Liberal or leftist?

Here's an interesting distinction for those like me who are plagued by ideologues who love to define other people by using undefined terms:

If you tend to regard America as a primarily flawed, evil, unjust, racist country (or at least when Republicans are running it), and most importantly, believe that the US is the primary threat to world peace internationally, then you are a leftist, and not a liberal..... (Via Donald Sensing.)
Donald Sensing offers much more, including these brilliant insights from Michael Totten :
Broadly defined, a liberal is a person who believes in social, political, and economic freedom. In the United States, both major parties are liberal. Most members of both support democracy, civil and human rights, and a market economy. ...

Each party is more liberal than the other in certain ways. ... Both parties champion freedom in different ways, and they do it on principle. Both parties have different liberal priorities, but theyíre both generally liberal. ...

A liberal (substitute with Democrat if you want to) believes in reform. And a leftist supports revolution. Liberals (Democrats) are the left-wing of the Establishment. Leftists are radicals who seek to overthrow the Establishment (either through violence or the ballot box) and replace it with something else. ...

Liberals see America as the land of opportunity and freedom. Leftists see America as the bastion of Imperialism, Racism, and Oppression.

Liberals want higher taxes on the rich because itís fairer to the middle and working classes. Leftists want to soak the rich out of class hatred.

Liberals want universal access to health care while leaving the system as market-driven as possible. Leftists would destroy the health care industry altogether and replace it with a state-run monopoly.

Liberals want to ban clear-cutting. Leftists want to ban the logging industry.

Liberals support globalization and trade and see it as an opportunity for economic growth and also as an opportunity to boost labor and environmental standards in the Third World. Leftists hate trade because they think itís all about the West raping the rest.

Liberals blame the September 11 attacks on religious and political extremism in the Middle East. Leftists blame the September 11 attacks on America.

Donald Sensing (whose post is a must-read) concludes,
liberals affirm while the Left despises the idea of America.
According to the above, I am a liberal. The problem is that so are many conservatives. Yet many who call themselves liberals call anyone who fits the above definition (but who is not a leftist) a "conservative." And many who call themselves conservatives use the terms "liberal" and "leftist" interchangeably to describe anyone who doesn't agree with them on every point.

The problem is that if Sensing is correct that "today's conservatism is awfully similar to JFK liberalism, and much of today's liberalism is similar to old-style conservatism" then the labels are losing any true meaning.

Which means that open-minded Americans -- who agree that freedom is a good thing and America is a good country -- can find much in common.

(Including, unfortunately, the fact that they'll be attacked by ideologues who hate open minds, and love false dichotomies....)

UPDATE: In a timely and related post, Jeff Jarvis debunks the Culture War as a product of politicians as well as the wishful imagination of journalists, and concludes by asking why these manufactured divisions prevent big story from being reported:

But there is still a big story to be reported and written here: Are we really a nation divided? And if not -- and I see evidence here that we are not -- then how did this become the accepted wisdom of media and politics? Who benefits from this chronic illusion of internal war? Who helped foster this myth? What questions did reporters and editors fail to ask? When we concentrate on disagreements in a democracy, are we painting democracy as a failure? But when we concentrate on the agreements in a democracy, don't we instead paint a picture of the shared values of the nation?

And why aren't media reporting -- admiting -- today that we are a nation? Just that: A nation.

We are America. Today, of all times -- as others attack us because we are American -- it is vital that we acknowledge our nationhood and define it, not out of patriotism or ethnicity (we have none) but as a matter of principle, the principle we are defending and fighting for.

We are not a nation divided. Hell, we are not even a world divided. Most Americans, most people, are just people trying to get through a day and a life and do the decent thing and improve their future and avoid politics. It is a mistake -- it is a damned and dangerous lie -- to paint the extremists as normal, whether those extremists are of political or religious.

We're not red v. blue. We're Americans. It's the world vs. America. It's Islamic nut jobs vs. America.

There's the story that needs reporting. (Via InstaPundit.)

I'm very tempted to say "Amen."

posted by Eric on 06.13.04 at 02:28 PM


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» REPUBLICAN IS NOT A CURSE WORD from The Clique Chronicle
In America, there has always been distrust between the two parties; politics has manifested waves of partisanship. Now more than ever, the growing divide has separated the country, so much, that the levels of repulsion have been brought into... [Read More]
Tracked on June 16, 2004 1:04 PM


I have my own view on liberalism, and I think it agrees very much so with the ideas of Donald Sensing. My blog is entitled "This Liberal" because, while many would call me conservative, I consider my liberal in the sense of supporting liberty. Indeed, I call myself a classical liberal. So, "This Liberal" is the world according to this liberal, a rightist, capitalist, radical, socially traditional liberal. I have my own post on the confusing nature of terms in political debate here.

Nate Cardon   ·  June 14, 2004 1:01 AM

I think a liberal in the Sensing sense is someone who has been duped by the leftists into helping to undermine the Republic.

LarryH   ·  June 14, 2004 3:18 AM

I don't see that in the definition of liberal in the classical sense; in any case being duped is not a definition of liberal or conservative; there are plenty of dupes across the spectrum. In my view the worst dupes of all are those whose thoughts are not their own.

Eric Scheie   ·  June 14, 2004 7:12 AM

Another extremely interesting spectrumological essay! Thank you!

Liberals vs. Leftists? Yes. E.g., Dean Esmay is a Liberal but not a Leftist. You, Eric Scheie, are a Liberal in the true and noble sense, as is Jeff Soyer and a few other bloggers and blogresses I admire.

I broke completely with the Left after 9/11/2001, and seem to have moved further to the Right with each passing day. 9/11, the viciousness of the socialists/Communists at Atrios toward Arthur Silber when he was in need, and a couple times I myself have been flamed by Leftists on blogs, all have hardened my Right-Wing-ism or my contempt for the Left. Also, Santorum and the reactions to Lawrence & Garner vs. Tax-Ass drove me even further to the Right on many spectrums, i.e., more elitist.

Before 9/11/2001, I called myself sort of a Birchite Wobbly. Now, I seem to be just increasingly Birchite. Jeffrey Rosen's vile attack on Lawrence & Garner in "The New Republic" caused me to have THIRD thoughts about the New Deal and its effect on jurisprudence.

For me, the crucial difference between a Leftist vs. a Liberal is on the issue of free speech. I refuse to call anyone a Liberal if he/she tolerates censorship, Political Correctness, speech codes, "hate speech" laws, etc.. That's where I draw the line.

Nate Cordon: Thank you for your extremely interesting spectrumology. Indeed, I myself have long thought that the opposite of Liberal is Authoritarian, and the opposite of Conservative is Radical. Ties in with Samuel Brittan's spectrum, and and also with that of Fred N. Kerlinger, who argued that Liberal and Conservative are orthogonal rather than antonymic.

I consider myself both Liberal and Conservative. In my youth, I called myself a Radical, but increasingly I call myself a Conservative, and tend to use Radical to describe my enemies. E.g., anybody who wants to eradicate homosexuality is a Radical. A Conservative wants to conserve homosexuality as well as heterosexuality.

I have also always called myself a Reactionary. I love that word, all that it connotes. When I first saw it, I asked my father what it meant and he said it means someone who wants to go back to the past. _I_ wanted to go back to the past, to ancient Egypt!

It reminds me of what H. L. "Bill" Richardson wrote in "Slightly To The Right" (1965): we must "recapture our words". I've noted for some time that there's sort of a division of labor here: Dean Esmay calls himself "Liberal" and calls Leftists "Reactionaries". I call myself "Conservative" and call my enemies on the Right "Radicals".

I define a Liberal as one who defends Individual Freedom. I define a Conservervative as one who defends Divine Order.

Most facinating about it all.... Interesting questions.... Spectrums, spectrums, spectrums, spectrums.... I love spectrums. Spectrums I do love.

Asthete: depending on how you define it, someone who "defends Divine Order" may be a conservative, or may be a reactionary. A conservative is merely someone who greets possible changes with skepticism, and recognizes that newer is not always better, that, to quote Tolkein, "The old that is strong does not wither/Deep roots are not reached by the frost."

Raging Bee   ·  June 15, 2004 9:19 AM

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