T Nation

Define A Liberal


I think people need to remember what a liberal is. Before we go around bashing liberals, remember that Locke, Mill, Friedman, and most of our founding fathers were liberals.

I guess what I'm getting at is why have real liberals allowed today's neo-liberals to hijack the title? Today's neo-liberal is merely a socialist, a complete antithesis to what the original liberals were.



I'm sorry, WHAT ON EARTH did you just say?


In one sense, you are right - 'liberal' meant something different 200 years ago. Most 'conservatives' - if they sat down long enough and pondered what the heck it is they are conserving - are conserving old liberal traditions.


The word liberal has been used to identify those who do not fall in line and totally, slavishly agree with the policies of this current administration. Also it is used by the many psycho, self-identified ultra-conservatives to identify anyone that doesn't automatically agree with their vision of the world.

The current administration, with help from the corporate-owned media and the weak assholes in the DNC has made the word synonomous with being a lunatic. In reality, there is a very fine line that separates the majority of so-called conservatives and the majority of so-called liberals.

The fringe elements of both groups are the ones who are causing the amount of strife and discord in the country nowadays. Politics in this country is becoming more and more a colossal joke.


The title of liberal has been hijacked by extreme leftists.

Just like the title conservative has been hijacked by the far right.

People are afraid to admit their leanings because they don''t want to be lumped together with the lunatic fringe.


I'm sorry -- I surely hope you're not putting John Stuart Mill on the same level -- or lumping him in with -- our founding fathers. There's a distinct difference between Washington's character, integrity, and historical significance and Mill's "harm principle" and Utilitarianism. Of couse, that is insignificant, it just bothered me that you used him as a prove of how liberals have changed.

But to speak to your original thought, which is hard to disagree with -- of course the connotation of the word has changed. Much like Zap said, its the nature of our bipartisan society. People need labels to fit under, and to oppose... so why not? I remember always being so upset that government texts always attached these simple definitions to the term; ie a liberal is someone who strives to change society, and a conservative wants to keep things at the status quo. That always angered me... but I digress.

Point is, I agree. The term has been "hi-jacked" ... but what are words without the meaning that society puts behind it? I somehow doubt that Washington, Jefferson and Franklin care anymore. :wink:


Truer words have never been spoken.


"Liberal" became essentially progressive sometime in the early part of last century.

"Conservative" is almost as much of a misnomer now, given the general understanding of "conservative" is someone trying to keep things from changing -- you know, trying to "conserve" something. Whereas most political "conservatives" these days would like to undo or at least change a lot of things related to governmental power and programs.


I'm not exactly sure what this means. Mill was an influential figure in liberal thought. Utilitarianism is about as philosophically sound as any other moral theory, which is, not terribly. It's not a bad rule of thumb, and I'm confused about the hostility there.

I am liberal, but tend to think in pragmatic terms, while conservatives, especially religious ones tend to be confined to make decisions based on certain absolutes regardless of outcome. (Abortion, drug war, sex education)


Zap Branigan,

Good point. It's also cultural - a European liberal is something different than a US one. Had to get used to that when I started out here. Hadn't been called a socialist in a long time - and quite wrongly so. :wink:

Where I'm from (Germany), conservatives are "conservative" in the sense BB described it, while "republicans" (or the republican party) where extreme rightwingers with connections to neonazis.



what the two words really mean today:

liberals = con men
conservatives = grifters


I apologize for hostility you may haver surmised, which wasn't intended. However, I was simply commenting that I didn't think Mill really proved anything regarding the authors original assertion. Just my opinion... I'm not a big fan of Mill or Locke -- however I have amazing respect for our founding fathers. As far as political theory goes, they were worlds apart.

BTW - I don't believe that 'religious conservatives' are the only ones who make decisions based on absolutes. Radical liberals are frequently guilty of the same thing. Isn't this practically the definition of radical ideologues?

ExNole-- are you a Florida State Alum?


our founding fathers had amazing respect for Mill and Locke...

worlds apart? you're kidding right?

"Locke argued a government could only be legitimate if it received the consent of the governed and protected the natural rights of life, liberty, and estate. If such consent was not given, argued Locke, citizens had a right of rebellion"...

"Mill developed further than any previous philosopher was the harm principle, that is, people should be free to engage in whatever behavior they wish as long as it does not harm others. He felt that offense did not constitute harm, and therefore supported almost total freedom of speech; only in cases where free speech would lead to direct harm did Mill wish to limit it. For example, whipping up an angry mob to go and attack people would not be defended in Mill's system. Mill argued that free discourse was vital to ensure progress. He argued that we could never be sure if a silenced opinion did not hold some portion of the truth. Ingeniously he also argued that even false opinions have worth, in that in refuting false opinions the holders of true opinions have their beliefs reaffirmed. Without having to defend one's beliefs, Mill argued, the beliefs would become dead and we would forget why we held them at all."...

these ideas look familiar...oh, I remember...the founding fathers thought these were really good ideas and wanted to include them in the formation of our own government...


Liberal= Professor X, ALDurr, Harris447, vroom, thunderbolt23, FightinIrish...

Conservative= BostonBarrister, Zap Branigan, Headhunter, Rainjack, ZEB,...



Actually, no, I wasn't kidding. :slightly_smiling:
And I'm still not. I don't think that Mill -- perhaps I should leave Locke out of it -- should be lumped in the same category as our founding fathers.

Anyone care to start a new thread on the political and moral theories of John Stuart Mill?


Locke was a major major influence on the founding fathers.

"I didn't think Mill really proved anything regarding the authors original assertion"
I'm not sure what this means.

Yes, I am a very recent alumni of FSU.


If you want to be technical, Mill had zero influence on the founding fathers, as he was born after the founding of the country.

But on the Locke thing you're spot on.


damn you!

I wanted the hot looking college chick to catch that...

now I've got to come up with a new pretext to chat with her...


I think you may have offended thunderbolt23...

As for me, I'm either a conservative who leans libertarian or a libertarian who tends to lean conservative, depending on whom you ask (a libertarian would say the former, while a conservative would say the latter -- and a liberal would just say I'm wrong...).


A liberal believes the government must respect the people, while a conservative believes the people must respect the institutions of government.

I know, I know, hack away...