Thursday, February 15, 2007


I just read an article which dealt with German politics, where the word "liberals" was used. The author, for the benefit of his American readers, appended "(classical)" to the description, though a German would not need that clarification.

I am the son of a self-identified "conservative," and as such, there was a time in my life when I was hostile to "liberals" and "liberalism." I regarded them as the enemies of traditional American freedom. I considered them just one step sort of Communists. I grew up thinking I would be a Republican. I was aware of a time when "Liberal" referred to American heroes, like Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and so on. So far as I (and most Americans) knew, that word ceased to mean anything worthwhile, being more synonymous with "socialist" in the present age. And so it has been, in America.

As a citizen of the Internet, I am now aware that Other Countries Exist. Not only that, but they have people in them! And those people have political dynamics that differ from the dynamics I am accustomed to. One thing I long ago discovered is that people in other countries still use the word "Liberal" in the "classical" sense. What I have only recently fully appreciated is that The United States is the ONLY place in the world where the word "Liberal" has been so fully corrupted.

Take Gun Control, as an example. In the US, a liberal favors gun control. The British people I have met regard gun control as something a liberal would oppose. American liberals seem to have contempt for the idea of free enterprise. The Liberal Party in Australia regards free enterprise as an unmitigated good. An "ultra-liberal" in France is a proponent of lassiz-faire capitalism. In the US, the party regarded as the original party of Classical Liberalism, the Democratic Party, mutated into America's exponent of left-wing socialism. In Austria, the Freedom Party, the closest thing to a Liberal political party I could find on Wikipedia, is said to have mutated into an exponent of right-wing populism. In short, Liberalism is synonymous with Socialism in America, only.

I think I know why. America is unique in the broad base of support Liberal ideas had at the time Socialism was becming popular in Europe, and unique in the degree of popular opposition Socialism had in the U.S. In Europe and elsewhere, "Socialist" is not a dirty word, and "Liberal" is not a worship word. It is only in the United States that proponents of socialism--that is, economic totalitarianism--found the greatest advantage corrupting the word "liberal." Everywhere else, they can simply call themselves "socalists" and win elections under that name. And I suspect "conservatives" willingly gave up that word because the freedom they valued, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other documents of traditional Americana, could be covered under the word "conservatism," and by abandoning the word "liberal" they could also continue to practice another tradition of theirs Liberalism has always been opposed to (even as it gave birth to it): racism.

I am heartened by the fact that many American so-called liberals are now calling themselves by another name: Progressives. Progressivism, in it's heyday in the early twentieth century, was always a nexus of authoritarianism, elitism, racism, eugenics--basically an American version of the disease that swept Europe at around the same time, admired by such people as Adolf Hitler (though most Americans aren't aware of this). Should they relinquish the term Liberal, it may be much easier for people like myself, who believe in both equality and economic liberty, to reclaim the word that is rightfully ours. Given that the rest of the world already accepts this conception of Liberalism, it might be easier than most Americans might think.

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