ogy of di­ver­sity

The Weekend Australian - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN AN­DER­SON John An­der­son was Na­tion­als leader and deputy prime min­is­ter from 1999 to 2005.

The over­whelm­ing num­ber of hu­man be­ings that have ever lived never knew free­dom. They were slaves to tribal lead­ers, feu­dal lords, em­per­ors, kings or ide­o­log­i­cal dic­ta­tors. Truly free so­ci­eties have never rested on free­dom in the ab­stract but on par­tic­u­lar free­doms.

These in­clude the free­doms of con­science, speech, as­so­ci­a­tion and to own prop­erty. These free­doms de­fine lib­er­al­ism, and free so­ci­eties ex­ist only to the ex­tent that these free­doms ex­ist. All of these free­doms are per­pet­u­ally un­der threat some­where, but I would like to fo­cus on one that is of­ten for­got­ten but no less im­per­illed today.

Free­dom of con­science is the free­dom not to be forced to act con­trary to our deep­est held val­ues, those val­ues with­out which we can­not even imag­ine our­selves be­ing the same per­son. Ev­ery­one has a mo­ral­ity by which they live and there­fore has an in­ter­est in free­dom of con­science, for this free­dom is the free­dom from be­ing forced to vi­o­late it and in do­ing so as­sault­ing our own sense of self-re­spect.

Per­haps the best way to ap­pre­ci­ate the sig­nif­i­cance of free­dom of con­science is to imag­ine what so­ci­ety would be like in its ab­sence. In fact, we don’t need to imag­ine, for his­tory is our guide. The clas­si­cal world was de­scribed by Ben­jamin Con­stant as one in which “no im­por­tance was given to in­di­vid­ual in­de­pen­dence, nei­ther in re­la­tion to opin­ions, nor to labour, nor, above all, to re­li­gion”. Demo­cratic Athens’ ens great­est cit­i­zen, Socrates, was ex­e­cuted for falling ng foul of com­mu­nity ty opin­ion. In the 1530s, Sir Thomas More found Henry VIII’s oath of supremacy over the church deeply of­fen­sive to his con­science as a Catholic. More, one ne of his age’s great­est states­men, schol­ars and lawyers, was be­headed in 1535. Alexan­der Solzhen­it­syn de­scribed his 20th­cen­tury Rus­sian ex­pe­ri­ence of a so­ci­ety with no free­dom for con­science, one of forced labour, tor­ture and death, all un­der the in­sid­i­ous ban­ner of free­dom and equal­ity.

Sadly, there are many poignant ex­am­ples today of regimes where free­dom of con­science is no longer pro­tected.

The de­gree to which we ab­hor these so­ci­eties is the de­gree to which we should cher­ish the very free­doms whose ab­sence would move us in that per­ilous di­rec­tion. But these free­doms are be­ing treated with in­creas­ing in­dif­fer­ence in our own back yard un­der the well-in­ten­tioned cover of the same old ab­stract slo­gans. Sadly, the slav­ish pur­suit of equal­ity pro­duces only slaves to equal­ity, and slaves are no longer free; such is the para­dox of good in­ten­tion un­in­formed by his­tory.

Har­vard philoso­pher Robert Noz­ick il­lus­trates this para­dox of free­dom: A free so­ci­ety will nat­u­rally de­velop eco­nomic in­equal­i­ties as free peo­ple seek their own in­di­vid­ual eco­nomic ad­van­tage. The only way to in­crease eco­nomic equal­ity is to de­crease free­dom, and per­fect eco­nomic equal­ity is the per­fect ab­sence of free­dom. It is no coin­ci­dence that the most un­free (and im­pov­er­ished) so­ci­eties have been those that stressed equal­ity as their over­ar­ch­ing ideal.

Equal­ity move­ments that pur­sue “uni­for­mity of opin­ion” bring ex­tinc­tion to the ev­er­frag­ile state of free­dom. An­other Har­vard po­lit­i­cal philoso­pher, John Rawls, noted that in a free so­ci­ety, with­out co­er­cion of thought, the nat­u­ral state re­gard­ing ques­tions of mo­ral­ity and hu­man iden­tity is a state of dis­agree­ment. The only way to get all peo­ple to agree on heart­felt is­sues is to force them to do so. Free­dom and uni­ver­sal agree­ment on con­tro­ver­sial moral ques­tions are in­com­pat­i­ble. If you want the lat­ter you must abol­ish the for­mer, and that’s pre­cisely what is hap­pen­ing around the world, and here.

The ide­ol­ogy of “di­ver­sity”, which seeks to re­set views on sex­u­al­ity, gen­der and mar­riage, has emerged as the most se­ri­ous band­wagon threat to demo­cratic free­doms today. The as­pi­ra­tion of this move­ment is for a so­ci­ety in which ev­ery­one must con­form on the is­sues of sex­u­al­ity, same-sex mar­riage and trans­gen­derism.

The modus operandi of the move­ment has been to use an­tidis­crim­i­na­tion and hate-speech laws to pun­ish peo­ple and or­gan­i­sa­tions who dis­agree. This is the strat­egy of “jam­ming” called for by Mar­shall Kirk and Hunter Mad­sen in their in­flu­en­tial 1989 book on gay po­lit­i­cal strat­egy, Af­ter the Ball. It calls for un­re­lent­ing per­sonal at­tack and vil­i­fi­ca­tion on any who of­fer an al­ter­na­tive view. This has been a hall­mark of the same-sex mar­riage cam­paign and a dan­ger­ous prece­dent in any so­ci­ety where vi­able re­spon­si­ble de­bate is es­sen­tial to the main­te­nance of free­dom.

It is deeply per­plex­ing that so many of our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives seem un­con­cerned or un­in­formed about the po­ten­tial dan­gers to the frag­ile rights of a free so­ci­ety in play across the West­ern world.

As Dyson Hey­don has force­fully noted, mod­ern elites do not de­sire tol­er­ance but de­mand un­con­di­tional sur­ren­der. It is par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing to me that so many who stand in the lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive tra­di­tions ap­pear strangely un­moved and un­en­gaged in the face of these po­ten­tial dan­gers.

West Aus­tralian Lib­eral sen­a­tor Dean Smith’s bill guar­an­tees only “the right of clergy and re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions” to de­cline par­tic­i­pa­tion in same­sex mar­riage ser­vices and cel­e­bra­tions. There is by omis­sion no recognition of the like­li­hood of dam­age to the free­dom of con­science for or­di­nary cit­i­zens and their busi­nesses. Smith and many of his col­leagues col seem un­moved by the en­croach­ments en­croa on free­dom freed of speech and an con­science al­ready al demon­strated d in Aus­tralia. A

Per­haps the im­por­tance im of free­dom fre of con­science con is best ap­pre­ci­ated ap­pre if we put the shoe on the other foot. Con­sider Con­side the de­bate about forc­ing cake mak­ers to sup­ply same-sex wed­dings against their con­science. Should a caterer who hap­pens also to be a LGBTI ac­tivist be forced to cater for an Aus­tralian Chris­tian Lobby con­fer­ence? Should a proudly gay baker be forced to bake a cake with an anti-same-sex mar­riage mes­sage on it?

To say that in the case of the bak­ers their re­fusal to make a same-sex mar­riage wed­ding cake was be­cause the clients were gay is the same as say­ing that the gay caterer re­fused ser­vices be­cause his cus­tomers were Chris­tians. No, in both cases it is not the iden­tity of the cus­tomers that is the is­sue, it is the ac­tiv­ity of fa­cil­i­tat­ing the cel­e­bra­tion of some­thing to which they had deep con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tions.

The Lib­eral Party is in peril of for­get­ting that there is more to free so­ci­eties than free mar­kets.

For Aus­tralians this is po­ten­tially very se­ri­ous, for in our cel­e­brated ca­sual way we lack strong pro­tec­tions for free­dom of con­science and speech.

Smith’s ex­emp­tions ap­proach ar­guably does more harm than good, for it as­sumes free­dom of con­science is of worth only to pro­fes­sional re­li­gion­ists and not to all Aus­tralians. This weak­ens even fur­ther the stand­ing of this im­por­tant demo­cratic right and makes it an easy tar­get for those who would lobby to erase this ex­emp­tion and sim­i­lar ex­emp­tions that may re­main in state leg­is­la­tion.

An­other, more wor­thy John An­der­son, for­mer professor of phi­los­o­phy at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, once de­scribed the life of lib­erty as “a per­ilous and fight­ing life”. Lib­erty does not de­fend it­self, it must be de­fended by those who un­der­stand its im­por­tance to our cul­ture, which is so rare in the face of his­tory; it must be de­fended by those who un­der­stand its frag­ile na­ture. What­ever the out­come of the postal sur­vey, the ques­tion now fac­ing us in Aus­tralia is whether we are pre­pared to de­fend vig­or­ously our es­sen­tial lib­er­ties.

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