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A spade is a spade

Since they are vehicles by which ideas are spread, it stands to reason that definitions are important. Very important. There is nothing controversial in this view but I often feel that it is a principle more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

So I was delighted to read this article by Michael of 2 Blowhards wherein he demonstrates the flagrant absurdity of American left-wingers being referred to (and declaring themselves to be) ‘liberal’.

This is a point that we at the Samizdata have made previously and with good reason because American ‘liberals’ are not liberal at all, they are socialists. It sticks heavily in my craw to have to refer to these people as ‘liberals’ when the policies they favour and the ideas to which they subscribe (state interventions and pre-planned outcomes) are diametrically the opposite from anything even resembling classical liberal theory.

This is not just word-play, it is important. As Michael points out:

“One of the tricky things about “liberal” is that it’s just such a damned attractive word. It’s nice to think of yourself as being a liberal person. “I don’t care if my neighbor’s gay” equals “Thus I’m a liberal.” Sure, why not?”

This rings true. The word ‘liberal’ being associated with the qualities of being decent, humane and fair, provides a perfect cover for advancing an agenda which turns out to be largely indecent, horribly unfair and often inhumane.

American socialists are guilty of Definition-rustling. They have stolen a term that belongs to us and used it as camouflage behind which they have surrepticiously advanced their forward lines. I think it is time that we venture forth to take back that which belongs to us. Michael agrees:

“I also find it helpful to refuse to let the American left get away with calling itself liberal. I insist on referring to them as leftists, and to their views as leftism. Why let that crowd of sentimentalists, thought-police and socialists maintain exclusive ownership of a word as beautiful as “liberal”?

Why indeed, Michael. Far better to strip them naked and force them out into the open where the whole world can laugh at their grotesqueness.

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6 comments to A spade is a spade

  • in the spirit of calling a spade a football bat, those advocating change in America for the last 20 years have been calling themselves conservatives.

  • And the left rarely call themselves liberals. More often, it is the right using the term “liberal” as a pejorative.

  • H. Myers

    Definition rustling dates from the very beginning of the American Republic. The Federalists, apologists for the Constitution who were in favor of a stronger central government, adopted their name because in those days “Federalist” connoted confederation, a looser association of states defined by the Articles of Confederation that antedated the US Constitution. Popular sentiment in those days was with confederation, not a powerful central government. Today it’s come full circle; Federalists today generally are considered those who favor devolving control to local and state authority. Stripping the socialists bare in the US won’t do any good. When you add government pensioners, civil service at all levels, military, welfare recipients (that includes Social Security), and so called private sector firms who rely substantially on government contracts, you’ve got a plurality if not an outright majority of the economy.

  • James Merritt

    In the mid-90s, we had a very stimulating discussion about “liberal” vs. “classical liberal” vs. “libertarian” in the old AOL Libertarian Party Forum. It was indeed my contention that the term “liberal” had been hijacked, and that we had better watch out, or “libertarian” would be hijacked, too. Sure enough, Bill Clinton declared himself as “sort of a libertarian.” Then Bill Maher “came out” as a “Libertarian” on his TV show. Then Ann Coulter tried to run for Congress as a Libertarian (and was rebuffed by the state party, whose nomination she sought, due to her many authoritarian attitudes). Then Jonah Goldberg, in the pages of National Review, tried to establish that “libertarian” was some mutant brother of “conservative.” Then Paulina Borsook coined the term “technolibertarian,” to describe Silicon Valley tech-heads who wanted no government interference, unless, of course, they needed a handout or some government muscle to lean on competitors. And so on, and so forth.

    It seems like everybody is trying to define “Libertarian,” or at least overload it with connotations that serve their own purposes, much as “liberal” was overloaded a few decades earlier. That strikes me as a double-victory, for all its dangerous implications. Either “libertarian” is so cool that everyone wants to claim a piece of it; or “libertarian” has become enough of a serious threat that it must be marginalized and neutralized. We Libertarians must be doing something right; and now it is time I left. 🙂

  • in the spirit of calling a spade a football bat, those advocating change in America for the last 20 years have been calling themselves conservatives.

    Where is it written that conservatism is opposed to change??? No greater progress on all fronts was made in this country than when conservative principles were preserved and honoured. What we are opposed to is arbitrary alterations simply for the sake of change.

    The real difference is substantial in that conservatism is substantial whereas liberalism is at bottom a rather facile outlook. Conservatism takes into account the entire person and sees the spiritual as superior to the temporal – in both philosophy as well as economics. Liberals by contrast are materialistic and tend to either downplay or dismiss completely this entity and as a result they end up championing an idol of the populace to “take care” of people. In the absence of spiritual moorings they seek to find their locus in the structures of man-made governments and institutions. In other words, they ignore the spiritual and then fill the void with their own creations. Then when these creations fail (as they always do) the liberal simply continues to tinker with the creation rather than asking if their very presuppositions are what is indeed the problem. This was the problem seventy-five years ago and it has only gotten worse since then – particularly since 1972 when the Democrats stopped running on principle and started running on fear full time. (There were flashes of this taken by Johnson in 1964 but not until ’72 was this the defacto approach taken. And since then it has not wavered an iota.)

    The problem is that for seventy-five years the conservatives have not exactly been the real deal most of the time. They have become tainted with the presuppositions of the socialists liberals. Every movement is claimed as a “restoration” of sorts where we “roll back taxes to 1990 levels” or something like that. Do they stop and ask if 1990 levels were not already WAAAY too high??? Of course not.

    When we tolerate a tax burden in this country 5000% higher than what the colonists threw a tea party over, what needs to be questioned is the governing methodology not little insignificant wrinkles here and there that are a case of taking one step forward and two steps back.

  • Chris Wibisono

    Dear Mr Carr, I would appreciate it very much if you could forward me your article about transnational progressivism in the US, which coined in one of your article. I read in Robert Poe and John Fonte writing on tranzi.
    Thanks for your kind respond.