The right kind of Europe
Over the last few weeks, the debate on conservatism and liberalism continued in the US and Europe. In the US, it was in connection with the re-election of the Afro-American ‘liberal’ President Barack Obama; in Europe and in Malta it was connected with the appointment of a prospective European Commissioner, the ‘conservative’ pro-life politician Tonio Borg.
Among others, we have had Martin Scicluna (November 21) expounding the main characteristics of conservatives and liberals. According to him, “Conservatism… tends towards the reactionary – typically, it is opposed to political and social reform”. After saying he is proud to call himself a liberal “someone who is progressive and cares about civil liberties”, he declares that “the symbiotic twin of liberalism is tolerance, the ability to allow individuals to make their own choices in life”.
We also had Arthur Galea Salomone (November 22) writing about the fundamentalism of liberalism. He wrote that, by the standards of European liberal values, Borg should have been pre-judged as unfit for the job, without even being given a fair hearing. “Tolerance for some liberals,” he said, “means that only their philosophy of life should be tolerated. That, in any standard dictionary, is bigotry, not liberalism.”
Jonathan Sachs, the British and Commonwealth scholar, in his book The Home We Build Together, after saying that “nations are constituted by, among other things, a shared moral code” says that “liberalism, in its modern guises, and still more in its post-modern ones, denies that there is such a thing as a shared moral code. It argues, instead, that we should be maximally free to do our own thing, live our own lifestyles, refuse to conform.” Then, he asks: “What then becomes of the idea of belonging?”
In January, the American people will face what is being termed as the “fiscal cliff” when the economy is expected to make a severe downturn. With the Borg saga in the EU Parliament, Europe seems to have slid along the path of an “ethical and moral” cliff. Judging by the behaviour of the EU parliamentarians, one can deduce that Europe seems to lack a “shared moral code.” No wonder many say that Europe, at the moment, is in disarray in many respects.
The final favourable result of Borg’s appointment as European commissioner seems to have redeemed Europe... at least for the time being.
As a liberal, Scicluna displayed fierce opposition to any “moral teachings ...of any religion” making any sort of contribution towards the common good.
Probably, liberals will tell us that newspaper columnists, television presenters, bloggers and liberal politicians, anywhere, can do the job more effectively.
His very strong opposition to many things coming from Gozo Bishop Mario Grech seems to fly in the face of what he said in his article that, for the liberal, “opinions are held tentatively, conscious that new evidence may lead (him) to abandon them”.
What the liberals and their cohorts have done to Borg in the EU Parliament lately Scicluna seems to be doing to Bishop Grech.
This is the antithesis of “tolerance”. Indeed, he is even clamouring not only for his removal but also for the elimination of the Gozo bishopric itself.
The Gozitans must be looking at him as a cultural imperialist. But he doesn’t mind. To him, Bishop Grech seems not to be “someone who cares about the welfare of people”, which is exactly the opposite. He feels he is absolutely right in what he is fighting for, especially his perceived interference, indeed the intransigence, of the Maltese Catholic Church in State and societal matters.
Here, Scicluna quickly turns dogmatic. Like liberal EU parliamentarians lately, he swiftly shows the face of a fundamentalist liberal, something he himself acknowledges can be the case when he says that “I have to accept, however, that fundamentalist, bigoted and dogmatic views can be expressed by both liberals and conservatives”.
Now to go back to Sacks’s The Home We Build Together. Isn’t this what the EU institutions are trying to do at the moment, even at this time of international and regional turmoil, working for more Europe and, in the process, trying to shape the right kind of Europe?
There is dignity in all differences. Aren’t we all supposed to be working together to ‘belong’, for unity in diversity in Europe?
“The ability to allow individuals to make their own choices in life” should be accorded to conservatives and liberals alike. Otherwise, Europe will be an archipelago of millions of individuals each pursuing his own egoistic wants to suit his comfort to the detriment of others.
Liberals and the rest, in and outside the EU Parliament, should be more tolerant and should allow more space for genuine human flourishing, in Malta and in Europe.
Tony Mifsud is a former director of the Department of Family Welfare.