I, Dipankan

Reflections on the 175th year of The Economist

In September of 1843, the much-cherished magazine of today, The Economist, was started. In 2018, it thus celebrates its one hundred and seventy-fifth year; an appreciably long way to go for any magazine of its kind. James Wilson, founder of The Economist, adhered by certain fundamental principles- such as the being champion of free trade, free markets and limited government. Thereby, he was in a way the pioneer of a new way of political thought in his time- that of liberalism. In fact, The Economist was founded to campaign for the repeal of the oppressive Corn Laws in Imperial Britain, which put high import taxes on food grains. Liberalism today can be defined as a way of political philosophy wherein individual and civil liberties, and rights of the individual are held sacred and of principal concern. It would thus only be fitting to explore how the concept of liberalism has evolved over the years from Wilson’s days to the present day we live in.

There are certainly a lot of positives to count on. Rapid globalisation has transformed the world in more ways than one: average global life expectancy rates have skyrocketed, while milllons have been uplifted from severe poverty. These trends are only expected to continue. All across the world, there is a general notion that civil liberties are inalienable to the man, and that has now become the cornerstone for a good number of nation states. There is a fantastic co-relation between the most developed countries today and the number of liberal governments it had at the helm. Over the period of the nineteenth and twentieth century, while isolationism, fascism and communism failed, liberalism stood out as the lone exception; perhaps a poetic ode to its core belief to evolve and sustain itself as it goes the way.

However, it would be foolish to assume that liberalism is still driving the world, and that it faces no crises at present. Over the last twelve years, civil liberties have lost ground in 71 countries, while only 35 made any gain (Freedom House Report, 2017). This is a worrying statistic. Liberalism has died an ideological death, perhaps, arising out of mere complacency. The liberal elite likes to dwell in an illusory world where everything is sugar-coated to their tastes. In actuality, it is not such a perfect scenario. Liberalism had its roots from humble starts, as a tool for change. True liberals contend that change is gradual, it cannot be enforced on somebody (thus, opposing revolutionaries). Unfortunately enough, this hunger for introduction of change has become non-existent. Liberals must remember that their founding principle remains civic respect for all. The centennial edition of The Economist, in 1943 chalked out two defining principles for liberalism: one being freedom, and the other being the idea that human society could ultimately be an association for the welfare of the multitude. Fast forward to now, and divisive forces have found significant traction across communities. Group identities defined by race, religion or sexual orientations are springing up, thus diffusing the entire idea of the second guiding principle of liberalism. What is worse, is the fact that even liberals have grown conservative- unable to accept the risk that comes with upsetting a stable system that keeps them doing better than the rest.

Today, liberalism looks disillusioned and without a proper direction. The young generation is the engine of change; and true liberals from among them must be pragmatic in their approach and adaptable to any situation that may arise. In the advent of passionate nationalistic governments and their associated propaganda, the liberals must find an opportunity to display their brand of nationalism- harping on inclusivity- and embrace it as their own. Criticism and dissent must be welcomed and not suppressed- which is something key to liberalism. Liberalism has always been tagged with reform, but reform cannot sustain itself where stagnation settles. Thus, the complexities of the twenty first century can only be dealt with gusto and vivacity– which is, precisely, the need of the hour for liberalism to revive itself from the archaism it has subjected itself to.

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