Separating Libertarianism and Political Liberty

I wrote an article in the Guardian on Friday arguing that libertarianism and political liberty needed to be kept separate in our minds, and that civil libertarians should be prepared to engage more in discussion than they do about the relative merits of various suggestions for change that affect the first while being extremely careful about any new laws or practices that threaten the second.

The immediate handle for the piece was Sedley LJ’s suggestion that there be a compulsory DNA database covering not only residents but UK visitors as well. What has been interesting has been the level of vitriol his proposal, and my article, have attracted. There is an extremely strong belief among at least a few people that the government really is motivated by bad faith in seeking to deploy technology so as further to invade basic rights and liberties. There is also an equally deeply-held opinion that we live in a society with a very authoritarian-minded government.

Part of the purpose of my article was also to challenge this idea by putting the Blair/Brown administrations in some kind of historical context. In my new book Civil Liberties I do emphasise the law and practice of political freedom which is what I say my subject is about, ie not invididual liberty as such, other than of course as a building block for freedom. This afternoon I am presenting my ideas to the annual conference of the Society of legal Scholars – the UK’s premier gathering of academic lawyers. I shall be very interested to see what their response is.