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Jan 20, 2005 7:32 pm

Liberalism and the Chronicle

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a letter to the editor I wrote last month.

It was in respones to this John Lukacs piece on the demise of the word"liberal."

Edited, published version of what I sent:

To the Editor:

As a libertarian, I feel compelled to take issue with John Lukacs's"The Triumph and Collapse of Liberalism" (The Chronicle Review, December 10).

If Lukacs would go back about a hundred years earlier, he would find that the word"liberal" originally referred to a political philosophy that embraced a minimalist state, one just large enough to protect property rights, individual rights, free markets, and the rule of law. Today that philosophy is known as libertarianism. ...

It's of no surprise that the modern left has abandoned the term"liberal." Most if not all of the agenda they've enacted as liberals -- trade protectionism, central planning, the welfare state, etc. -- has failed. It's no wonder they're attempting a fresh start with"progressive."

Frankly, I'd like to see modern-day libertarians pick up"liberal," dust her off, and make her our own again.

Radley Balko
Policy Analyst
Cato Institute

I think the original, longer version was a little more playful, and less stern. It also mentioned that in most of the world,"liberal" still retains its original meaning.

Still, it's nice that they published some version of it.

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More Comments:

Mike Cook - 4/28/2009

I don't see where classical liberalism is challenging Progressiveism in any way, shape or form. All I see, yes I am a Republican are people who are ashamed at being called Democrats or Liberals. Why the shame? If you're going to call yourself a Progressive, and this goes for the major Liberal radio stations, and hosts, etc., you get it, then why not form a movement to re-establish the Progressive Party. Yes, I know it failed horribly for TR in 1912 and faded from history in 1916, but at least it's better than giving nothing more than a label (again, much like liberal) to members of the Democratic Party. All I'm saying, you can't put a band-aid on a hemorrage and everything will be fine. If you want to be a "real" progressive, then why not start the drive for a Progressive Party? If it what. Would you rather buffalo democrats into thinking that they are part of a movement that there is no affiliated party for? That just sounds crazy to fall for that. I like some of Obama's ideology, not all, but I did vote for him in '08'. Bush & his cronies were typical republican crooks. I think Fox News is the absolute worst thing Republicans could ever affiliate with. The same types of people TR fought against. I reserve some liberal ideology, not all as expected, but I just never understood why Democrats today are calling themselves Progressives without an affilitation to a movement. Just my I got to go listen to the Podcast of Stephanie Miller, I like some of her stuff, I do not like nor care for the return of Randi Rhodes...she's damaging to the Democratic Party...she's the Bill O'Reilly of..umph...Progressive Talk Radio.
Thanks and have a terrific day!

Max Swing - 1/21/2005

I can only agree, because it is always a bit confusing, when trying to explain the American political system to Germans. They only know "liberal" as a movement against state-control and for a minimal state (as you mentioned). So, it'd be better if the US libertarians reclaimed the word 'liberal' as in 'liberty' for them again.

There is another word that should be addressed: "Anarchism". This word has in "new english" the meaning of radical chaos and violence,which is not its original meaning. If I ask someone on the street what he thinks about Anarchism,then he answers he rejects those punks who just demolish our buildings and hang around the corner asking for a euro to despense on alcohol. Thus, I'd say that "Anarchism" should also be explained a lot more detailed to the general public.
It'd help you to extend the range of Acceptance to this philosophic branch in the public.

Kenneth R Gregg - 1/21/2005

I had an argument with a local progressive about a year ago over a similar issue. I was discussing the matter with a local Las Vegas lib/commie-symp who was giving a talk on the history of progressivism (in health care, primarily) in the post-WWI period (and yes, I did wait until he finished his lecture). He assumed that the evolution of the term liberal into progressive liberalism was inevitable and unaware that there were even (classical) liberals who objected and presented liberalism in opposition to the power of the state.

He was vaguely aware of Albert Jay Nock, but lost when I began talking about the Cleveland Democrats, the connection between nazism and the health care movement's favorite bete noir, Eugenics, and its libertarian opponents in the medical field such as Florence Finch Kelly, Dr. Rachelle Yarros, Gertrude B. Kelly

He was a member of a local "progressive" organization and I followed with some comments about being pleased that so many progressives have now finally dropped "liberalism" and that it was certainly appropriate that the real (classical) liberals re-adopt the term and leave the term "progressive" to the statists, where it belongs!

I told him he was welcome to "progressivism" and I will keep the term, "liberal," for the ideological position that I represent. A number of people from the audience were quite interested in my comments and had a long discussion with them following his lecture.

Just a thought.
Just Ken

John T. Kennedy - 1/20/2005

S'funny, I know a lot of anti-statists who'd like to make the word libertarian their own.

The problem is that the entire progressive project is implicit in Locke's original mistake of endorsing the state. Once you've decided that it's okay for the collective to take from individuals to promote the general welfare (as the minarchist does) all you're really left to argue about is how much to take from whom to spend on what.