Liberalism, defined conservatively....

It's becoming very difficult to discuss politics at all without being shouted at or called names, or being lumped into one or more odious categories (usually by self-appointed spokespeople for one category or another).

Any discussion of politics is hamstrung by what can only be called fanatic devotion to a showdown between an increasingly shrill left, and an increasingly "religious" (a term I use for lack of any alternative, save "fundamentalist") right. This showdown is motivated by the desire of both loud minorities to make America "choose" between two sides the majority don't wish to choose: fundamentalism or Marxism. The 9/11 attacks initially united most Americans, but the seeds of the present nastiness were planted right at the beginning, when defensive leftists as as well as defensive fundamentalists blamed America for the attack. (Not surprising, considering that the ferocious fundamentalism of the America's new enemies was matched only by their slick utilization of anti-American multiculturalism.)

It has been all too easy for both parties to go with this flow. Thus, we are increasingly seeing the emergence of the shrill Party of God versus the equally shrill Party of Michael Moore -- both of which, by their incessant noise, make it as easy as possible to mutually characterize the two loudest noises as the only two choices.

That Americans don't want to be run by the Party of God or the Party of Marx/Moore/Foucault is not only irrelevant, it's become an opportunity, because when the majority is turned off, the minorities run amok.

I wish I could see a solution, but I don't. Goldwater Republicans and Lieberman Democrats have lost out, because they are liberal in the classical sense, and classical liberalism is no longer on the political chart.

The following is not my definition of political liberalism, but it comes from a dictionary written when the word liberal was definable. When being liberal did not mean atheist, communist, RINO, DINO or mealy-mouthed, easily-manipulated sellout. For what it's worth, here it is:

Not bound by authority, or orthodox tenets, or established forms in political or religious philosophy; independent in opinion; not conservative; often often specif., having tendency towards democratic or republican, as opposed to monarchical or aristocratic, forms; as liberal thinkers, liberal Christians, liberal ideas in politics; -- hence [cap.], adopted as the designation of of political parties in some countries, notably England. In England the designation of liberal was first applied in the first quarter of the 19th century to the more radical elements of the Whig party, with an element of reproach, but soon supplanted Whig both as an adjective and a noun, as, about 1830, Conservative supplanted Tory, the earlier names being reserved for the conservative minority in each party. See CONSERVATIVE, adj., 4. RADICAL, adj., 3. TORY, 3; UNIONIST, 2 c, WHIG.
Syn. -- LIBERAL, GENEROUS, BOUNTIFUL, MUNIFICENT. As applied to living, LIBERAL suggests freedom or abundance, GENEROUS emphasizes the idea of a warm-hearted readiness to give; as, a liberal (cf. a generous) provision for one's needs; a liberal offer, a generous portion. Liberal also suggests freedom from prejudice or narrowness; generous, magnanimity, esp. in judging; as liberal opinions, liberal in one's religious views; a generous opponent; generous in praise of a rival. BOUNTIFUL suggests abounding liberality; MUNIFICENT, splendid or princely generosity; as "a worthy gentleman.... as bountiful as mines of India" (Shak.): "Lady Bountiful" (Farquhar); a munificent endowment. Cf. PLENTIFUL, PROFUSE.
Ant. -- Stingy, grudging, mean, narrow, bigoted. See PARSIMONIOUS. Webster's New International Dictionary (Second Ed., 1958), at 1424.
Note that the word "CONSERVATIVE" is not listed as an antonym. That's because its definition ("having power or tendency to preserve in a safe or entire state; conserving, preservative") does not absolutely preclude the possibility that one could be liberal in some respects and conservative in others.

Not today!

Obviously, words change. (Interesting discussion here.) Liberal is no longer liberal, and conservative is no longer conservative. But changing definitions don't change human nature, and there are still plenty of liberal thinkers ("not bound by authority, or orthodox tenets, or established forms in political or religious philosophy; independent in opinion") in the United States.

Such people are like fish out of water.

Maybe that's why so many of them are ready to walk.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: Factor in morality and things get even more complicated. Whether morality is liberal or conservative (or right wing or left wing) depends on much more than one's personal morality. Amazingly, one can be very conservative morally (even a total prude), yet not be considered a moral conservative. By today's standards, "moral conservatism" has little to do with personal morality. Unless one wishes the government to dictate moral standards (including, if necessary, by the use of force), it is unlikely that the dominant moral conservative ideologists will allow one to make a claim of being a "moral conservative." (You can be, for example, personally opposed to pornography, and even hate it, but unless you believe that the government should imprison people for it, you'll be called "pro-pornography" and a "moral relativist." On the other hand, you can be a drug-taking hedonist, and as long as you insist that these activities be criminalized, you're a moral conservative. You're judged not by what you do, but by what you'd force others to do.)

posted by Eric on 06.22.04 at 05:50 PM


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Liberalism, defined conservatively....:

» What is a Liberal? What is a Conservative? from Jim Lynch: On the Soapbox
Eric at Classical Values has some interesting thoughts on this. For my part, I resist using the word "liberal" to describe today's leftists as much as possible. The meaning of the word has changed and it simply isn't accurate to use for the... [Read More]
Tracked on June 23, 2004 12:37 AM


"This showdown is motivated by the desire of both loud minorities to make America "choose" between two sides the majority don't wish to choose: fundamentalism or Marxism."

You're right about the noise. And the noise is brought to us by the media. And the media won't shy away from a good, loud fight. The more flaming the better. An argument's not an argument unless it's inciteful and capable of stoking the fire.

But I live in two worlds. There's the one in front of the TV and the headlines and the computer screen. I visit that world from time to time, yell at the talking head, laugh at the ridiculous position, shake my head at the gross misrepresentation and nod in complete agreement with a shared opinion.

I also work with several hundred people, in a neighborhood of several hundred more. They don't talk about this stuff much. They have jobs to go to, groceries to pick up, ball games to get everyone to. In the end, it will be the man they respect, in an economy that gets the paycheck at least to Thursday, in a country they remain stubornly loyal to. There are no links or parsing or fisking. The battle is truly blue and red these days. The hinterland and suburbs against the unions and population density of the intercity.

So flail away at the theocratic and socialistic debate, but come up for air from time to time. So you know, we discussed the changing nature of liberal and conservative in class 30 years ago.

RD   ·  June 23, 2004 7:27 AM

Excellent and fascinating once again.

As I see it, liberal and conservative are not opposites but two different dimensions of a spectrum, orthogonal to each other. The real opposites, the real dualism, is individualist vs. collectivist.

April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Search the Site


Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link


Recent Entries


Site Credits