The great thing about liberalism and the freethought movement is that it is strongly opposed to dogmatic thinking. But what to do if contemporary liberal policy becomes a dogma in itself?
Democracy, the rule of law and the free market: these are all great concepts that cannot be parted from the tradition of liberal thought, and they are all conditional for achieving a society in which the ultimate liberal goal can be realized: libertas – liberty. But contemporary liberalism must be very careful not to absolutise one of these concepts at the expense of liberty itself. Economic liberalism, or free market thinking, is well on its way to becoming such a creed. And things are truly heading in the wrong direction when some liberals quietly replace the ideal of a free market by the (highly disputable) ideal of unlimited economic growth.
Profitability over liberty
Parliamentarian and agriculture-spokesperson for the Dutch liberal party VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) Helma Lodders, demonstrates perfectly how some contemporary liberals care solely about the perceived ‘liberal’ goal of economic growth, and how this false endeavour may ultimately frustrate the achievement of the true liberal goal: freedom. Last month, Lodders argued in the Dutch newspaper Trouw that organisations defending the interests of animals and the environment should be restrained, because they might harm the reputation of the Dutch agricultural sector. The VVD’s spokesperson is displeased that such organisations bother us with information about animal cruelty in the Dutch animal industry. It is only because of this massive animal exploitation that the Netherlands has become ‘world champion of highly productive, efficient and sustainable agriculture’! Lodders truly believes this is something to be proud of. She thinks it would be a great thing if Dutch ‘agriculture were to intensify even more’ and if ‘this small group that makes a lot of noise’ were silenced. The VVD, as represented by Lodders, wants to see hard cash, not animal cruelty.
In the parliamentary debate about animal welfare this week, the VVD again showed its current obsession with economic growth. Spokesperson Lodders attacked State Secretary Sharon Dijksma (of the PvdA; the Dutch Labour Party) for planning to take measures meant to improve the welfare of animals in the animal industry, such as a ban on ‘freezing’ a number onto the hide of cows, forcing the animal industry to make sure that all cows can give birth in a natural way (due to some breeding methods some calves are too big to be born naturally) and banning the tail docking of pigs (i.e., burning off of pigs’ tails). According to the VVD, these measures – which tend to improve animal wellbeing - are untenable. All but one of the arguments Lodders used to back up this ‘liberal’ point of view were economic growth-driven. She argued that the aforementioned measures will lead to an employment-drain and a decrease of export, because the animal industry would go abroad should some of their harmful practises be prohibited in the Netherlands. Only on one point did the VVD falsely pretend to care about the wellbeing of animals, viz. when the party argued that tail docking should not be banned. Not docking the pigtails would lead to welfare concerns, Lodders mysteriously put forth. It is quite obvious that in Lodders’ vision of liberalism, economic growth prevails over the freedom and wellbeing of all creatures.
Eagerness for economic growth is justifying enslavement and censorship
It is not only frustrating, but also embarrassing to see a ‘liberal’, blinded by eagerness for financial gain, condoning immense suffering in society. Behind the curtains of our ‘civilized society’ horrible things are still happening to millions of animals each day. Not paying attention to this kind of torture is weak, but, unfortunately, popular, even among liberals. That animal interest organizations bring these hidden tortures to the attention of the public is praiseworthy. Thwarting these organizations (as Lodders recommends in her article in Trouw) is not only weak, but also populist, immoral and, above all else, misleading and thereby non-liberal. As long as the consumer is protected from the animal cruelty that is perpetrated in the production of numerous products he may buy, that consumer cannot make a well-informed choice about which products to purchase. The possibility of making well-informed consumer choices is a necessary condition for a properly functioning free market mechanism. In convulsively trying to stimulate economic growth by way of advocating informal censure, Lodders ironically frustrates the autonomous market. It is widely known: censorship chains Adam Smith’s invisible hand.
Economic growth has nothing to do with freedom
Unfortunately, Lodders is not the only ‘liberal’ to view liberalism as ‘economic prevalence liberalism’. Lodders’ stance is illustrative of a large number of contemporary liberals. This ‘economic prevalence liberalism’ tends to digress more and more from the initial liberal goal of liberty for all. In this vision of liberalism, anything goes, as long as it is profitable – even if this means that millions of creatures are tortured and murdered every day in our (moneymaking) society. It is hard to accept that ‘liberals’ ignore or even justify this immense suffering. Liberalism originates from the idea that one must fight for the freedom of the most oppressed in society, but the ‘economic prevalence liberalism’ currently practiced by the VVD, fails to do so in the case of the millions of animals that are being brutally tortured right in our own backyard each and every day.
Part of this article was previously published in Trouw (November 9th, 2013, Opinie, p.25).