Wednesday, March 17, 2004

To what extent is the DA a centre-right party, comparable to, say, the US Republicans, the British Tories or the German Christian Democrats? This question has been intriguing me ever since I read Laurence's post which characterises it as such, and which cites this as a reason why the DA should embrace the death penalty (it would bring the DA in line with other centre-right parties world-wide). There's no doubt that the DA is business friendly, which of course places it in the same camp as the parties that I've just mentioned. But, like Andrew, my impression of the DA has always been that it draws primarily upon the tradition of classical liberalism which owes a great deal to JS Mill. Mill famously endorsed the "harm principle", the idea that peoples' choices should not be interfered with unless they cause harm to others. This, of course, places a great deal of distance between Mill's descendants and parties such as the Republicans, which are all for a paternalistic attitude in relation to matters such as sex before marriage, homosexuality and drug use. As Andrew puts it, Democrats might interfere in the boardroom, but Republicans interfere in the bedroom. For this reason, I'd tend to compare the DA's intellectual roots with those of, say, the Free Democrats of Germany, who espouse economic and social liberty. This strand of liberalism, while admittedly on the right of the political spectrum, is, I think, less wedded to ideas such as the death penalty, outlawing abortion, curbing homosexuality and pre-marital sex etc. In other words, I don't think that the DA's political orientation requires that it adopt for the death penalty for reasons of consistency.

While on the subject of the DA, there's a further complication. Increasingly, the DA is espousing policies such as the basic income grant, free antiretrovirals and, at least while in government in the Western Cape, free water up to a point. In other words, in addition to fostering a business friendly environment, it seems to me that the DA is increasingly coming round to the view that there is a role for the state in addressing social problems such as poverty and AIDS. It goes without saying that this is an interesting, and rather idiosyncratic, combination (the basic income grant is also advocated by Cosatu). Personally, I welcome this development, which I think shows the limitations of libertarianism in a developing country such as South Africa. But, once again, it should caution us against drawing easy comparisons between the DA and right-wing parties in the US, UK or Germany, which would presumably regard these as matters for the private sector or community self-help.

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