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October 30, 2006

"Liberal"

Anecdotally speaking, David Greenberg's hunch that the War on Terra' is transforming "liberal" from a label describing George McGovern to one denoting Thomas Paine seems right. I've noticed no end of ostentatious moderates ("wankers," in common parlance) proudly wielding the term to display their principled opposition to the Muslim world. As Greenberg writes:

I think there's another reason for this budding re-embrace of liberal: the fight against Islamist jihadism. Whatever our views of Bush's policies, liberals and conservatives agree that what divides the West from the terrorists is our commitment to liberal values--liberal in the broad sense of the term that denotes the Enlightenment traditions of freedom, equality, and human rights. Search for the term liberal on sites like that of the Progressive Policy Institute and you'll rarely find it used in distinction to Bush-style conservatism--but often invoked in distinction to al-Qaeda-style fundamentalism. Even the Bushies use "liberal values," if only rhetorically, to describe their project of democratizing the Middle East.

In this context of international conflict, liberal suddenly drops its associations with Volvos and lattes and starts to evoke more noble images of education, voting, free speech, and freedom of religion. It's starting to sound like a label we don't have to run from at all.

Eh. Maybe. I've actually begun using the word "progressive" more often, as I don't feel like wrapping myself in any cloak Christopher Hitchens will beg to share. That guy reeks.

October 30, 2006 | Permalink

Comments

I call myself kooky and crazy to save my opponents with demonizing me.

Posted by: akaison | Oct 30, 2006 9:08:14 AM

Did Hitchens run up your bar tab or something?

Posted by: Guy Montag | Oct 30, 2006 9:12:29 AM

I always find it funny how our foreign-policy analysts call the extreme secular leftists in mid-east countries "moderates" because they are afraid to say we are in dire need of a left-wing there.

Posted by: Tony v | Oct 30, 2006 9:28:30 AM

Tony v,

I, for one, would love to see a left-wing there.

See? I did not even suggest giving them ours!

Posted by: Guy Montag | Oct 30, 2006 9:58:40 AM

I find it odd that the Islamic false jihad is supposed to be the critical part of the process of re-establishing the "freedom from oppression" part of the meaning of Liberal, while the authoritarian leaning regime in the US tearing up the US Constitution has nothing to do with it.

FINGER: Federalists for Independence in National Guard Emergency Response

Posted by: BruceMcF | Oct 30, 2006 10:41:14 AM

Why are liberals (or progressives) so fixated on Hitchens's problems with drinking and hygiene? You can hardly read a liberal blog without seeing a reference to his appearance or odor.

If I wanted to be taken back to the junior high cafeteria, I'd pack a lunch and go.

Posted by: david mizner | Oct 30, 2006 10:42:08 AM

Stick with "liberal," Ezra-- it's a finer and older tradition, and a word that invokes a particular [Enlightenment-based] philosophy far more than "progressive," a more overtly political term, does. We are liberals, our political priorities are progressive. Hitchens can call himself a liberal all day long, but he hasn't the character for it and it's obvious.

Posted by: latts | Oct 30, 2006 11:01:36 AM

Posted by: david mizner | Oct 30, 2006 7:42:08 AM
Why are liberals (or progressives) so fixated on Hitchens's problems with drinking and hygiene?

Guy Montag has switched to being a liberal (or progressive)? When did that happen? Or was the bar tab crack the secret sign?

Posted by: BruceMcF | Oct 30, 2006 11:06:32 AM

Posted by: latts | Oct 30, 2006 8:01:36 AM Stick with "liberal," Ezra -- it's a finer and older tradition, and a word that invokes a particular [Enlightenment-based] philosophy far more than "progressive," a more overtly political term, does.

If we are kicking traditions to the curb because they are more than a century old but less than two, why stop there? Surely if we are picking our political persuasion on the basis of age alone, monarchism and theocracy leave both liberalism and progressivism in the dust.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Oct 30, 2006 11:13:24 AM

david mizner,

The bottom line is that EVERY Leftist stance is based on their own style.

Posted by: Guy Montag | Oct 30, 2006 11:30:07 AM

"Surely if we are picking our political persuasion on the basis of age alone, monarchism and theocracy leave both liberalism and progressivism in the dust."

If we need to measure, then democracy has it all beaten. From democracy comes liberty and from liberty comes thought which leads to enlightenment.
American thought in the Enlightened age was Radical Liberal Thought. Designed to be AGAINST all forms of monarchy, theocracy, and authoritarianism.
To keep the necessary devils in check, as Madison mused.
Liberal?, absolutely and proud of it.

Posted by: marcus | Oct 30, 2006 11:40:13 AM

"Surely if we are picking our political persuasion on the basis of age alone, monarchism and theocracy leave both liberalism and progressivism in the dust."

If we need to measure, then democracy has it all beaten. From democracy comes liberty and from liberty comes thought which leads to enlightenment.
American thought in the Enlightened age was Radical Liberal Thought. Designed to be AGAINST all forms of monarchy, theocracy, and authoritarianism.
To keep the necessary devils in check, as Madison mused.
Liberal?, absolutely and proud of it.

Posted by: marcus | Oct 30, 2006 11:41:18 AM

Guy Montag has switched to being a liberal (or progressive)?

Bruce, Ezra said he reeks. Progressives didn't complain about his odor when he was on our side.

Posted by: david mizner | Oct 30, 2006 11:47:54 AM

Personally, I've never understood why so much effort would be expended just to differentiate oneself to Hitchens. I would think that standing up for Western liberal values would be top priority right now.

As for the world progressive, I think it more accurately describes much of the Western left than the term liberal. Liberal implies letting people do what they want. Progressive is a more accurate description, since the modern left believes in more oversight and restrictions.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Oct 30, 2006 1:07:45 PM

Posted by: Adam Herman | Oct 30, 2006 10:07:45 AM Progressive is a more accurate description, since the modern left believes in more oversight and restrictions.

Belief in oversight and restrictions is neither the exclusive property of progressives nor liberals nor conservatives.

Certainly the Bush administration is into oversight in a very, very big way, and also into restrictions. Certainly they do not hold with oversight of or restrictions on the actions of fictitious individuals, but they are really eager to increase oversight on actual individuals and restrictions on long standing American freedoms for actual individuals.

And old fashioned J.S. Mill type Liberals are strong believers in restricting the freedom of one individual to do harm to his or her neighbors.

I guess that such a vague and shallow description was always going to fall short of giving much insight into any political tradition, progressive or conservative, liberal or authoritarian.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Oct 30, 2006 1:16:47 PM

BruceMcF:

If we are kicking traditions to the curb because they are more than a century old but less than two, why stop there? Surely if we are picking our political persuasion on the basis of age alone, monarchism and theocracy leave both liberalism and progressivism in the dust.

Where did I say it was age alone that made the difference? Liberalism simply carries more weight because, as Marcus pointed out, it is the foundation of the American experiment. Liberalism isn't just a set of political positions, but an approach to politics (and philosophy) itself. FWIW, I would call Kos a progressive, because his primary interest is in implementing a certain set of policy/political ideas in the [relatively] short term; Ezra, policy wonkishness aside, seems to be much more interested in changing the philosophical landscape over a longer period of time.

david mizner:

Progressives didn't complain about his odor when he was on our side.

Perhaps he didn't reek then... his defection to the right and the escalation of his drinking habits seemed to go hand in hand, and serious alcoholics often have a very distinct body odor. FWIW, I thought he was an asshole as a leftist, too, although his drinking habits and olfactory offenses at the time were not topics on which I had any information.

Posted by: latts | Oct 30, 2006 1:37:31 PM

At first, I thought you were talking about Ted Kennedy.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Oct 30, 2006 1:47:22 PM

Posted by: latts | Oct 30, 2006 10:37:31 AM Where did I say it was age alone that made the difference? Liberalism simply carries more weight because, as Marcus pointed out, it is the foundation of the American experiment. Liberalism isn't just a set of political positions, but an approach to politics (and philosophy) itself.

Progressivism (and the form of pragmatism that it is rooted in), is not just a set of political positions, but an approach to politics (and philosophy) itself that emerged over a century ago as an organic part of the American experiment.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Oct 30, 2006 3:16:34 PM

The uncloaked list of Hitchen's bad qualities (not all inclusive):

Reeks, drinks, gay, bad hair, has been divorced, ratted-out a Clinton official.

All were fine when Hitchens was an anti-Iraq intervention Leftist. All are now bad that he is no longer anti-Iraq intervention.

The only thing that changed was his position on ONE issue, now he "reeks."

For some reason his position on abortion was never held against him in the past. Can't wait for his ex-buddies to dredge that one up. They probably have but I just missed it.

Same thing happened to David Horowitz before Hitchens. He is still a big Social Liberal, but his divorce all of a sudden became relevant when he left the Left on a couple of issues. Well, he did rat out his Commie buddies too.

Posted by: Guy Montag | Oct 30, 2006 3:22:18 PM

Posted by: Guy Montag | Oct 30, 2006 12:22:18 PM The uncloaked list of Hitchen's bad qualities ...

Hey, wait a minute. You were the one that put up the dig that suggested he had a problem with drinking on other people's bar tabs. Are you now disavowing that kind of behavior?

And is there any way to close off the Hitchen's bad qualities thread hijack to make way for the Progressive versus Liberal thread hijack?

Posted by: BruceMcF | Oct 30, 2006 3:52:59 PM

BruceMcF,

That bar tab comment was a dig at Ezra. I suspect that Hitchens usually does handle his own bar tab.

Posted by: Guy Montag | Oct 30, 2006 4:19:17 PM

Classical Liberalism Wikipedia

I actually prefer a use of "liberal" that has the 19th century meaning or European meaning and includes the like of Burke,Hayek, Friedman. In America it is opposed to libertarianism, which essentially is indifferent to ends It is opposed to monarchies, theocracies and other "cold" (Levi-Strauss) traditionalist or authoritarian cultures on the right. It is opposed to socialism and other Marxian systems that don't put a very high value on "private property" and don't recognize rights or processes that can be abstracted from contingent grounds.

I am not a liberal.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 30, 2006 4:22:02 PM

Ya know, part of the problem I have with "liberalism" and the reason I get into arguments with people like Tim Burke and Scott Kaufmann is that a respect for rights, process, incremental change and the rule of Law pretty much puts liberals on the wrong side of the Civil War. Dred Scott was correctly decided, and Roe arguably was not.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 30, 2006 4:34:44 PM

Posted by: Guy Montag | Oct 30, 2006 1:19:17 PM BruceMcF,

That bar tab comment was a dig at Ezra. I suspect that Hitchens usually does handle his own bar tab.

Aha. As somone who was completely unaware (and who remains more than a little unconcerned) of the inside gossip on Hitchens, who later in the thread heard a rumor being passed that he is a bit of a drinker, it seemed like a snide dig at his drinking.

So, where are you on the Liberal vs. Progressive debate ... a neoliberal understanding of the word "Liberal", a la bob mcmanus (who stresses that he is not that)?

Posted by: BruceMcF | Oct 30, 2006 4:36:27 PM

David Horowitz is not anything resemebeling an american "left liberal" (a term which should be able to describe everything between the dlc and the democratic socialists of america) ALl he does is talk about the "left" hates america, stabbed us in the back in nam, loves terrorists, wants to kill baby jesus etc etc. he likes to fancy himself a supporter of "civil rights" (aka his strident anti affirmative action positions). SOmehwere, buried deeply in his soul is some leftism, not even really liberalism, but more historic, marx tinged leftism. I feel he started hating the left and the "left" responded in kind. http://www.frontpagemag.com/ - this is not the work of a leftist, liberal, progressive or anything of the type

Posted by: Matt Z | Oct 30, 2006 4:57:33 PM

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