Thursday, April 06, 2006

Are You a Liberal?

This is a great piece by Dean Esmay over at Dean’s World about what it means to be a liberal. I think it explains why I still associate with the term. Enjoy!

Are You a Liberal?
One of my war cries for the last couple of years has been, "The Left isn't Liberal!" Most people look at me like I'm daft when I say that, but many so-called "right-wingers," who are actually quite liberal themselves, know exactly what I mean.
If you look at any decent dictionary...
...you'll find that "liberal" is generally defined as the American Heritage dictionary defines it:

1) Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
2) Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded

Notice what that definition does not say. It says nothing about your view of taxes. It says nothing about your views of homosexuality. It says nothing about your view of the right to keep and bear arms, or abortion, or feminism, or school prayer, or whether you vote Democratic or Republican or 3rd party or not at all.

If we take that definition seriously, I could be a card-carrying member of the NRA with a concealed-carry permit, I could think homosexuality is sinful, I could think taxes are much too high, I could think Bill Clinton was a horrible President, I could think that welfare checks cause crime and poverty and destroy the human soul, I could oppose socialized medicine, I could think abortion is murder, I could believe that our Social Security system is a ripoff that steals from our children, I could think our public schools can best be fixed by freedom of choice for parents, I could think Rush Limbaugh is hilarious and a boon to American culture, I could think legalizing medical marijuana is a horrible idea, I could think the mainstream media is badly biased, I could think democracy is a daft idea, I could think that Alan Dershowitz should be strapped into a barber chair and forced to listen to Courtney Love records... heck, I could think all of that and more, and still be a liberal.
By the way, please note that I do not believe all of the above. I may not believe most of it, although I do believe some of it. You can guess, but I'm not saying (at least, not now). Yet if I did subscribe to all those views, most Americans would balk if I called myself a liberal. Why is that?

The problem is that when millions of Americans say "liberal," they are referring to a fairly specific set of beliefs completely at odds with everything I described two paragraphs ago. Just as interesting, many people who hold said beliefs are, in fact, not at all "free of bigotry," "favoring of reform," "unorthodox," "broad-minded," or "anti-authoritarian."

Some time in the late 20th Century (it's open to debate exactly when, or at whose hands), "liberal" came to mean, basically, a socialist. Usually, it's a socialist who believes that the state is dangerous when it arrests criminals or wants to limit pornography or abortion, but should be free to regulate our lives in just about any other way. It is also axiomatic for them that, since taxes are an unavoidable aspect of life, any amount of taxation is moral. As long as we democratically elect those who impose the taxes, it doesn't matter how much they take away from our fellow citizens. Indeed, the only caveat is that a "moral" tax will be leavied not just in higher amounts, but at much higher rates on vaguely-defined groups they call "the rich" and, of course, those "greedy corporations."

Astonishingly, most folks who think like this (mind you, I used to consider myself one of them) also think tend to of themselves as free of bigotry and intolerance--although if you changed the words "rich" and "corporations" in many of their statements to oh, let's say "Jews," the nature of their views would be far more open to question. Ditto on many (not all, but many) of their rants about "The Religious Right."

Such people also usually think themselves to be axiomatically intelligent, good and decent because of their obviously (to them) righteous ideals. They take it as a given that anyone who disagrees with them on any fundamental issue is, ipso facto, stupid, ignorant, selfish, mean-spirited, or just plain evil. This is especially ironic, because most of those opposed to their views are highly anti-authoritarian and unorthodox and are, at least some of the time, quite broad-minded and tolerant.
It makes certain conversations difficult to have in American English. I really wish I could think of a good way to clear this mess up, but I can't.

In a recent piece in NRO, Stanley Kurtz more or less nails it by describing who these folks really are. He doesn't say so, but the truth is that they are the closed-minded reactionaries of today. The laughable part is, they actually think they're the liberals.

It's funny, when you think about it. - Dean Esmay

1 comment:

mkfreeberg said...

Brilliant piece. Well done.

Echoes my thoughts to a tee, therefore, it passes the intelligence test.