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