Ever watch crystals form? It’s almost like watching a living thing grow. Some times thoughts crystalize too.

From The Once and Future Liberalism by Walter Russell Mead:

One of the main reasons Americans have been so slow to recognize the collapse of the blue model is that the language we use to discuss and think about politics tends to disorganize our stock of understanding about our own society. Millions of Americans are conservatives and even reactionaries but think of themselves as “liberals”; at the same time, millions of genuine liberals and even radicals call themselves conservative. It’s an unholy mess that calls desperately for a language intervention. Let us begin with an historic meditation on the “L” word.

“Liberal” and “progressive” are two of the noblest and most important words in the English dictionary. They describe essential qualities of the American mind and essential values in American politics in a country born in reaction against oligarchy and concentrated autocracy. They sum up in a nutshell what this country is all about. A liberal is someone who seeks ordered liberty through politics—namely, the reconciliation of humanity’s need for governance with its drive for freedom in such a way as to give us all the order we need (but no more) with as much liberty as possible. In this sense, liberty isn’t divided or divisible into freedoms of speech, religion, economic activity or personal conduct: Genuine liberals care about all of the above and seek a society in which individuals enjoy increasing liberty in each of these dimensions while continuing to cultivate the virtues and the institutions that give us the order without which there can be no freedom.

But today the words liberal and progressive have been hijacked and turned into their opposites: A “liberal” today is somebody who defends the 20th-century blue social model; a “progressive” is now somebody who thinks history has gone wrong and that we must restore the Iron Triangle of yesteryear to make things better. Most of what passes for liberal and progressive politics these days is a conservative reaction against economic and social changes the Left doesn’t like. The people who call themselves liberal in the United States today are fighting rearguard actions to save old policies and established institutions that once served noble purposes but that now need fundamental reform (and in some cases abolition), lest they thwart the very purposes for which they were created.

For years I considered myself a liberal Democrat. I also considered those terms basically interchangeable – liberals were Democrats and Democrats were liberals. Then 2008 happened.

I still consider myself to be a Democrat but “my” party has been hijacked by a gang of corrupt politicians and elitist idiots. My long-range goal is to win back control of the Democratic party. That is why I want to see Barack Obama and the clique that enabled him defeated.

I still consider myself a liberal as well. But my estrangement from the Democratic party made me realize how much tribalism played in my political ideology. This caused me to spend quite a bit of time over the past couple years pondering the true meaning of “liberal.” It has also resulted in some former friends accusing me of being a traitor or Republican ratfucker.

(I was unbothered by those accusations because I know my core principles have remained unchanged. People can agree on principles and goals and yet differ on policy and tactics. But you can’t be a member of the “reality-based community” if you refuse to face reality.)

So like I said my thoughts were in flux for many months. This article has caused my thoughts to crystalize. But crystalization is a process, not an event. There is still some deep thinking ahead. The material in this article is gonna provide material for a few different posts.

But for now, here is the foundation I want to build upon:

A liberal is someone who seeks ordered liberty through politics—namely, the reconciliation of humanity’s need for governance with its drive for freedom in such a way as to give us all the order we need (but no more) with as much liberty as possible.

I like that definition. But you will notice that there are no specific policies or programs described in there. Nor is there any particular candidate, party or even a political system in that definition. But it is a basic assumption that liberalism rests upon established principles of democracy and the rule of law.

COMING SOON: Liberalism and Big Government

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53 Responses to Crystalization

  1. myiq2xu says:

    When I first started blogging I wrote long, detailed posts. I’ve gotten really lazy since then. I don’t like to spend more than an hour on a post.

    • SWPAnnA says:

      like my friend, Andrea, who said she once needed hours and hours to tell the story of her divorce – intill she grew so tired of the story herself that she could snap it out in a phrase and go on with something worth saying before she got back to meeting and exchanging things worth hearing from others.

  2. myiq2xu says:

    Most of what passes for liberal and progressive politics these days is a conservative reaction against economic and social changes the Left doesn’t like.


  3. angienc says:

    I’m in the same boat as you. I’m 100% positive the original/traditional definition of “liberal” as cited in the article describes me & my political philosophy. That is why I can be against the Patriot Act when GWB is POTUS *and* when Obama is POTUS.

    However, I do not consider myself a Democrat anymore — unlike the word “liberal,” what it means to be a Democrat is tied to the party itself, IMO, not into what I consider it to mean or it’s traditional meaning as parties do evolve & change, platforms are re-written, etc. Obama heading that party with it being run by his minions is what being a Democrat means. What the Democrat Party stands for today has nothing to do with me or my political party and unless & until the Obamacrats are purged from it, I will have nothing to do with it. Heck, even if that happens, I’ll probably remain identifying as an Independent. The wake up call of May 31, 2008 has made me wary of every tying my political identity to a political party ever again.

    • angienc says:

      *The wake up call of May 31, 2008 has made me wary of tying my political identity to a political party ever again.

      One too many “every” in that sentence in my OP.

    • leslie says:

      I know. At the party I attended Saturday, everybody there was a staunch Democrat and I was truly the lone reality-based person in the group. Thjey were talking about Clinton as if he were their hero. I did not remind them they had called him a racist and traitor only 4 years earlier. They actually said they wished he were still the POTUS. At which point I could agree with them. So I said that I had voted for Clinton in the beginning because he had a D in front of his name and I voted for him the 2nd time because he was Bill Clinton. When I added that sadly I couldn’t say the same thing about Obama, you’d have thought the world had just ended.
      I never mention May 31, 2008 to any of them, because they don’t know what I am talking about.

      • Erica says:

        Most people don’t know the meaning of 5/31/08, even the party phone bankers who call me for money. But I am willing to inform them. However, I don’t think of myself as a Dem anymore, either. Haven’t registered as an Indy, but that’s where I am. Last night, listening to a friend popping off the dem talking points like a robot made my indy zone the perfect place to be.

    • wmcb says:

      Me too, angie. I am skeeved about political brand loyalty forevermore. I am Indy for life, I think.

  4. swanspirit says:

    I like that Mead used the Maslow hierarchy of needs further on in the article

    to demonstrate what Americans “want” . What he is saying by using Maslow, is that essentially while Americans might be dysfunctional in some ways, we are essentially healthy as a whole . I no longer consider myself a “democrat “. I no longer consider democrats to be democrats , I don’t know what the hell they are anymore , but I call them obamacrats , and of course , hypocrites . Maybe that is part of the process of moving toward liberalism 5.0 ; not identifying with political parties. I know i would like some integrity and credibility in our leaders , and as I write it am wondering if it is even possible .

    Something else entirely …or not ..
    . Cliche tho it may be , this thought occurred to me while I was “arguing” with a Canadian friend about how our obamacare laws differ from theirs, and do not provide the same benefits . That thought was , your country does not have to maintain a giant military to safeguard the free world , while attempting to provide healthcare in a similar model to other countries , who also do not have to maintain such a huge military , and do not take on the burdens of defense that the USA does. Americans are different in that way and exceptional .

  5. my thing has always been feminism. I joined the Democratic Party 40+ years ago because I thought the same thing as you myiq only really focused on women getting ahead. And my whole evolution is precisely the same as yours.

    It is one of the great ironies of our time that it is the democrats who really are fighting a rearguard action, hanging on to strategies that have long expired. It’s just that the sheeple over there haven’t realized it yet because they are too busy being part of the tribe.

    Preaching to the choir…..

    • elliesmom says:

      But 40+ years ago it was the Republicans (Eisenhower) who put the ERA in their platform, not the Democrats. Kennedy scuttled it, and Nixon is the one who finally pushed it through. If feminism really is your main issue, you would have been a Republican years ago. That Democrats were “the party of women” has always been a “big lie”.

      • wmcb says:

        Well, not always. There were a couple of decades there where Democrats led the charge. Unfortunately, they stopped caring about WOMEN and started caring about birth control. and the female as a voting block. Not the same thing.

        • elliesmom says:

          Democrats have never led the charge for the ERA. They let it die. Democrats have always led the charge for abortion rights. They still do. They benefited most from the fracture in the women’s movement, and they are the ones who do the most to perpetuate it. If Roe v. Wade had been delayed even a couple of years, use of the birth control pill would have become ubiquitous, and abortion would not have consumed the women’s movement. Initially, the unions were the most active group against the ERA, and their support was just as important to the Democrats then as it is now. I was very politically active in the women’s movement in the late 60’s, early 70’s (and beyond), and the thing that galls me most is how the history has been re-written. My family is filled with yellow dogs, and it was assumed from birth atht I’d be a Democrat, too. But Kennedy’s “Presidential Commission on the Status of Women” substitution for the ERA and its findings that women were already “equal” are what made me an independent voter from day one.

  6. wmcb says:

    Thanks much for posting this, myiq. Mead can be a little stuffy sometimes, but I love this whole piece not because I think it’s all gospel, but because it echoes so much of my thoughts that we need to step back and look at things differently.

    I am not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, liberalism went off the rails – it started trying to function outside of this country’s founding principles. You cannot jettison individual liberty in pursuit of helping people. Much of the expansion of The State, the bloated and overbearing and increasingly authoritarian “programs” have come about in a futile attempt to force what hasn’t been working anymore to work, dammit!. Keep banging away at that square peg, HARDER. Make it FIT, like it did in 1945! Because the goal is noble, right?

    Well, maybe it is, but people are individuals, and need room to be so. Step back and reevaluate. Could this worthy goal be accomplished via govt encouragement, rather than govt edict? Is it even something that govt must do actively and outright, or could the answer be just removing some obstacles that keep us from doing it ourselves?

    Yes, we need a Liberalism 5.0. Hell, we need a Conservatism 5.0 as well. One of the reasons, I believe, for the resurgence of the “dead and buried” GOP is that many on that side seem willing to do that. They are not abandoning their core principles, but rethinking and reapplying them in better ways.

    Adapt or Die. The GOP seems to have glimmers of doing that. Here’s hoping for some glimmers of adaptation on the D side as well.

    • SWPAnnA says:

      just thinking “expand the circle” makes you see that no matter how big or small a circle needs to grow or shrink, it’s only a matter of PI. same for sphere.

  7. T says:

    I agree with this guy’s definition of liberal. As for the rest of the article, it had “eliminate FDR programs” written all over it. For me, those policies plus are “just the right amt of governance”.

    • T says:

      And BTW, his article is incomplete without a discussion of what conservativism is and why the Republican party isn’t conservative. Equally credible arguments could be made. Both parties hide behind these labels. Both parties are EQUALLY corrupt. Both parties need to go.

      • wmcb says:

        Mead is a liberal. He is concerned with “what do WE need to do?” rather than “what THEY ought to do”, because he really has no influence over the latter.

    • elliesmom says:

      If we really used FDR’s programs to solve our problems today, how popular do you think they’d be? How many jobless people would be willing do the unskilled jobs that were provided by the WPA? (Ask RD to go sweep sidewalks for her unemployment check and see how far you get.) What reaction do you think we’d get from the unions if the government used non-union workers to do the “shovel-ready” construction work provided for in the stimulus bill? Because that’s what FDR did. How would it play if only one worker per family was eligible for a job because the 2nd worker would be taking a job away from a “breadwinner”? FDR’s programs don’t translate very well to 21st century America. We most certainly need to help people get back on the job and up on their feet again, but criticizing FDR’s methods is not heresy.

      • wmcb says:

        Sure, we will do a work program. We’ll house you in barracks, and you’ll do manual labor. Gawd, the screams of “virtual slavery” would be deafening.

      • votermom says:

        (Ask RD to go sweep sidewalks for her unemployment check and see how far you get.)

        You’re killing me!

        • Oswald says:

          Speaking of which, here is RD’s universe:

          Tax the rich, absolutely necessary. I love successful people but if they have more money than 120 people could spend in a lifetime, they need to be taxed. Heavily. The accumulation of wealth means they aren’t compensating their workers enough and that is a drag on the economy.

          WTF? 84% of Chicago’s public school children live at or below the poverty line and qualify for the subsidized school lunch program?? That’s fricking outrageous. What is Rahm Emanuel doing about that? Is he working with businesses and corporations in Chicago to make them pay a living wage? Jesus Christ on a Cracker, this is just beyond derelict. I realize that he’s only been mayor for a year but in that year, he seems to have spent more time suppressing the Peasants’ Revolts than actually working for them.

          Maybe he’s just following Obama’s example. As I recall, he sucked as a state rep for his little corner of Chicago.

          Well, now is the time for both men to show their quality. Time to step up and demand fair working wages for all of Chicago. At this point, the teachers of Chicago are subsidizing those lunches with their substantial taxes. It’s time for the wealthy to stop getting away with dumping all responsibility on the backs of the 99% who they are underpaying.

          In RD’s world we can solve poverty by executive fiat.

      • lyn5 says:

        In the mid-90s, I used my unemployment payments to go back to school. Each week a professor had to sign my unemployment paperwork. I’m stilling working in that field.

  8. A funny cartoon to start the week

  9. tommy says:

    WJC seems to have given BHO a substantial post-convention bounce. From a few days ago, O seems to be extending his lead over R at the RCP average. Not good news. This coupled with the fact that O surprisingly raised more money than R in August, its a downer allright. Has O peaked too soon? Time will tell.

  10. I’m depressed today. Cannot stomach the thought of 4 more years. All I’m seeing today are anti Romney ads. Tommy, hope you’re right about peaking too soon. Read this from our local Columbus, OH Dispatch:

    • tommy says:

      Cynthia, if O wins Ohio, its all over. Yep, I’m a bit pessimistic. But we got to face the facts. On the GOP side, the tea party is gonna slowly but gradually take over the party. On the dem side, if O wins, it’ll be downright impossible for us to purge the Obamacrats. Scary, but true. True liberalism is lost. And I’m an old fashioned liberal, and not a progressive. If I had to explain the difference, I’d have to write an extremely lengthy article. Lol.

  11. Love Mead. He’s has the mind of the middle. As you know if you’ve been reading P&L, I’ve also been thinking along these lines. It’s always nice to see your own thinking confirmed by people you respect and admire. I do believe realignment is happening.

    • Lulu says:

      Agree but it is reluctantly and by necessity because people are fed up and pissed.

      • well, I’m always of the mind that the American people are a smart bunch overall. Realignments never happen overnight, but that they happen means that we always have our eyes on the mechanisms of corruption.

  12. DandyTiger says:

    Oh crap, you’re going to make me think, aren’t you.

  13. Lulu says:

    Ignore the polling. It is seriously rigged. The RCP average is a construed monster. Heavily weighted polls run by political punks such as PPP are used to boost the average. Gallup is being persecuted by the DOJ on behalf of a former employee who went to work for Obama in 2008. His whistle-blower lawsuit (alleging overcharging the fee) went nowhere until it was needed by Axeldouche to browbeat Gallup and make an example of them in excellent fascist methodology. It is all part of the false narrative that Obama is popular. Any bump in the polls was nostalgia for Clinton and the good old days of the Democratic party. Those days are long gone and the public will remember that very quickly.

  14. tommy says:

    Lol, yeah. But I ain’t in a mood for it. Someone very close to me perished on 9/11. My brain is scrambled right now. Relax dandy, we all have our off days.

  15. SHV says:

    I prefer a fundamental definition of “Liberal”, from the OED:

    “willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas:”

    The hijacked Dem. party is the antithesis of Liberal.

  16. myiq2xu says:

    Looks like today is gonna be another of my super-sleepyhead days.

    • cj says:

      I hear you. I can’t even tackle responding to your very well-written OP today. Any of them. 2 percodans down for back pain, and all I’ve got to show for it is a fuzzy head.

  17. yttik says:

    I’m not attached to either words, Dem or liberal, regardless of their definitions. I used to be, but now I’ve decided that identity politics just gets in the way of solving problems and finding solutions. You can’t relate to people as individuals and work together on solutions if your first priority is to maintain tribal alliances.

  18. SWPAnnA says:

    I refer to my politics the same as my decor; Traditional. I like things well-produced, but useful. I like to do some things like my Mother and her mother did things, and I like to try the way my neighbors’ dad does it. I like to know that, even though I’M over highschool, my neighborhood is full of kids just starting 9th grade and they should be allowed to enjoy their High School years on their terms in their own time. That being said, High School kids should operate at their level in highschool. High School kids who think like “high school kids” that are so pampered that they think they should run the Country are out of place in time and should be sent back to school. Great Tradition.

  19. insanelysane says:

    This is one of the rotten things that has happened since O took over.
    Really crystallizes what we have become.
    A discussion with Jonathan Turley:

  20. DeniseVB says:

    I think I’m a libertarian ? Well, I seem to agree with Stossel about the definition, good read which I know I’ve posted before…..

    I used to be a Kennedy-style “liberal.” Then I wised up. Now I’m a libertarian.

    But what does that mean?

    When I asked people on the street, half had no clue.

    We know that conservatives want government to conserve traditional values. They say they’re for limited government, but they’re pro-drug war, pro-immigration restriction and anti-abortion, and they often support “nation-building.”

    And so-called liberals? They tend to be anti-gun and pro-choice on abortion. They favor big, powerful government — they say — to make life kinder for people.

    By contrast, libertarians want government to leave people alone — in both the economic and personal spheres. Leave us free to pursue our hopes and dreams, as long as we don’t hurt anybody else.

    Ironically, that used to be called “liberal,” which has the same root as “liberty.” Several hundred years ago, liberalism was a reaction against the stifling rules imposed by aristocracy and established religion.

    I wish I could call myself “liberal” now. But the word has been turned on its head. It now means health police, high taxes, speech codes and so forth…..more

    • myiq2xu says:

      Pretty much everyone is a libertarian in regards to their own lives. The real issue is how much you want government to regulate other people.

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