The definitive guide to political labels, what we think they mean, what they really mean and what they should mean...
People may not have noticed, but I more or less stopped using the label "liberal" when describing my ideological opponents.
After years of listening to liberals claim that they want freedom, that they want equality, that they want fairness, that they want peace...it dawned on me that, hey! I want those things too. So then, am I a liberal?
I've read through many definitions of liberals and they were pretty much all over the place. A quick stop on Wikipedia, however, describes two sides to liberalism. The first seems like a set-up for modern conservatism:
Classical liberalism emphasizes free private enterprise, individual property rights, generally laissez-faire freedom of contract, and oppose a welfare state. Classical liberals support equality before the law and and hold that economic inequality, arising naturally from competition in the free market, does not justify forced wealth redistribution.
Dictionary.com somewhat completes the picture for conservatives like me by describing conservatism as maintaining traditional order and as "a political or theological orientation advocating the preservation of the best in society and opposing radical changes." In a way, conservatism exists to preserve liberalism.
The second passage on liberalism describes more aptly what we in political debate would call liberalism today, or what I now lovingly refer to as 'leftism':
New liberals advocate a greater degree of government influence to protect individual rights (in a broad sense), often in the form of anti-discrimination laws. New liberals support universal education, and many also support welfare, including benefits for the unemployed, housing for the homeless, and medical care for the sick, all supported by progressive taxation.So the theories of liberalism have really spread across the ideological spectrum, to the left and the right. Conservatives seemed to have taken the best, most American principles of classical liberalism and the left have taken what has remained.
It's as if the left has extracted the thin and transparent political correctness fluid out of classical liberalism and redesigned an ideology around a fed, yet hungry, newly empowered political correctness: equality is manipulated into affirmative action; free-enterprise has evolved into socialism; property-rights comes with it's own political foreclosure policy; individualism has morphed into victimization through various forms of class warfare like gender, racial, ethnic, economic - is there any geopolitical example in America that isn't wrought with injustice, prejudice and suffering? Oh, that only government can solve, of course?
A classical liberal would believe in peace through strength, unconditionally support our efforts over those of our enemies and keep government out of the boardroom and the bedroom. So why are we calling leftist activists and politicians "liberal"?
After the years of complaints from the left over the label "liberal", I propose a sweeping change to our discourse that should please both sides: I call on all conservatives to cease using the term liberal to label a person of the left. As far as I'm concerned, that's as much our label as it is theirs. And they don't want it. On more than one occasion, I've read a leftist sneering at the word liberal, stating something along the lines of how liberalism has become a dirty word. Well yes, unfortunately, it's been perverted to become a label for dirty things.
I'll still call myself a conservative. Go ahead - call me a right-winger or a neocon...whatever works for you. In my play book, the two warring ideological factions in the United States are conservatism and leftism. But I may call myself a liberal from time-to-time, just for kicks...
Now I know that some people (usually alleged liberals and the 'unaffiliated') oppose the idea of using labels to describe your opponents. It's odd that many of the same people who use labels like 'women' and 'black' to determine who they will support for president are also the ones who decry the use of labels or the use of "liberal" to label them.
Me? I think labels are fine and appropriate. And if they are mis-used, then correct the person who labeled you. I've been labeled a member of the 'Christian-Right' so many times, I've woven it all together to create a carrying bag for my Koran.
Gotcha! Actually, I'm really an agnostic (a reluctant atheist, if you will). Without the use of labels, I wouldn't be able to shock the left time and time again in announcing my non-religious background. It only shows, when you do label someone, know what you're talking about or be prepared to be corrected. When I talk to strangers opposed to the war, I try and refer to them as anti-war in some manner. It's only when it becomes more honest do I pull out the terms leftist and socialist.
Labels help us understand each other and ourselves. So my questions to you are, rather than applying labels on each other, you tell us what you are. Taking the many faces of liberalism into play, are you yourself a liberal? A liberal following an adjective of some sort? A liberal, but..." A leftist? A conservative? A moderate? (yeah, me too) A Bushatist (yeah, I'm pretty sure that's an ideology) Other? And are you being completely honest in labeling yourself?
If you are known to identify yoursef as a liberal, please explain why.