What bothers you most about liberals

"Women's quotas are a degradation of women." - "It's nice that a man explains that to me." Nicolas Rimoldi and Laura Zimmermann in dispute

You are young and both describe yourself as liberal. Nevertheless, the co-president of Operation Libero and the head of the Corona measures critics of "Mass-Voll" think completely different. What they have in common is the criticism of the FDP.

Laura Zimmermann and Nicolas A. Rimoldi have only met on Twitter so far. There they have mastered their subject. Both like to provoke, both of them appeal to liberalism. Yet many of their positions couldn't be further apart.

Zimmermann, 29 years old, works for the Zurich communications agency Rod and has chaired Operation Libero for five years. The non-party led, among other things, the successful campaigns against the No-Billag bill as well as the SVP self-determination and termination initiative.

Rimoldi, 26 years old, responsible for marketing and online editing at the “Swiss Month”, founded the “Mass-Voll” association at the end of February. In it he gathers young critics of the corona measures. Rimoldi is a member of the FDP - “still”, as he emphasizes.

In the NZZ editorial office on Falkenstrasse in Zurich, the two unequal, young liberals meet for the first time for a dispute. The topics: freedom, equality, Corona and the FDP.

Would you describe your counterpart as liberal, Ms. Zimmermann?

Carpenter: There is such a thing as a liberal extended family, and Nicolas certainly has his place in it. But the two of us are very distant relatives (laughs).

What do you have in common?

Carpenter: We both believe in liberalism. We just define it very differently. In my opinion, it is also good that there are different liberal currents. Such discussions fertilize and strengthen the liberal movement.

Do you also see your counterpart as part of the liberal family, Mr. Rimoldi?

Rimoldi: Laura has quite a few liberal views. For example in social politics. Much like marriage for everyone or cannabis legalization, which we both advocate. Or in the condemnation of totalitarian regimes like China. For me, however, liberalism is like Jerusalem, indivisible. You can't just be socially liberal, but not economically liberal.

They see themselves as representatives of pure doctrine.

Rimoldi: I cultivate a classically negative concept of freedom: liberalism as a right of defense against overriding authorities, be it monopoly large corporations or state institutions. For Laura and Operation Libero, however, the state is there to create opportunities.

In the political science course, first semester, you learn the difference between positive and negative freedom, the "freedom to" or the "freedom from". Is the location correct, Ms. Zimmermann?

Carpenter: Basically yes. I would like to defend myself against an allegation. I, too, find that social and economic policy are mutually dependent in liberalism. However, I am less strict about weighting than Nicolas. It is based heavily on the old FDP slogan "More freedom, less state"; this then quickly takes on libertarian, anti-subversive features. On the other hand, I advocate a liberalism that supports the state, but is also critical of the state.

Which is more difficult to convey. "Operation Liberallalla" is what you call your opponents.

Carpenter: Our positions may sometimes be perceived as a balancing act. The criticism also has to do with the fact that we are a movement and not a classic party. Our methods are new and successful. So have some trouble.

Rimoldi: I perceive Operation Libero primarily as an anti-SVP association. You have also been referred to as a left fighting force. You are the child the SP wanted: the better Juso. Left politics, painted liberally.

Carpenter: This is the old attempt, which the media also repeatedly try, to push us into the left corner. At the same time, we are portrayed from the left as neoliberal monsters. As long as we're somewhere in the middle, that's okay. On the other hand, I perceive your positions as rather rigid.

Rimoldi: Liberalism must be non-conformist and straightforward, hyphenated, regardless of party or business interests. You, on the other hand, represent a feel-good liberalism that can only be afforded in good economic times. This showed, for example, your irresponsible commitment to state-mandated paternity leave. Raising children is the matter of the individual; the state has to stay out of that.

Carpenter: First, we were not at the forefront of paternity leave; I personally advocate parental leave. Second, when compared to other European countries, Switzerland is an absolutely backward country in terms of family policy. The ideal in legislation is still the classic two-way relationship, in which the woman takes care of bringing up the children. Men and women do not have the same launch pad here.

You emphasize equality, not a classic liberal concern, right?

Rimoldi: A liberal would never orient his policy towards an idealistic man of unity. My ideal is a different one: every individual should be able to realize themselves regardless of social constructs, skin color, gender, etc.

Carpenter: My goodness! We have no difference whatsoever. For me it is simply clear that the meritocracy cannot fix it when it comes to equality between men and women. And that's because the framework - be it tax or social policy - is based on an outdated role model.

How do you feel about quotas, for example on company boards?

Carpenter: Quotas are of course not a nice thing in terms of regulatory policy. But especially when it comes to the issue of gender equality, I have come to the conclusion that we will not get any further. It is important that the quotas only apply temporarily.

Rimoldi: I see myself confirmed in my assumption: left politics, painted liberally. . .

Carpenter: Oh what do you know You are not a woman

Rimoldi: We have to stop reducing people to their gender. We are all individuals with different abilities. Women's quotas are a degradation of women and a step backwards in the long, great struggle for equality in our country. Read Iris von Roten, «Women in the Playpen». Everything is in there. There is no need for state support for women.

Carpenter: Nice that a man explains that to me. Many Thanks.

You mentioned the old FDP battle cry "More freedom, less state". Today there are some free-minded people who wish the slogan had never been uttered.

Rimoldi: But that says more about the state of today's FDP than about the truthfulness of the slogan from back then.

Nevertheless: Liberal politics today are perceived by many as cold, heartless, unfair. Everyone is the maker of his or her luck, and those who did not get a good start are just unlucky.

Rimoldi: A strong state is needed in certain areas. For example when it comes to social assistance for the one percent of the population that really needs the help. Unlike many Operation Libero people, I myself do not come from a wealthy FDP household. . .

Carpenter: My mother was a kindergarten teacher, my father a notary. I grew up privileged, but I'm not wealthy and certainly not neglected. It is important that you are aware of your privileges here in Switzerland and try to give something back to society.

Rimoldi: At home there were times when every franc was turned over twice. We had to make sure that we had enough food on the table.

How did you come to liberalism with this biography? Today liberal politics is often seen as a project by and for elites.

Rimoldi: Even as a small child, I found the state to be a hindrance. Taxes, fees and charges are increasing and are a burden on households with a low budget. Such restrictions hinder Switzerland as a country of opportunity. My parents were apolitical, but they conveyed these values ​​to me. But my family history shaped me in particular: my grandfather fought the communists on the streets in Hungary in 1956. A generation earlier was killed by the Nazis for refusing to collaborate. The examples showed me what can happen when states and authorities in general are given too much power.

Did you also have a liberal awakening moment, Ms. Zimmermann?

Carpenter: My politicization only really took place during my studies. I studied European law and dealt very fundamentally with Switzerland's relations with the EU. For me, any purpose of liberal politics must be to strengthen the autonomy and dignity of the individual. The demand for “less state” falls short here. The state can be a peacemaker, it can alleviate social hardship. Ultimately, it is about setting the right framework conditions. In this context, liberalism is always chasing its own promise: equality and freedom for all is an ideal that will never be achieved. But we should get closer to it. Liberalism as a constant progress project, that's how I see it.

Rimoldi: Thank you for this cascade of clichés. I have read all of these sayings on your website. But liberalism needs more than beautiful, provocative posters and pointed tweets, as you secret them. . .

Carpenter: What are you doing other than provoking and tweeting?

Rimoldi: I do basic work in the communities and cities, I collect signatures, try to convince people, start projects at the lowest level. You only get involved when the opinions have already been made. You never rush forward, you spread beautiful marketing messages.

Carpenter: Isn't it true at all! Of course we also do basic work. For example, we have only just collected signatures for the referendum against the Federal Law on Police Measures to Combat Terrorism (PMT) - an awful law from a liberal point of view. By the way, we're on the same side.

Rimoldi: That's true. I am curious how you will act in the next few weeks until the vote, and I will be happy to be surprised.

"Your liberal paradise does not correspond to reality." - «My concern is to defend our fundamental rights.»

One of the fundamental questions that have preoccupied us for over a year and that particularly challenge liberals is how the state deals with Corona. First your brief thoughts on three points of contention, first: the mask requirement.

Rimoldi: I find it incapacitating. Everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to wear a mask or not.

You consistently do not wear them yourself - even in places where it would be mandatory.

Rimoldi: I have a medical certificate. Their own health is actually nobody's business.

Mask refusers accept that they endanger others.

Rimoldi: Where do we draw the line? Shouldn't we then also have to wear a mask during the flu season or with other rampant, less serious illnesses? I stand for proportionality.

How do you see it, Ms. Zimmermann?

Carpenter: I would have been happy if the appeals to personal responsibility had helped and if, for example, people had voluntarily wore masks in public transport from the start. But, as is well known, that did not happen. The fact that, like certain Corona skeptics, you put your own feelings above the common good is not a liberal, but an anti-social position for me. I don't mind wearing a mask. Protect masks, period.

Second example: What do you think of mass tests such as in the canton of Graubünden?

Carpenter: If such regular tests are well founded - and they are - it makes a lot of sense. But politics must provide good arguments so that the population supports the measures. Testing makes sense and is important in overcoming the pandemic. We do not defeat Corona with an attitude of refusal.

Rimoldi: The Federal Council lost an incredible amount of trust in the past year. Mass tests are another helpless, illegitimate encroachment on civil liberties. Costs a lot, but brings nothing. In any case, the liberal Swiss federal state with Corona is in its biggest crisis of all. Our fundamental rights are massively restricted for reasons that are unacceptable.

Occasional tests and a mask requirement are relatively minor interventions, aren't they?

Rimoldi: Interventions must be proportionate. Otherwise the state will no longer be credible.

Third keyword: compulsory vaccination. Is it necessary if too few people are responsible for vaccinating themselves?

Rimoldi: Everyone who wants should get vaccinated. A mandatory vaccination is absolutely to be rejected. The core of liberalism is the integrity of one's body. We cannot compromise here.

Carpenter: I see the same for once. However, the legal situation is also such that compulsory vaccination cannot easily be introduced.

The last year has shown that suddenly a lot is possible. . .

Carpenter: Yes, but a mask requirement and a vaccination requirement cannot be compared. With the latter, much higher legal interests would be affected.

Here, too, the fundamental question is: What restrictions can or should the state impose in order to protect the health of its citizens?

Rimoldi: At the beginning of the pandemic, very many stayed at home voluntarily and hardly saw any other people. Now we know more about the virus. And each individual has found their way of dealing with the potential or actual danger. Each individual can be trusted to know best how to best deal with his or her life, his health and his fellow human beings. The state cannot patronize the population.

Nevertheless, it does this quite naturally in many other areas, for example in road traffic. The mandatory belt system has saved many lives since it was introduced in 1980.

Carpenter: That’s what it’s really about. Your liberal paradise, Nicolas, does not correspond to reality. Not all of them use their freedom wisely. Without state intervention, the law of the strongest would apply; everyone looks for himself. That can not be. Corona is a good example: As a healthy young person, you selfishly decide that the virus is safe for you, so you do nothing. To the suffering of the older generation and the risk groups. You don't care. You accept - pointedly - that people will die because of your freedom.

Rimoldi: I find such personal attacks below the belt impossible. I want to defend our fundamental rights. A concern that should actually be important to every liberal. Incidentally, I am not in favor of a right of the stronger. Nobody wants an unrestrained economy without ethics. But it should be the task of the state to protect the integrity of the individual.

This is exactly how the Federal Council justified the corona measures. He wanted to prevent the collapse of the health system and save human lives. The chilling example was the overcrowded hospitals in northern Italy.

Rimoldi: Many of the fear scenarios that scientists initially operated with did not materialize. Violations of fundamental rights must be very well founded. If we had a virus with a higher mortality rate, the starting point would be different. However, this is not the case with the coronavirus. Nevertheless, there has been an uncanny shift in power in Switzerland from the individual to the Federal Council and other institutions. With this we are driving the successful model of Switzerland against the wall in a hyperventilating and irrational way. The national debt is increasing every minute. Society is increasingly drifting apart. We liberals should limit ourselves to the barricades and the power of the authorities as quickly as possible.

Carpenter: I don't see that society is just drifting apart. On the contrary. Above all, I experience a young generation who for the most part show very solidarity. Although they experience the most important restrictions. It is insane “bad luck” to be young at the moment. Where we agree: The restrictions on fundamental rights must be reversed. But only as soon as the pandemic allows. The shift in power that you denounce bothers me too. But it is democratically legitimized - for extraordinary emergencies like this one. I have no understanding for politicians like you, who show such great impatience and so little resilience in such a situation. I find the disapproval of scientific knowledge, as it is heard from right-wing and libertarian circles, extremely dangerous. We are all Corona-tired, but we cannot prevent a third wave by doing nothing.

Rimoldi: Totalitarian measures such as the lockdowns that have taken place cause enormous damage: economic, psychological, political, social. We see that now. And they are out of proportion to the benefit.We are losing a whole generation, apprenticeships and prospects are missing. We act in solidarity if we lift all coercive measures immediately. This is the only way to prevent even greater suffering.

Carpenter: It is a liberal, complex love triangle. If we now open everything mindlessly, third parties will be harmed. It is about a central liberal principle: the freedom of the individual ends where the freedom of the other is violated.

Rimoldi: Oh, so many civil liberties are being violated right now. Doesn't that really bother you?

Carpenter: Of course I see that, but sometimes the situation is more complicated than you would like it to be. I do not want to be in the shoes of the Federal Council and other responsible persons who have to make these difficult trade-offs every day.

Trench warfare in the left camp is legendary and waged to the blood. Keyword: Who betrayed us - the Social Democrats. You don’t give yourself anything either. As a liberal umbrella party, does the FDP need a better culture of debate in order to get ahead?

Rimoldi: Personally, I have seen firsthand how one deals with deviant attitudes, especially in freedom. Anyone who campaigns for freedom, real freedom, in the FDP is ostracized, excluded and harassed. I see that as highly problematic. The FDP is digging her grave, today she is on her deathbed through her own fault. There are more and more spin-offs - Operation Libero, but “moderate” can also be added. All these splinter groups no longer feel at home in the big bracket FDP.

Why is that?

Rimoldi: The FDP is becoming less and less able to cope with the challenges of today, it is overwhelmed by them. The PMT and the question of the framework agreement with the EU are tragic examples. Instead of building bridges to different exponents of liberalism, but also to other groups, the party leadership tries to stifle the discussion.

Carpenter: There we find each other for once. In my opinion, the FDP is not on the deathbed, but there is undoubtedly a great need for reform. A reality comparison is necessary. The latest election results, for example in the former liberal stronghold of Solothurn, should give food for thought. As a liberal, it hurts me to see the state of the once proud party today. And this, although I am not a member myself. But I know some long-standing members who are no longer sure whether they are still in the right party.

How is things going up again?

Carpenter: Freedom has to give young, innovative people a chance. The older generation doesn't seem very open to it and clings to outdated structures. That hinders the urgently needed renewal. Then a relentless analysis is needed: What developments has the FDP missed? Freedom got stuck in a lot in the 1980s. The party has no answers to the complexities and changes that globalization brings with it. There is a lack of clever ideas and visions. However, I would like to mention a positive counterexample: the launch of the initiative for individual taxation. Here we have succeeded in providing a contemporary impetus. That should happen much more often. Otherwise the FDP will never regain its old strength.

Rimoldi: The problem analysis is correct. The FDP is acting discouraged today. The will to shape things is weak, the executive suite is primarily concerned with maintaining power. The party leadership's slalom course in corona, climate or European policy is irritating. You can't preach one day and the next. That is unbelievable.

Carpenter: Ultimately, it shows how divided the party is at the moment. It would be all the more important to have an open discussion about the fundamental questions.

We tried to do that with this conversation.

Rimoldi: Personally, I would like more grassroots democracy, more openness to divergent opinions and a clearer line: back to the old liberal values.

Carpenter: Freedom needs troublemakers. We as Operation Libero try to be that, you too, to a certain extent, with “Mass-Voll”. We give impulses from completely different sides, unfortunately they often fade away.