Robert Prather, writing at his new home at Signifying Nothing, advocates the reclaiming of the original definition of “liberal.”
Throughout the anglosphere the word Ã¢€œliberalÃ¢€ has been used scornfully for the past few decades and, interestingly, itÃ¢€™s used the same way in Europe, though for a different reason. We all know that itÃ¢€™s used as a proxy term for socialist, panty-waist, etc. in the U.S. However, in the rest of the world the left uses it in its original meaning as a term of scorn; globalization (capitalism) is known as neoliberalism and has been known to spark riots from time to time.
The Europeans are using the word correctly and they despise it nonetheless(it makes sense, since they despise political, and especially, economic freedom). Since the U.S. is the current exemplar of capitalism and is despised anyway, we might as well get our terminology straight. Liberalism, anyone?
Robert’s suggestion (championed by Dean Esmay for some time as well) has the merit of being grammatically correct and uniting the English speaking world in the way it uses a key word in political ideology. The Brits still use the word in its original sense, as the renmant of their Liberal Party is essentially a less kooky version of our Libertarians.
I’m all for correct use of language but it’s very difficult to swim upstream on these things. In my days as an international relations prof, I tried to hammer in the correct definitions of “state” (a sovereign territory) and “nation” (a collection of people with shared identity and desire for statehood) to no avail. I could get the students to parrot the correct answers on the examinations but not to swim against the tide of popular usage. The use of “state” by Americans to refer to a non-sovereign sub-region of a state is too deeply engrained, what with the Civil War and decades of central government encroachment making the term “state” to describe the 50 states an anachronism. Similarly, the word “nation” has been used as a flowery synonym for “country” since at least the Gettysburg Address.
Reclaiming the word “liberal” has the additional obstacle that no one wants it. The social democratic wing of our polity has eschewed the word since Michael Dukakis’s disastrous 1988 campaign. “Progressive” seems to be the new buzzword in Democratic Party circles–in yet another case of rebadging an old political label. (John Kerry ain’t no Teddy Roosevelt, although both served in the military.)
The term “conservative,” once eschewed by American politicians because of its monarchist connotations, has become a badge of honor since at least Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign. The fact that American “conservatives” are really two quite disparate groups, economic neo-liberals and Christian conservatives, is inconvenient from a political science perspective but quite useful for a coalition-building label. Until “conservative” becomes the albatross “liberal” has, it’s unlikely anyone will dust off “liberal.”