Our World on Liberty

Comment by James McQuillan 

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing all of mankind” – John Stuart Mill

Both recent and past news from the West has involved motions towards creating an illegal status against expressing particular views, whether it is one expressed in person or across social media outlets online. In March 2017 Canada passed proposition M103 which, according to Prime Minister Trudeau, is designed to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination”. Mélanie Joly, Minister of Heritage cited the killing of 6 Muslims in a shooting at Quebec’s mosque as a factor in passing legislation against ‘Islamophobia’.

The use of the term according to those protesting against the motion, is seen as a means of countering any criticism of Islam, whether in its scripture or within its mosques. One of which in Montreal in 2014, hosted an anti-Semitic Imam calling for the congregation to “destroy the accursed Jews”. While the Muslim association of Canada immediately suspended the Imam, the expressed sentiment of damage to freedom of speech had been the key point of protests in 2017. With left wing opposition decrying their demonstrations as ‘fascist’ and ‘Islamophobic’.

In May 2017, in the aftermath of the Manchester bombings, where 22 people were killed and 120 injured by a terrorist named Salman Abedi, Kate Hopkins, renowned for her inflammatory remarks via social media and radio broadcasts on LBC, reacted to the news of the bombing with a sensation of fear and rage as she professed in a retrospective article:

“In truth, I woke up to the news of the terror attack in Manchester on our young girls and I saw red. As a mum, I felt fear. And I raged…

Whatever we are doing now is clearly not working. We need a radical rethink.”

Tweeting on 23rd of May late in the night, she argued  that the Western states needed a ‘final solution’ to the question of Islamic extremism. A line which Hopkins later returns to in order to re-word to ‘lasting solution’, but not before individuals immediately assumed her remark was one referencing the holocaust. This tweet and accompanying assumption would later result in not only petitions to have Hopkins dismissed from her role at LBC, but also lead to a pending investigation by the police after multiple reports from members of the public amid allegations of ‘Islamophobia’ and hate speech.

The public outcry against Hopkins demonstrates the effect of not falling into general consensus with the public, an act tantamount to a crime. Britain is increasingly becoming a country where the right to hate is being replaced by a right not to be offended.


Meanwhile, in Pakistan, outspoken individuals have  recently been sentenced to death for posts on social media in the Government’s continuation of crackdowns on those deemed ‘blasphemous’ via their opinions online or social groups. this included members of the Civil Progressive Alliance who were kidnapped and arrested under blasphemy laws. The continued application of blasphemy laws has placed Pakistan on Human Rights Watch observation for decades in light of the criminalisation of freedom of speech and expression. Western societies are themselves failing to uphold the values of freedom of expression and speech.

Freedom of speech in the West is being subjected to legal and moral asterisks with Journalists such as Mick Hume referring to it as a secular blasphemy. University campuses are subject to a significant amount of both ‘secular blasphemy’, with 65% of 115 reviewed universities deemed ‘severely restrictive’ of speech and a further third placed into an ‘amber’ threshold for restrictions. While the parties of the UK pay lip service to freedom of speech, what we notice is a failure to rally to the cause which has become a truly Western phenomenon. Restrictions and exceptions exist thereby rendering  certain positions impossible to criticise without inciting calls for censorship.

The works of John Stuart Mill are as relevant today as when they were first published in 1859. Mill stood apart from politicians and writers before him. Unlike others he centred his thinking on the practical application of philosophy in what we refer to as ‘Utilitarianism’, which sought the greatest measure of happiness for the largest number of people. His work ‘On Liberty’ holds individual freedom paramount, especially freedom of expression and speech. Mill’s ‘harm principle’ demonstrated the freedom of speech and the penultimate limit which is in causing harm to another.

The West is entering a trend of repressing opinions regarded as offensive according to a general consensus, referred to by Mill as the ‘tyranny of the majority’ which an industrialised population must be on guard against:

“Its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of social oppression” – On Liberty Pp.3

The situation unfolding with deaths in Pakistan and investigations against Katie Hopkins demonstrates a creeping tyranny powerful enough to instigate grassroots killings and police involvement for acts of expression. Mill among classical liberals observed a growing tyrannical behaviour and increased demand from a state to legislate against offensive speech and expression.

Tokyo’s Drift

Comment by Joseph Byrne: Defining a Japanese role in a changing world order.

In April Japan launched its only naval destroyer for the first time to assist the US warship USS Carl Vinson while crossing the Korean peninsula. This may not seem like a strong show of military force. Armies all around the world conduct joint operations frequently for mutual co-operation and security purposes, especially the USA. However, this action is part of a symbolic trend in recent years that puts Japanese Foreign Policy on a more offensive stance. Since 1945 Japan has been a pacifist nation. It has no nuclear weapons and its military spending was capped at 1%. Since 2015 however Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has removed this 1% cap and increased defence spending to a record level to almost 2.4% GDP while pushing for constitutional reform on defence. The Diet (Japanese parliament) also recognised a landmark re-interpretation of the pacifist Japanese constitution stating retaliation when under threat was acceptable form of aggression, something previously unthinkable.

All these signs point to a Japan that is uncertain of its once peaceful and stable place in the Liberal Democratic Order. But why is this? In an international system that is ever affected by other states actions Japan find itself adrift with its role in the world order. Besides America, Japan and Germany are seen to be the last vanguard of liberal democracy in 2017, yet find themselves with some distinct foreign policy challenges to secure its global standing in the world. These uncertainties come down to two main foreign policy issues. Increased aggression from North Korea and China and the possibility of a receding US presence in supporting the current liberal international order.

Most prominently, North Korea is Japan’s major worry. A seemingly reactionary nation hell-bent on producing a long range nuclear weapon would worry any nearby state but can be put down to smart international tactics by Kim-Jong-Un and he knows how to ramp up tension in the region. In mid-may (15th) a missile was launched landing in the Japanese sea, a rocket was also fired into the same region as Mike Pence was visiting Tokyo in April 2017 and these actions make Japan constantly aware that there is an aggressive power on their doorstep. But an important question all nations are asking is does Kim-Jong-Un know how to reduce pressure in the region when it is needed? Increasing tension between powers such as the US and North Korea are a worry for Japanese officials. Mainly because matters are increasingly being taken out of their hands while North Korea has continually motioned toward having South Korean capital Seoul as-well as Tokyo set in its sights if there ever was a conflict.

Amongst this major development is also the issue of Chinese territorial aggression in the Spratley Islands. Disputed waters, that have been built upon, now carry naval and military bases for Chinese forces close to Japanese territory and an increase in Chinese military capacity is ever-present. Adding to this is another long-running island dispute between Japan and Russia. A rapprochement that has been soured by Russia now naming the islands in late 2016, goes to show that good relations on the surface still may carry cause for concern.

So with China’s increasing military presence across the East China Sea, and North Korea shouting about nuclear capacity from over the Sea of Japan, can you blame Abe for being nervous? The dilemma that is faced is how then does Japan combat these local powers in an ever increasing unipolar international system?

In a bid to tackle issues such as North Korean aggression, diplomatic pragmatism has led to Japan hedging its bets in its international diplomacy. Interaction and affiliation with regimes that have deplorable human rights violations such as Duterte’s Philippines and Putin’s Russia have led to claims of damage to Japan’s moral standing in international affairs. Yet this is symptomatic of an increasingly common trend of states ‘hedging’. In recent years, accelerated by the role of President Trumps isolationist rhetoric, the US is longer seen as the only viable world power in an increasingly multipolar system.

Examples can be clearly seen, such as the US administration’s failure to keep up Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) in the South China Sea to challenge China’s internationally illegal claims of Spratly island ownership, with only one FONOP since Trump took office. This is significant as if the US becomes acquiescent to these claims, they become more legitimate, as no other power has the military capacity and ability to carry out FONOPS.

Furthermore, some states have begun to ‘hedge’ their bets to other increasingly powerful states such as Russia, China and Iran in the case that US power declines in East Asia. Japan, America’s greatest Asian ally, is a key example of this in practice. The uncertainty of the US role in sustaining the liberal international order, especially in Asia after the Obama administration’s policy ‘pivot’, could be unsettling for the region. This theory does have traction, as can be seen in the previous examples such as increasing cooperation with Russia. However, many of these current foreign policy worries are increasingly out of Japanese hands, and hedging is seemingly an example of tactics being used to rebalance the scales. Preparing for changes in the international system by building relationships that may have not been viable before.

The result of these developments can be seen as a challenge for the two main strands of Foreign Policy; diplomacy and military matters. 

Militarily, the factors mentioned above have led to a large increase in defence expenditure by Japan relative to previous years. Possible re-interpretation of the constitution combined with an increase in military spending is a significant change to a nearly 70-year norm. There is even speculation of the legitimacy of preemptive strikes against North Korea for self-defence. This shift presents a significant change for Japanese foreign policy from a previously pacifist nation to one that recognises the dangers and volatility of the international state system that is changing around them. Options are available for Japan to even acquire a nuclear weapon and could do so extremely quickly due to the US giving Japan ‘special’ treatment when dealing with fissile material. Overall this is Japan’s measured reaction not to be caught in a current of other states action, but be prepared to define its own place in a changing the world order.  

On the other hand, Japan can also re-invigorate its diplomatic legitimacy.
There are many avenues that could strengthen Japan’s position in the global order, for example if relations between Russia and US do become worse, Japan could be placed to be an ideal arbiter considering the recent Russian rapprochement and longstanding US alliance. The damaging effect that Abe’s pragmatism could have on Japanese diplomacy should not be overstated, but Japan should promote democratic liberal values, and speak out against nations whose human rights records are poor. It could also attempt to increase co-operation with China and Seoul economically and even exert pressure on a reluctant China against North Korea to push for a peaceful option, to ease the fears of Asian states and beyond.

Yet the need for policy to be robust in these uncertain times has led to a different policy from Shinzo Abe. The increase in defence spending is uncharacteristic but understandable, and with uncertainties in from Pyongyang and Washington on-going, Japan is set to continue hedging its bets hoping for more certainty in the future.



Haass , R. N., 2017. World Order 2.0. Foreign Affairs , 96(1).

Le, T., March 23rd 2017. The Price of Abe’s Pragmatism. Foreign Affairs .

Miller, J. B., March 15th 2017. Japan’s North Korea. Foreign Affairs.

Rapp-Hooper, M. & Edel, C., May 18th 2017. Adrift in the South China Sea. Foreign Affairs.

Walker , J. W. & Azuma , H., December 15th 2016. Mr Putin Goes to Japan. Foreign Affairs.

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Review: By Rian Whitton

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