[quote]Bill Roberts wrote:
This is the second thread (at least) that recently has had posts saying what liberal “really” means and wanting to insist on a different meaning than the used-in-practice meaning of today.
While personally I appreciate adherence to traditional meaning, for example it doesn’t do any good to point to how Chaucer used a word 600 years ago – or others used a word a century ago or whatever – and insist that everyone is wrong on that basis, and the “real” meaning is the former one.
It’s just as useful as going around calling people “gay” and then “informing” them that the word meaning really is what it was 50 years ago and not what they think it means.
It’s pretty well established what “liberal” means today and what a modern “liberal” is.
I have myself many times pointed out that this is entirely different from the classical definition.
I probably haven’t said it this way before, but yes, classical liberals would be appalled by the modern variety and would not consider them to be of the same philosophy.
But in terms of how words are used today: Yes, Obama, Pelosi, and Reid (for example), the Moveon.org’ers, Huffinton Posters, the Daily Kos’ers, the Democratic Undergrounders, etc etc are liberals.[/quote]
It is not a different meaning than is used elsewhere, nor has anyone insisted on using 600 year definitions of anything. C’mon now, that’s just being silly. Liberal is still used in this sense in countries that have a full political spectrum, which the US does not. Guenther Grass pointed it out the best that the US has two ends of one party rather than two parties. I lived abroad for many years and found that I consistently had to explain why Republicans were not, oh, for setting up an Emperor or why Democrats weren’t apt to favor a purge of capitalists.
The loud and rancorous claims of a left/right split are patently false. Hell, even my Discover magazine ran an article recently on why someone had found biological reasons that people are Republicans. If you are most people, they are quite a mix of various political outlooks. Nobody is “Democrat” or a “Republican” in the sense used by the media, save perhaps the pundits themselves who live in a positive feedback loop… A “seismic” shift at election time usually means defense gets bumped up or down a few points. THis is because consensus is built in to the US system which throttles attempts at popular coups very nicely (which I am happy about, I admit).
Here is why it is important. Liberalism in the US has a long and successful history. This has been appropriated by a party (the Democrats) that really has little merit to claiming it. My good old Southern relatives, bigots one and all, are simply appalled at the thought of voting for anyone other than a Democrat and when I think of parochial Good-Old-Boy politics they are precisely who comes to mind.
The redefinition that has occurred has had two effects which are inimical to the body politic. (1) Labelling anyone who is not a Democrat is not a definition to make us aware of their political affiliations, but a dismissal. Any meaningful discussion ends with the phrase “he’s a Republican”. (2) The stupefication of the political dialogue. In order to discuss anything effectively, all must understand the terms involved – this is basic to any discussion and should not be relaxed above all for political discussions where sloganeering often happens.
I teach at a university and the sheer good-hearted ignorance of most of the students (who will inherit the land, like it or not) is arresting. Most of them have some happy fuzzy idea of doing the right thing and would cheerily sign up for a police state in an effort to embrace diversity. Few are able to, for instance, explain any major political or economic trends in the last 50 years. All they sort of know is that “conservatives” are for racism and a some form of authoritarian government. “Liberals” are for freedom and peace. This does, however, conveniently permits the unexamined re-election of professional politicians, which should, I think, hardly be the aim of government.
And as always, I might just be full of shit…