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Take Back the Word (Liberalism isn't what it used to be)
The Weekly Standard ^ | April 12, 2005 | Joel Engel

Posted on 04/12/2005 8:15:05 PM PDT by RWR8189

IN EDWARD ALBEE'S PLAY The American Dream, Mommy proudly delights in her new beige hat until the moment someone refers to it as wheat colored, at which point she hurries back to the store in a fit of pique. Albee, of course, was being ironical, ridiculing his character's weak-mindedness before an audience who would surely agree that roses smell good no matter what they're named, and that insisting the sky is green can't really change what the eye sees.

So what are we to make of the word "liberal," whose current meaning is likely beyond the ken of both Albee and Shakespeare? In the not-so-distant past, liberal FDR believed that the enemies of other democracies were, by extension, America's enemies--and liberals eagerly joined him in taking on the America Firsters here before fighting fascism over there. In his footsteps followed liberal Harry Truman, whose doctrine reflected the view that Soviet expansionism was insidiously anti-democratic and therefore innately illiberal. Then came JFK, the presidential avatar of modern liberalism, which he defined on his first day in office when he announced that America would "pay any price, bear any burden . . . in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." His statement seemed interwoven into the fabric of the burgeoning civil rights movement that was to become liberalism's high-water mark at home--the one issue that ipso facto determined whether you were indeed a liberal. And it was ennobling to be one, sharing Martin Luther King's dream that "all of God's children" would someday be free.


BUT ALAS, somewhere over the last two decades or so, liberalism lost its root as the word liberal was perverted to the point of Orwellian inversion--and therefore rendered meaningless.

For example, rooting against the United States and for "insurgents" who delight in slaughtering innocents is many things (stupid, for one, also sad, evil, and short-sighted), but it is assuredly not liberal.

Decrying the American "religious right" for advocating a "culture of life" while simultaneously praising the neck-slicing Islamofascists is many things (start with pathetic), but it is not liberal.

Calling 3,000 workers who died when the buildings fell "little Eichmanns" is many things (vile, as well as repulsive and morally repugnant), but it is not liberal.

Protesting the painless execution of a sadistic murderer while cheering the removal of a feeding tube from a brain-damaged woman whose parents very much want her alive even if her estranged husband doesn't, is many things (incomprehensible, indefensible, and unforgivably cruel), but it is not liberal.

Marching against war every time the United States is involved--in fact only when the United States is involved--regardless of the war's purpose, is many things (reactionary for sure), but it is not liberal.

Crying that you're being persecuted for exercising your right of free speech, when what happened was that other people less famous than you reacted to your ill-considered and offensive comments by exercising their own First Amendment rights, is many things (solipsistic comes to mind), but it is not liberal.

Pretending that the abuses committed by Americans at Abu Ghraib prison were on a par with the wholesale torture, rape, and murder committed there over decades is many things (overwrought, unenlightened, an insult to intelligence), but it is not liberal.

Depicting Condoleezza Rice in editorial cartoons as a big-lipped mammy who speaks Ebonics to her massa is many things (offensive, sickening), but it is not liberal.

Marching if you're gay in support of "Palestine"--from which gay Palestinians try to escape to Israel before they're tortured and murdered for their sexual orientation--is many things (nuts, as well as hilariously ill-informed), but it is far from liberal.

Advocating for murderous regimes such as Syria, Libya, and Saddam's Iraq to sit on the United Nations Human Right Commission is many things (start with annoyingly ironic), but it is not liberal.

Decrying the human-rights abuses of regimes like Saddam's Iraq and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, and then protesting against the wars that actually rid these countries of their murdering leaders, is many things (childish and willfully blind), but it is not liberal.

Equating Israeli self-defense measures against bombers who hide among civilians to the murders committed by the bombers who intentionally target civilians is many things (foolish, and probably anti-Semitic), but it is not liberal.

Believing that ethnicity determines identity--and accusing anyone of being "a disgrace to his race" because his views fall outside what's considered orthodoxy--is many things (primarily racist), but it is definitely not liberal.

Invoking Nazis and/or the Taliban to describe duly-elected officeholders of another party is many things (tiresome, ridiculous), but it is not liberal.

Referring to illegals as "undocumented workers," and to those who'd like to enforce immigration laws as evil and racist, is many things (self-destructive, short-sighted), but it is not liberal.

Joking about Charlton Heston's Alzheimer's because you don't abide his politics is many things (cold-hearted, intolerant, sophomoric), but it is far from liberal.

Calling the then-recently departed Yasser Arafat a "wily" and "enigmatic" "statesman", as the New York Times did, is many things (nauseatingly PC, for one), but it is not liberal.

Regulating what children can and cannot eat at home so that they don't become obese, as Hawaiian legislators recently tried to do; or trying to pass legislation which would require that every home be retrofitted for wheelchair access, as Santa Monica legislators did, is many things (repressive, despotic), but it is not liberal.

Shouting down speakers in the name of free speech is many things (fascistic, tyrannical, churlish), but it is not liberal.

Excusing Kofi Annan and the United Nations for the worst palm-greasing scandal in history--one that lengthened the reign of a tyrant and led to the deaths of countless thousands--is many things (inexcusable, also shameful), but it is not liberal.

Sadly, the list goes on (and on and on and on). Which is why those of us who consider ourselves classical liberals--and believe that language has power--ought to take back the word "liberal" from those on the left who debase its meaning. Many of them, I suspect, are like the body surfer who's surprised to find that the ocean current has carried him half a mile from his towel on the beach. They would do well to get their bearings and gauge how far the political tide has removed them from their core beliefs.

Me, I know where my towel is--in the same place it's been for 40 years. If that makes me "conservative," well, a liberal by any other name . . .


Joel Engel is an author and journalist in Southern California. His latest book, By Duty Bound: Survival and Redemption in a Time of War, was just published by Dutton.

TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: fdr; joelengel; left; liberalism; theleft; unamerican; unpatriotic

1 posted on 04/12/2005 8:15:06 PM PDT by RWR8189
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To: RWR8189

Okay, okay. They're not Liberals. They're Leftists.

2 posted on 04/12/2005 8:27:15 PM PDT by Texas Eagle (If it wasn't for double-standards, Liberals would have no standards at all)
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To: RWR8189

Outstanding post. Between this and the anti-communist reading list (yes, its heavy on Rand, but are we surprised?) I'm thinking that JimRob may just want to make those readily available at all times on this site. Is there a centrally located area of Freeper resources that I am unaware of on this site? If not, I think it might be a good idea. This article is enough to make the staunchest of progressives that have any remaining capacity for rational, logical thought squirm like a slug that just got doused in salt!

3 posted on 04/12/2005 8:37:06 PM PDT by musical_airman (I never get into bloody Taglinius Freerepulicus! What about MY self esteem? ;))
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To: RWR8189
Good reading. I spent most of my life referring to myself as a liberal. Once I stopped running full tilt boogie raising a family while working full time I started paying closer attention to politics. It was a rude awakening to find out that fascism is so rampantly the left. I made a switch in parties when I noted that the Democrats consistently try to keep minorities in the dog house and back any fascist that comes down the pike.

At least I have the excuse of being raised by parents who really are socialist but have never realized it. I can't tell you how many times I heard "For the People" during my formative years.

4 posted on 04/12/2005 8:46:57 PM PDT by armymarinemom (My sons freed Iraqi and Afghanistan Honor Roll students.)
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To: RWR8189
This is actually a fascinating topic - how "liberal" came full circle from its original meaning, which during the late 18th century meant favoring small government, free markets, and individual expression of political rights, to its current one which in the United States represents the antithesis to all of those positions. Europeans tend to be very confused by American references to "liberal" and "conservative," and for good reason.

I'll throw this out for consideration. Liberals believed in what was, at that time, quite "progressive" in that it represented progress away from the authority of clergy and aristocracy. It was the term "progressive" that first took a twist as a result of the later German Enlightenment philosopher Hegel and his political adherent Karl Marx. They posited an inevitability of historical progress that resembled liberalism in its end state (the withering away of government altogether, perhaps the most risible Marxist pipe-dream). But there was a rather illiberal middle ground (a totalitarian State) that had to be traveled before reaching utopia. Basically what happened was that "liberal" came to be identified with "progressive," and "progressive" with "socialist." This seduced some of the best minds in Western Europe - Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, the Webbs, Bertrand Russell.

But socialism did not lead to smaller governments as it was supposed to; quite the opposite. It had no intention of cultivating free markets; quite the opposite. And human freedom was definitely not to be expressed in the individual, but only within the group. And yet liberals clung to the old labels.

"Conservative" was always a relative term inasmuch as its adherents do not agree on precisely what is to be conserved or which period in history is to be taken as a model. Most American conservatives take that late-18th-century milestone as a reference point because that is when our society's social contract, the Constitution, was written. What we wish to "conserve" was in its day wildly liberal.

The story gets even more ironic. Lately the Progressives have become entrenched in positions that are very definitely conservative - what they are trying their best to maintain is a time when internationalism was at its peak and such entities as the UN were seen as the ultimate replacement for the nation-state. It is extremely painful for them to consider that that may be a failed model perched atop the ash-heap of history. And so they, as Buckley described conservatives a generation ago, now straddle the world and shout "stop!"

And so we have the current complete diametrical opposite of old labels. George W. Bush is a profoundly progressive President - how else to describe his Middle East policy or that of Social Security but progressive? His opponents are reflexive, knee-jerk conservatives of a hidebound nature that makes Goldwater look like a wimp. Liberal now means Socialist and Conservative now means Liberal and Progressive.

My head hurts. But it's all true.

5 posted on 04/12/2005 8:59:21 PM PDT by Billthedrill
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To: RWR8189

This is great, I've been saying this for years. The word "liberal" means "generous." The only things these people are generous with is other people's money and their own hatred of Christians,

6 posted on 04/12/2005 9:34:34 PM PDT by oprahstheantichrist (...rethinking the Oprah thing. Keeping eye on Soros.)
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To: RWR8189
Terrific post. Thanks very much. I missed this one, and am grateful to you for offering it. Excellent writing - and even better intellectually. Kudos.


7 posted on 04/12/2005 9:55:09 PM PDT by CHARLITE (Women are powerful; freedom is beautiful.........and STUPID IS FOREVER!)
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To: Billthedrill
"Liberal now means Socialist and Conservative now means Liberal and Progressive."

Liberals are now for the status quo and Conservatives are the progressives. Another flip flop is red states use to designate Democratic ground and blue states Republican ground... Are both these cases intimately linked? Yes! There has been a shift in the time wrap parallel matrix discombobulator.
8 posted on 04/12/2005 11:51:11 PM PDT by Blind Eye Jones
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To: RWR8189; Lando Lincoln; quidnunc; .cnI redruM; Valin; yonif; SJackson; dennisw; monkeyshine; ...

Nailed It !

This ping list is not author-specific for articles I'd like to share. Some for perfect moral clarity, some for provocative thoughts; or simply interesting articles I'd hate to miss myself. (I don't have to agree with the author 100% to feel the need to share an article.) I will try not to abuse the ping list and not to annoy you too much, but on some days there is more of good stuff that is worthy attention. I keep separate PING lists for my favorite authors Victor Davis Hanson, Lee Harris, David Warren, Orson Scott Card. You are welcome in or out, just freepmail me (and note which PING list you are talking about).

9 posted on 04/13/2005 8:45:25 AM PDT by Tolik
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To: Texas Eagle

... and fascists, marxists, socialists, communists, elitists, humanists, luddites (wow! finally a label that doesn't end in "ist"!!), etc...

I stand against them unto the moment I draw my last breath on this earth - and beyond!

10 posted on 04/13/2005 9:01:41 AM PDT by CGVet58 (God has granted us Liberty, and we owe Him Courage in return)
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To: musical_airman

"progressive" is another of these Orwellian "pre-empt the language and you define the context" attempts by the anti-American left. See Groliers online for a telling definition of the term "progressive" - especially as it has been applied in American politics.

Their game is due to be up, and sooner than they expect... their love of the culture of death, bookended as it is by abortion on the coming and euthanasia on the going, already guarantees they cannot survive demographic realities.

11 posted on 04/13/2005 9:05:57 AM PDT by CGVet58 (God has granted us Liberty, and we owe Him Courage in return)
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To: Billthedrill
Good post...I continue to call myself "liberal"...only to be corrected by todays leftists proclaiming I'm not liberal...I'm a "classic liberal". Unfortunately the right in this country has allowed the left to obfuscate all language. In that sense, the political monikers Democrat and Republican are more accurate than the philosophical terms...and yes, Dubya is proving to be one of the most progressive Presidents in years.
12 posted on 04/13/2005 11:23:27 AM PDT by Katya (Homo Nosce Te Ipsum)
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Ping to self for later pingout.

13 posted on 04/13/2005 12:45:14 PM PDT by little jeremiah (Resisting evil is our duty or we are as responsible as those promoting it.)
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To: Katya
Exactly. Now, the reason "progressive" was co-opted was simply that only one route of historical progress is permissible under the Marx/Hegel historical model. If it doesn't conform to that view of history as leading ineluctably through feudalism to capitalism to socialism then it doesn't count as "progress" but something else. For Marx it was "counterrevolutionary" and that is Marxism's dirtiest word.

This is one of the international left's core faiths, that they are the keepers of historical correctness and that deviation from that model is, well, "deviationist" and not to be tolerated. It explains an almost desperate defense of such things as the UN and world government, of NGO's directing national policies, of unelected and unaccountable elites centrally directing world affairs with an eye to "social justice," and of the subordination of national sovereignty to a mythical greater good. It is this part of "progressivism" that is essentially a religious faith, unencumbered by requirements to produce beneficial results in the real world.

14 posted on 04/13/2005 1:03:56 PM PDT by Billthedrill
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To: Texas Eagle; RWR8189

Texas, they won't even admit to being LIBERALS! They certainly won't cop to being "Leftists" which they are, "Progressives", which I suppose they MIGHT be called; and they will reject out of hand the names that really describe them: Socialist, Communists, Facsists. They always try to claim they are "moderates" and the evil (really evil, the most evil of all imho) press goes along with the BS.

RWR, great post, glad you got it up here. Best ever I read on the Weekly Standard website, I think.

15 posted on 04/13/2005 5:11:08 PM PDT by jocon307 (Irish grandmother rolls in grave, yet again!)
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To: Tolik


16 posted on 04/14/2005 1:17:44 AM PDT by lainde
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