Joe Hockey has waxed lyrical, and for a long time according to the transcript of his speech to the Grattan Institute. Joe spent a lot of time dealing with two of the inspirations for the ideal of liberty, John Stuart Mill, and John Locke, who he maintains were inspirations to him:
I would like to think there was a moment of epiphany but in the end there was one writer who stood out to me – and that was John Stuart Mill. Sometimes you read something and just think “this guy makes sense”.
It is a continual source of inspiration to me to reflect on those men and women who, without resort to force or the trappings of political power, but through words alone, can influence their generation and those that follow.
Mill is one of those people. Always clear, often difficult, usually provocative, among the earliest defenders of the equal rights of women, minorities and subjugated peoples. He was a champion of fair, free and open elections. Himself a Member of Parliament and a political activist, Mill was above all an unrelenting champion of the principle that personal liberty was the essential element of a free and decent society.
His famous statement of liberal principles is that:
“the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” And just in case we have a tendency to gloss over words like “freedom” and “liberty”, Mill defines it in the most compelling way:
“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” …He goes on to Locke with the following:
I believe that individual liberty must be the foundation of our society, even when it clashes head on with the perceived communal good. That belief rests on John Locke’s positive view about human nature – that there is an essential good, rationality and an innate desire to co-operate in all men and women. I share his conviction that happiness is achieved when individuals are permitted to flourish in ways of their own choosing, according to their own conscience and beliefs. …Unfortunately he goes on to talk of the Australian concept of a fair go being consistent with this. In the language of the average Australian, there is an element of truth in this, when the ‘fair go’ is a matter between individuals, but some of those things that the man in the street sees as ‘a fair go’ have little to do with justice.
When an Australian politician talks of a fair go, keep your hand on your wallet at all times. He makes no effort to explain why his respect for the two has any relevance to his membership of the Liberal Party. Joe like so many others probably has his heart in the right place, but unfortunately like so many others, his head isn’t. He makes his confusion clear here:
“If the expression connotes ‘each for himself and the devil take the hindmost’, with no provision against depressions, with big monopolies running free and injuring the consumer, with an absence of proper government controls and government liabilities, then it is something which Liberalism cannot support.”
It is this constructive role for government that distinguishes the liberal from the libertarian.