Regular Cafe patrons will not be surprised to read me describe myself as a liberal. Of course, not “liberal” as that term is popularly understood now in the United States. Today’s mis-named “liberals” are not liberal. And liberals of my stripe – that is, people who are liberal according to the original meaning of the term “liberal” – are decidedly not conservative.
Perhaps it’s quixotic, but I refuse to give up the term “liberal.” I refuse to call the likes of, say, Paul Krugman or E.J. Dionne or Rachel Maddow or Alec Baldwin or Nancy Pelosi or Bernie Sanders or Barack Obama or Francois Hollande or Thomas Piketty or Pope Francis “liberal.” They are not liberal. They are authoritarian. They believe that social order – or, at least, the most useful social orders – must be designed and imposed by a political authority, by centralized force. They have, unlike the original, wise liberals, little or no understanding of (and, hence, no appreciation for) spontaneous order. They are social creationists of the most naive sort. And they blend their ignorance of spontaneous-ordering forces with an arrogant confidence in their own superiority over ordinary men and women at the task of deciding many of the details by which ordinary men, women, and children will be forced to live.
My colleague Dan Klein (in concert with Kevin Frei) is actively involved in trying to reclaim the term “liberal” (and all of its variations) for us true liberals. Here’s a wonderful interview with Dan – by Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute – about his and Mr. Frei’s project called “Liberalism Unrelinquished.” A slice:
The left gains enormously by getting away with calling itself “liberal,” so getting them to give up the goods is not even a prayer. Partly, I just want to self-declare, like Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” An Adam Smith liberal; a lovely little subculture. Next, I’d love to see the center-left, in the US, the Democratic Party people, be called by others something other than “liberal” simpliciter. Progressive, Democratic, social democratic, leftist, or left-liberal – all good. It is unfortunate that so many non-leftists comply with the self-description assumed by the left. For some 100 years the left/center-left dominated the cultural institutions. If non-leftists didn’t go along with their self-description, they were excluded. Then it took on a life of its own, and Republicans and libertarians are now surrendering “liberal.”