The Loneliness of Liberalism

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One of the more depressing things about living in South Africa is the near-total lack of public support for liberalism. When you regularly listen to talk-radio, read letters sections in major newspapers, read South African Usenet groups or any other forum for public expression, you tend to notice a pattern. The most vocal contributors are usually radicals or reactionaries: people who either want to go back to the apartheid state, or tear down the current one.

These two groups hate each other, of course, but they’re also mutually reinforcing. The mere existence of the opposing camp gives each of them even more reason to push their own agenda. And they manage to find common cause on various issues: in their hatred for capitalism, and their disdain for due process and the sometimes-annoying checks and balances that characterise life in a democratic republic. (The recent attack on the judiciary in the wake of the Shaik case is a good example of the latter.) Most of all, they find common cause in their hatred for America, because America is the ultimate embodiment of a successful capitalist state, and therefore symbolises everything they despise.

Ideology is not a straight line. It’s a circle. At some point, the extreme left bends over and becomes remarkably similar to the extreme right. For those of us who advocate liberalism in this country, it’s hard to avoid feeling swamped by the sheer volume of chatter coming from the radical left and the reactionary right. But at least the local blogosphere (small as it is right now) has avoided succumbing to the usual pattern of shouting. Perhaps blogs can become a small voice for sanity in the South African public discourse.