The reformist, if words are the only guide, is more concerned about a better future for mankind than the liberal. Are liberals unconcerned about human problems? They do not often give the impression that they are. Liberals are probably as concerned, though they do not waffle or talk about it in the same way as socialists. The paradox is that freedom related values have a better record of providing for human needs and reducing poverty than socialist and Marxist regulationism.
If people are concerned about peace, poverty, inequality and human problems, where should their priorities lie? They should start with themselves. This is the very reverse of the approach of the reformists. They are motivated to change other people and are often unconcerned about their own standards. They often fail to realise the hypocrisy in the difference between their affluent lifestyles and their concern for human poverty and suffering. Justice Murphy in a judgement said that property rights belong to a bygone era. If he had lived, he would have retired with a large sum of money drawn from judicial and parliamentary superannuation funds and converted these into property.
A better world requires better human beings. A better world needs more of the practice of sincere religion (any religion) or genuine humanism. The emphasis is on sincere religion because of the corrupting effect institutional structures have had on religion. It is not suggested that the institutionalised church should come back into politics or that the church should lay down political guidelines for the faithful. Unfortunately, the battle to reduce the power of the institutionalised church in politics has also had the effect that moral values have been taken out of politics. Moral values and standards of conduct must be brought back into public life. A better future for mankind requires individuals to change.
In the recent period of rampant educational, technological and material development it is debatable whether man's capacity to get on with his fellow human beings has been in any degree increased. Has it in any way increased in the wake of the developments of the last one hundred years or more? If the wars, the localised wars and the many examples of man's inhumanity to man which are prevalent in the world today are analysed, it cannot be said that in terms of toleration mankind has in any meaningful sense moved forward.
The main problems which face western society today are: the growing incapacity of the political system, the family, education processes and society to produce sufficient responsible citizens with a sense of public duty and the drift towards careless individualism, discontented egoism, nihilism, destructive values and mindless idealism. There is no threat of a violent revolution to overthrow the system and establish a Marxist state. The danger that exists is twofold. First there is the gradual destruction of much that is worth preserving, with little that is constructive being put in its place, because of unfair criticism of what "is" and "mindless idealism" in relation to what ought to be. Second, the growth of government leads to control of individuals and institutions as well as drying up the springs of initiative, innovation, enterprise and individual responsibility, creating dependency and, most importantly, giving rise to groups which obtain a disproportionate part of the resources of the country, exploiting the majority.
The values and institutions of the western democratic order are far from perfect. Perfection or anything near perfection is an unobtainable ideal. Reform must proceed in this context. The wrong ideas and turnings in the reform process are analysed above: ideologically based reform which rejects community values, the liberal tradition and the evolved solution; the practice of avoiding evaluation by focusing on the weakness of the system and ignoring its strengths; and the identification of modernisation with social engineering.
The main problem of the future is of the critical spirit, which has made a tremendous contribution to western civilisation, running riot in a narrow, counter productive manner, destroying what exists without practical and viable alternatives. Communism consumed the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, parts of Eastern Europe, and other countries through the forcible destruction of one system and the establishment of another. There are both positive and destructive aspects of communist states, with the destructive aspects definitely in the ascendancy. However, the problems that face well-established representative democracies with strong private enterprise infrastructures, are big government, the control of the many by a few and a gradual undermining and destruction of the system without constructive alternatives.
There is no danger of a Soviet type or any other Communist type state being established in Australia or the western democracies. The long term future, if the present trends continue, will be characterised by the following developments. Increasing economic problems and growing unemployment. A gradual undermining, without viable alternatives, of the values and institutions which have contributed to the rise and prosperity of western civilisation. Increasing government regulation and bureaucratisation (which limit individual freedom and the scope for effort, motivation and achievement). A growing demand for government activity and welfarism. Inability of governments to cater to such demands. The use of civil disobedience, violent dissent and terrorism by dissatisfied groups, causing inconvenience and disruption and the inevitable counter reaction of governments (whether socialist or of any other complexion) involving restrictions on civil liberties. The placing of restrictions on trade union and industrial activity. A state which maintains the institutions and trappings of liberal democracy but has accumulated reservoirs of bureaucratic power, limiting civil liberties and using escalating emergency powers to stifle dissent and control violent groups. A central government which cannot exercise adequate control over its bureaucracies, and favoured private organisations. In this respect there would be a fundamental difference with a communist state. Nor will the internal security forces be as efficient and ruthless as those of the communist state. There could be a partial withering away of the state - a bureaucratic giant monster in which few things work as intended (but not a withering away of the State as in Marxist theory nor the rise of a brutal repressive and oppressive state as in Marxist practice) This is the future prospect, unless the force of ideas and common sense can cause a change in direction.
The attack on the values and institutions of the western democratic order has been highlighted. I have not painted a rosy picture. I do not want to end on a note of pessimism. What of the future? There are reasons for pessimism and for optimism. A great deal depends on how supporters of liberal values respond to the challenges of our times. The analogy has been drawn between Rome and Western civilisation. The fall of Rome was preceded by permissiveness and growth of bureaucracy and welfarism but there ends the analogy. Rome did not have the benefit of scientific and technological development. Roman civilisation in its creative periods did not have the civilising influence of Christianity and Christian based morality which, despite the faults and failures of the Church and individual Christians, has been the driving force in the liberal tradition.
I leave you with Macauley's words, "It's a great time to be alive." It is a great time to be alive and a great place in which to be alive. Would you rather be alive now or in 1850 or 1750 or 1550 or in medieval times? Would you rather be in Australia or in Russia or in Chile or in Libya or in South Africa? There is hope for the future if concerned liberals can rise up and face the problems and challenges of our times. The future depends on individuals rising up to challenge the coercive utopians and the proponents of permissive nihilism.
No, or little, allowance is made in the reformist mind set for imperfections that will exist in any human situation. The human limitations that will affect the judgment and horizons of the drafters and administrators of legislation are not taken into account. Reforms are formulated without consideration of the financial costs and possible counter productive effects. The consequent restrictions on freedom, initiative and the striving for excellence that are necessary consequences of government regulation are not appreciated. The strengths in the pre-existing evolved situations are not taken into consideration. The problems which arise from government action and the unpredictability of the practical operation of legislation (the practice being very different from the stated aims) and the cost and financial implications for government and for the tax-paying community are ignored.
Many critical analyses of human problems and solutions, based on proposals for legislation leading to government regulation of the economy and social matters, proceed on the identification of a problem and a perceived need for action. The proponents of the need for action to deal with a problem or an injustice do not ask the question whether it is practical and possible to draft a law and put it into effect. The need leads to regulation without a consideration of the possibilities. They do not take account of the complexities involved in forecasting human action and interaction, the natural limitations in the hearts and minds of the men who will be the legislators and the administrators, the restrictive effects of regulations on human action and initiative and the financial costs of regulation for business, for those affected and for government (the financial costs for government being borne by the tax payer).
The above comments are not intended to deny the inherent value of all empirical social science research. There has been much valuable research. But a great deal of research has emanated from the social sciences which ignores or fails to give due weight to basic common sense perspectives, the values and institutions of the western order, the lessons of history and the reality of a world composed of individuals each one different from the other.
The guiding mental picture of justice is that of the balancing of the scales of justice. What the common law historically offered was not really justice, but a balancing of competing interests. When a mother of three children is killed by a reckless or drunken driver, can justice be provided to the widower and children? How can justice be meted out to a man who while drunk has accidentally killed.