Over at the CentreForum blog, the liberal think-tank’s associate director, Richard Reeves, takes a look at the “communitarian dream” that is Christmas through a liberal lens:
Christmas combines in one package a number of elements that make us bristle. Religion, especially of an organised variety. Tradition for the sake of itself. The insanity of present buying. And semi-tyrannical familial expectations. … One liberal reaction to all this is to simply grin and bear it. … But bristling and bearing won’t really do. Liberal hostility to faith, family, community and tradition is well founded; they can all inhibit individual freedom. But the truth is that the communitarians are right to say that this is also where many of us draw our sense of identity. Social institutions provide the framework in which individuals are formed, and lead their lives.
Liberals, Richard argues, have to engage with life as it is lived, rather than try and tear it down to start afresh with our own preferred paradigm:
… liberalism cannot retreat to the defence of abstract institutions like the rule of law, markets and human rights. Liberalism needs a liberal culture, as well as liberal institutions. And culture is generated by families, communities, religions: in the thick of everyday life. … For [Jo Grimond], the great mistake of liberals in the middle of the century had been to “forget that man is a social animal” and veer off towards a stark individualism that was out of step with the founders of British liberalism. But unlike his Labour colleagues, he did not believe that the “state knows what it right and will pursue it and the individual will not … If we must have high-sounding phrases I prefer liberty and fraternity to equality”.
Like Grimond, he says, we must show how liberalism can be promoted through existing institutions which have meaning to people’s lives:
Grimond wrestled with an ancient liberal dilemma: how to support social and community institutions, while protecting the right of individuals to determine their own ends. These institutions can oppress. But they can also liberate. Liberal families will demonstrate gender equality in action and promote the opportunities of the next generation through successful parenting. .. Liberal faith groups will fight – like the Quakers and Reform Jews – for gay marriage and global justice. Liberal communities will deter crime, look our for each others’ kids and welcome individuals and families of every colour, faith and sexuality.
You can read Richard Reeves’ article in full here.