Liberals need to face up to their own illiberalism

It was only social media, but it was not atypical – an expression of horror that the BBC is showing an Orange parade later this month. “This encourages sectarianism” seemed to be the idea. Some suggested it was evidence of “BBC bias” (it was left unclear for whom).

Actually, while they are by no means everybody’s cup of tea, 93% of parades in Northern Ireland are uncontested. Many are displays of community belonging and no small degree of musical talent. Often, participants are there for the spectacle over anything else. Attendees often see it as a community event to catch up with friends and family – usefully half way between Christmas. Yes, under any definition, they are fundamentally “sectarian”, but that does not by any means make all participants outright bigots.

The BBC shows many cultural offerings. Many will appeal to a much more limited group of people than Orange parades. They are part of what it is to live in a diverse, multicultural society.

Here, not for the first time, Liberals (in the broadest sense) are guilty of their own illiberalism. Indeed, the thing which perhaps annoys non-Liberals most about Liberals is they seem to spend their time hectoring disapprovingly rather than presenting a viable vision of what a more truly Liberal society would look like. To make an obvious point, a more Liberal society would probably deliver more, not fewer, opportunities for cultural expression. It is absolutely not a place of further prohibition.

So, what does a more Liberal society look like? It is absolutely not a place where activities get banned because certain people don’t like them. It is in fact a place, given the heritage of Northern Ireland, where “quality parading” is taken more seriously and positively as a concept so that the spectacle and skill come to predominate. There is a balance in all of this cultural expression of course, but the notion the things we don’t much care for are just going to go away is unrealistic and fundamentally illiberal.



7 thoughts on “Liberals need to face up to their own illiberalism

  1. Howard says:

    At face value the things that these very parades are celebrating – the end of absolute monarchy, freedom of religion – are what one can call liberal things. And substantial things, worth celebrating.

    • Howard says:

      Just to make the point a little more explicitly, here is what it says under “Liberalism” in Wiki:

      “Liberalism first became a distinct political movement during the Age of Enlightenment, when it became popular among philosophers and economists in the Western world. Liberalism rejected the prevailing social and political norms of hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. […] Leaders in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution of 1776, and the French Revolution of 1793, used liberal philosophy to justify the armed overthrow of royal tyranny.”

  2. Other paul says:

    Would a more liberal society also be more tolerant of kkk parades? Many Catholics don’t see a difference.

    • Howard says:

      Part of being a liberal must be the ability to see the difference.

      • Other paul says:

        Thats quite a glib reply. Youve already let by the assertion in the article that its a sectarian organisation. Among other things the OO promotes a supremacist agenda and religious intolerance by prohibiting its members from attending ceremonies of other faiths.
        This isn’t Twitter and so you’ve room for providing a more comprehensive rebuttal. That you didn’t is telling…

      • Howard says:

        Ok, I don’t think the comparison with racism holds. The OO is about religion not race, a different thing. We can disagree in our religious views while being liberal.

        I accept that Catholics have a good reason to object to parades. But that’s because of disrespectful conduct, not the OO’s religious views or the rules that you mention.

      • Other paul says:

        Thanks for getting back to me Howard. You’ve yet to change my mind and I’m open to dialogue. To me the orange order celebrates a protestant victory that precipitated centuries of abuse over Catholics. A close minded institution that refuses to integrate with neighbours and binds closely political and religious beliefs.

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