We tell ourselves that we live in a ‘liberal’ society. But our definition of liberal has been corrupted. It has fallen victim to a mindset which says that the individual is paramount, that ‘values’ are subjective and that there is no such thing as objective right and wrong. Yet surely liberalism does not equate to this new libertinism.
Real liberalism acknowledges a great paradox: that personal freedoms can only be protected within a structure of constrainsts. But we have lost sight of the need for such constraints – and the results can be seen in the fragmentation of society, the failure of the education system and the breakdown of family life.
The founding fathers of liberalism never envisaged a society of unlimited freedom. They recognised the need to find the balance between the desire for personal autonomy and the importance of social obligations. Melanie Phillips analyses how such beliefs have, since the Enlightenment, become corrupted by the tenets of moral relativism.
Can true liberal values be re-established in society? It remains to be seen. But, argues Melanie Phillips, it is essential that the political parties of both the left and the right should rediscover the importance of liberal constraints.