Reflections on the Condition of British Liberalism

Traveling to Portugal in early April, I came across an English-language newspaper serving the country’s Algarve region. The Portuguese paper reported on a Positive News Magazine summary of a recent […]
April 30, 2023

Traveling to Portugal in early April, I came across an English-language newspaper serving the country’s Algarve region.

The Portuguese paper reported on a Positive News Magazine summary of a recent King’s College London study that found the UK is “becoming more liberal.”

Positive News reported that Britain is now among “the world’s most progressive nations.” The King’s College study declared that “following huge shifts in attitudes on homosexuality, casual sex, abortion, euthanasia and divorce,” the UK now ranks as one of the world’s most socially liberal countries.

report accompanying the release of the survey analysis by the Policy Institute at King’s College London provided more detailed statistical evidence of Britain’s progress. The last 40 years appear to have produced significant shifts in social attitudes.

The survey (pdf) asked members of the British public for an opinion on whether or not certain things could “always be justified, never be justified, or something in between.” As part of a larger global survey, it has measured the share of the population who disapprove of certain things since 1981, with which an interesting comparison can be made.

For example, homosexuality is now regarded as justifiable by 66 percent of the population, which is up from 12 percent in 1981. Ditto for divorce: 64 percent up from 18 percent; abortion: 48 percent up from 14 percent; euthanasia: 47 percent up from 20 percent; suicide: 19 percent up from 6 percent; and prostitution: 17 percent, up from 7 percent.

Looking less far back, only 10 percent thought having casual sex was justifiable in 1999, while more than four times as many (42 percent) hold this view today.

The report pointed out that the 2010s saw an accelerated transition on several issues. In 2009, only 33 percent thought homosexuality was justifiable—but this doubled in the space of just over 10 years.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said in the report, “It’s easy to lose sight of just how much more liberal the UK has become.”

The Kings College study shows the balance of public opinion shifting in favor of what Positive News calls “an inclusive outlook on racial equality, immigration and sexual identity.” Given the general disposition of 21st-century Western elites, it’s easy to imagine that such a survey would elicit similar responses in the United States and Canada.

Duffy appeared to see these trends coming. In a 2019 report on a different survey, he wrote: “On all sorts of issues, from full frontal male nudity and violence on TV, to drug use and abortion, we are much more relaxed as a nation. … What were once pressing moral concerns have become simple facts of life for much of the public.”

Duffy believes the transformation in values isn’t just driven by generational turnover.

“All generations have changed their views significantly,” he said in the latest report. In 2019 he said, “These findings show Britain has become decisively more liberal on a range of moral issues in the last 30 years.”

In the Kingdom of the Woke, this is an unmistakable sign of progress.

Transformational Ideas

For anyone who hasn’t been living in a monastery for the past 50 years, public responses to the King’s College survey were entirely predictable.

Like most transformational ideas, liberalism has been highly sensitive to time and circumstance. The assumptions framed by liberal philosophy have changed considerably. A single lifetime ago, support for liberalism would have been measured by responses to principles such as individual liberty, equality before the law, private property, free market capitalism, civil rights, representative democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion.

Liberalism, in the original British tradition, was tempered by conservative obligations toward family, nation, and faith. It was once an enormously positive force in Western civilization. From the Magna Carta, to Britain’s Glorious Revolution, to Constitutional Monarchy and the emergence of American Republicanism, English-speaking peoples once led the way toward the development of peaceful, prosperous, liberal-democratic societies.

Today, our behavior is governed by people who are incapable of governing themselves. Liberalism has been redefined to stand for moral license, self-indulgence, and personal omnipotence. Post-modern liberalism is inspired more by Marx and Freud than Locke, Jefferson, or Mill. Progressive academics promote a set of lifestyle preferences that have little to do with the maintenance of well-ordered liberty.

There’s considerable evidence that the new liberalism isn’t working out as well as some might think. There may be a more “relaxed” atmosphere in the faculty rooms of progressive universities like King’s College, but that “peaceful easy feeling” the Eagles sang about in 1972 no longer exists in the public squares of English-speaking cities. Once amicable people are now afflicted by feelings of race, gender, and partisan hatred.

In the same April 1 edition of The Portugal News it was reported that authorities in the Netherlands are now telling rowdy British tourists on the prowl for sex and drugs to “stay away” from Amsterdam.

So-called “liberal” politicians in America cheer on some of the most dangerous and deadly movements in modern history.

Days after a transgender person murdered six innocents at a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, the Whitehouse press spokesperson spoke to the nation about the resilience of LGBTQI+ kids.

“They are fierce, they fight back, they’re not going anywhere, and we have their back,” she said. Such is the cold new liberal standard for tolerance, diversity, inclusion, and equity.

So far, neither the intermittent election of conservative leaders nor the rise of common sense populist movements such as the American Tea Party, Brexit, MAGA, or the People’s Party of Canada have disinclined Woke cultural elites from their present addiction to the carnal pleasures of post-modern amorality and permanent political power.

Hope springs eternal. As Martin Luther King once said, it’s only when it’s dark enough that we can see the stars. Nevertheless, rational men and women feel like they’re fighting off a jellyfish with a knife. Thrusts of truth and logic appear useless against a creeping social toxicity.

Bill Brooks is a Senior Fellow at Frontier Centre For Public Policy. This commentary was first published in The Epoch Times here.

Featured News

Transformers: More than Meets the Eye

The path to net zero, based on the much disputed belief that carbon dioxide is a pollution, is more steep and impractical than most people realize. Replacing fossil fuels with clean electricity will require much more power generation and a greatly upgraded grid to...


Private Sector Partnerships are Good for Public Education

Private Sector Partnerships are Good for Public Education

  The provincial government recently announced that it is partnering with a B.C.-based company to deliver virtual financial literacy programming in Manitoba classrooms. Starting next school year, Enriched Academy will provide lessons to about 1,500 Manitoba...