T Nation

Understanding the Left & Right: The Goldwater Anomaly

http://mises.org/daily/3859

[quote]Excerpt:

The eloquence was chiefly the doing of Goldwater’s speechwriter and principal adviser during the 1964 campaign, the journalist and political ghostwriter Karl Hess. As Hess tells it, Senator Goldwater really was a genuine classical liberal.[/quote]

The article is about Barry Goldwater, an Senator from the Republic party, but I want to ask is about the little bit of history in this article about the liberals and conservatives in Democrat and Republic party pre and post-FDR.

Did you realize that the Conservatives in the Republic party are actually more liberal today than the Democrats are according the classical definition? Comments? Opinions?

Goldwater was one of a kind. Wish we had more politicians like him that actually meant what they said, and actually voted what they believed.

Side note, he was a Sigma Chi, our symbol is the White Cross, and when he was running for president he sent letters to various Sigma Chi chapters and alumni saying “it is time to put the White Cross in the White House.” One of our alumni has a copy of it.

Side note over.

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]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]

Well, I was not really insisting that we should go to a classical definitions, just was wondering what people thought on it. It is just strange the flop, and all.

It seems to me that the meaning of numerous decades past has completely vanished and has no bearing on whether people in general consider themselves “liberal” or not, or whether they consider others “liberal” or not.

I’m not aware of a validated set of test questions to identify a liberal according to today’s in-practice meaning, although there are organizations which consider themselves liberal that score politicians according to how well they agree with their positions.

One writeup has it that “Liberals usually embrace freedom of choice in personal matters, but tend to support significant government control of the economy. They generally support a government-funded ‘safety net’ to help the disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation of business. Liberals tend to favor environmental regulations, defend civil liberties and free expression, support government action to promote equality, and tolerate diverse lifestyles.”

I think some caveats need to be added to that though: It is persons that consider themselves “liberal” that will be the first to say that you should not have freedom of choice with regard to many things where they wish the government to control people’s lives. For example, you should not have the personal freedom to rely on your investments for your retirement, but should have those funds taken from you by the government with promise to repay in the future. And you should not have freedom to be self-insured with regard to your health, or even should not have the freedom to pay a doctor with your own money (For example, Hillarycare actually would have made this a felony. Liberals also will be the first to say that you and your employees don’t have the personal freedom to decide between you, and only between you, what will be a mutually acceptable employment package.

And those calling themselves liberals will be the first to say that you should not be able to choose which public school in your area that your child may attend, and/or should not be credited back on that portion of your property taxes which goes to public schools if you wish for your child instead to attend a private school.

In short, liberals don’t care for you having personal freedom in quite a number of instances where they prefer for government to control your life.

And with regard to liberals in political office, the idea that they are in favor of personal freedom with regard to your wearing a seat belt, taking a drug without a prescription, draining a perenially damp area in your lawn (it’s a wetlands, you know), or many other things would be quite mistaken.

So with regard to that writeup, I think it is a little bit idealistic in that regard and isn’t really dealing with the reality of today’s liberal typically wanting the government to control many aspects of people’s lives.

Which as you’ve pointed out, the classical liberal did not want.

Well, actually I could come up with a set of questions that could rule out a person’s being a modern liberal, if their answers are no to very many of these:

  1. Do you favor the government having the ultimate say regarding land use? Do you favor government ownership of land, for example to provide benefits such as housing for the poor?

  2. Do you favor a progressive income tax, with high percentages charged to those earning high incomes?

  3. Do you favor high taxation of inheritance of wealth?

  4. Should the government provide for people according to their need?

  5. Do you favor government control of banking, for example to help people obtain mortgages?

  6. Do you favor government ownership of any industries or services? Transportation, communications, or health services for example?

  7. Do you favor labor unions where all members are guaranteed to be treated equally?

  8. Should there be free public education in schools operated by the government?

But if the answers are yes to very many or all of these, then the person just might be a …

(10 points for the correct answer :wink:

  1. In some cases. I’m fine with national parks. I’ve seen low-income housing fail horrifically, so I wouldn’t mind an alternative (potentially vouchers.)
  2. Yes, with caveats. (Do I want marginal tax rates as high as in the 1960’s? No. Is it worth considering whether a flat tax might work as well for us as for Estonia? Yeah. But the income tax is, for practical purposes, here to stay.)
  3. No, but I don’t know much about it.
  4. That’s a vague question. There are some ways that the government could “provide” that would backfire drastically (i.e. a command economy). I am a prioritarian though; I do think we should prioritize the needy in allocating tax revenue.
  5. No.
  6. No.
  7. People have the right to unionize. On the other hand I think we’re all hurt by unions structured so that seniority matters more than performance. (I’ve done a lot of fist-shaking at the teachers’ union.)
  8. I favor free public education. Ideally I’d want subsidized vouchers as an alternative, potentially a substitute, for public schools. It’s not that politically viable, though.

I agree that it’s not politically viable to have a plan where a government school system that is spending for example $9K per year per student or sometimes far more, parents would have the choice of sending their kids to a private school and – the government now not having to pay to educate them – get a voucher for some lesser amount than the $9K. For example $5K.

I have my explanations of why not, but what are yours?

Are the reasons why not actually rather horrific that they would be, in our society, the deciding factor in such an important matter?

And on the union matter: Is your position also that people or companies don’t have the right to hire employees other than union workers if that’s what they want to do?

My objection has never been to whether people have a right to form a union: it’s whether employers should be prevented from hiring individuals they want to hire who want to work for them who are not members of the union.

By “politically viable” I mean only that those who have a stake in maintaining the current system (teachers’ unions, local administrators) are extremely resistant to school vouchers.

Lots of policies are entirely practical and feasible but not politically possible – cutting farm subsidies, for example. I’m for them, but nobody in Congress is for them. Maybe someday that will change.

[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…

– jj

From the position of being a teacher you can tell your students that they are using a word “wrongly” and they had darn well better, in your class anyway, switch over to your usage or get marked wrong if it comes up on a test.

From the practical reality of communicating with people, insisting that Obama, Pelosi, Reid, the Moveon.org’ers, etc aren’t liberals and people who say that they are are wrong is not good communication.

Any more than going around saying that homosexuals aren’t “gay” whereas, you sir, are gay, is good communication: whether you are basing this on use of the past or use in other countries.

But sure if you want to talk about historical usage that is fine. It is not the current usage. To say that they are not liberals in the classical sense is correct: to say that they are not liberals, period, when they are in the modern sense, is not correct.