The author is a former conservative strategist. He was a political adviser in the Harper government as well as in the opposition.
We remember the disputes of May 68, in France: the student revolt, the rejection of capitalism and its bourgeois morality, the contestation of all forms of authority and the questioning of the institutions that succeeded, less than a year later later, when General de Gaulle resigned. Why evoke May 68 today? This popular student movement was first channeled by a left-wing, humanist, sometimes anarchist ideology, with freedom as its leitmotif. The right-wing parties, traditionally parties of order, were perceived as authoritarian, moralizing, violating freedoms and imposing their diktat.
It will also be remembered that the security forces responsible for repressing demonstrations in France, the famous Republican Security Companies (CRS), were called Nazis: “CRS, SS! chanted the United Left demonstrators with one voice. However, nowadays, it is clear that the concept of freedom claimed by many voters is no longer defended by the traditional left, even less by the liberals.
The litany of political correctness, of political and social rectitude imposed by the center left in power is echoed by left-wing political parties. And criticism of the omnipresence of the state in the private sphere is now led by right-wing movements. Of course, there have always been “fiscal conservatives” and libertarians advocating less state intervention and more individual freedom. But their detractors attached to them, not without success, the label of pragmatists without compassion, putting the collective interest in the background in the name of private interests.
In the new discourse that has emerged on the right in recent years, it seems that it has become the opposite. In the face of soaring prices, freedom is now also associated with economic freedom in conservative discourse. This brings us to a recent hot topic, namely the demonstrations in Ottawa, sometimes called “the truckers’ insurrection”, “the blockade of the Canadian economy” or “the freedom convoy”, depending on left or right of the ideological spectrum.
A certain right
What is paradoxical is that these demonstrations, at another time, would undoubtedly have been perceived as a kind of Canadian May 68, associated and mobilized by the left. It was the same with the Yellow Vests movement in France, in 2018, which displayed several similarities with the spirit of May 68. It is useful here to recall that the term “libertarian”, widely taken up by the right today hui, is a neologism created by Joseph Déjacque, anarchocommunist writer from the end of the 19the century.
Nowadays, the spirit of protest and libertarianism has become the prerogative of the right. Some will say of a certain right, or rather of political orphans who no longer recognize themselves in the ambient discourse and who feel left behind, excluded. There’s another hot topic that not so long ago might have emanated from the left: the debate over free speech in universities.
It may seem paradoxical that freedom of speech has become a rallying cry for the right while left-wing parties impose political correctness, a prescribed vocabulary and limits to academic freedom that is now marked out. This illustrates how much change is in the air as to which political ideology is now best placed to defend freedom.
What can we say or stop saying? This malaise, born of ever-changing social conventions, could have, in the not-so-distant past, been channeled through the left. It is now imposed by the latter. Health restrictions with variable geometry are certainly one of the causes of the amplification of a demand for freedoms, but there are deeper roots. They simply cannot be ignored or labeled as populism.
freedoms with freedom
Making a shortcut between the end of health measures and the end of libertarian demands is not so simple. However, we must also be concerned about the instrumentalization of freedom by the extremes of the political spectrum. In his test Fake rebels. The excesses of political incorrectness (Poètes de brousse, 2022), Philippe Bernier Arcand is concerned that, alongside the rise of political correctness, we are also witnessing, in the name of freedom of expression, a proliferation of racist, sexist or conspiratorial opinions in the public debate.
This impression that the left has neglected freedom should worry all democrats. Politics abhors a vacuum, so much so that the concept is increasingly taken over by the extremes, who do not hesitate to take liberties with freedom. For a long time, demonizing the right and defending freedom and nobility of heart were seen as the prerogative of the left.
We know the saying that if you are young and you are not on the left, you have no heart and that if, having reached maturity, you are not on the right, you has no head. The concept of freedom has shattered this old left-right divide. A new wind is blowing from the right and everything is changing. The results of the elections in Quebec, with the rise of Éric Duhaime’s party, could be an interesting first indicator, especially on the vote of 18-35 year olds, who, in the past, were acquired on the left. An important indicator, and perhaps a precursor, to judge the future of Justin Trudeau.