Liberals, Classical Liberals, and Libertarians

Secular Blasphemy presents a survey of political views including liberals, including classical liberals, conservatives, socialists, and libertarians entitled Maybe you are a liberal after all. It notes the differences in terminology internationally:

It always makes me cringe when I hear the term ‘liberal’ applied to the political left. This is a quite big distinction between the political vocabulary of the US compared to virtually anywhere else in the world, where it refers to the political right. Case in point: The prime minister of Australia, John Howard, is from the Liberal Party.

In this part of the world, a liberal is on the political right, referring to liberalism’s support of free markets with a minimum of state interference. There is another aspect to liberalism, which tends to explain the usage in the US, and that is the meaning ‘permissive’, referring to social issues. A liberal would argue it’s not the state’s obligation or right to legislate moralism. This, naturally, runs counter to social conservatives, who’d like the government to stay out of businesses but be very attentive to what goes on in bedrooms.

After reviewing the various political philosophies, it concludes with:

In a more pragmatic form, libertarianism is quite difficult to distinguish from classical liberalism, discussed above. I suggest many Americans prefer to call themselves libertarians because the term ‘liberal’ is already being used for the political left, and that is an association they will want to avoid.

I commented there that this would have been more accurate pre-Bush and especially pre-Katrina. In recent years it has become clearer that the conservatives/Republicans are the party of big government and increased government intrusion in individual’s lives. In a two party system this forces opponents of this trend into the opposing party, leading to the Democrats having an increased number of people who support liberal social issues but not necessarily traditional Democratic economic issues. Even Democratic leaders such as Jimmy Carter, John Kerry and Howard Dean identify themselves as social liberals and fiscal conservatives, while Markos Moulitsas calls himself a Libertarian Dem.

Following 9/11 and Katrina a hard line anti-government line has fallen out of fashion, changing the desirability of association with libertarianism as opposed to liberalism for many. Labels have problems in grouping people together who disagree in many areas, and separating those who have many areas of agreement. Depending upon the words you prefer and how you define them, this blog could be considered liberal, classical liberal, or even “small-l” libertarian in its concentration on civil liberties and opposing the social policies of the Republicans. Perhaps a few years ago I might have been less likely to use Liberal in the title. Considering the manner in which the Republicans have disgraced the word conservative, I think this is the right time to rehabilitate liberalism from the smears the word has been subjected to from Republicans for the last couple of decades.

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  1. 1
    John the Marine says:

    “Liberal” is indeed a bad word these days. Bush has driven many traditional “Conservatives” (like myself) to reconsider. However, there is a huge problem. The Democrats are a choice I could never make. The current Democratic Party should really be called the American Socialist Party. Anyone who has a libertarian outlook could never vote for them. Their love of; class warfare, minority pandering, and Political Correctness makes me sick. No, the evils of the Neo-Con Bush adminastration pale in comparison. At this point if I don’t vote Republican, it is either vote third party or don’t vote at all.

    Also, as my name conveys, I’m a Marine. I fought for the U.S. and love my country. The Dems are defeatist blame America first cowards begging at the feet of the U.N. and the E.U. If there pink domestic policy isn’t enough to make me loath them, then their panty waist foriegn policy is truely disgusting. Hell, I wouldn’t follow some one like John Kerry or Ted “Boosy” Kenedy through the chow line. Let alone respect them as anything remotely approaching a man. Bring back Zell Miller (Retired Sen (D) from Georgia) and I’ll vote for him. Howard Dean and Co. can suck my Di… Well you know what mean.

    Have good one. Interesting post.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Sounds like you’ve been listening too much to the Rove-style attacks on Democrats. Attacking and distorting the views of their opponents with such attacks is what they do best. (They certainly can’t govern effectively.)

  3. 3
    Pamela says:


    I guess he’s not the Marine that was at JK’s speech today… see MBK’s post –

  4. 4
    mbk says:

    Interesting post, Ron. Certainly,supposely conservative libertarians I know have the same objections to Bush , the Patriot Act, etc., that I do. There’s a potential for a real and important alliance there. (Did you ever think you’d see Bob Barr in alliance with the ACLU and Gore on civil liberties? Well, that’s happened. .) With the Kansas Democratic governor recruiting moderate Republicans to run as Democrat, traditional definitions and battle lines are blurring and changing in many ways, in many contexts. That’s a good sign of growth and ferment and change, I think. . . I hope!

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    I think there’s been a considerable realignment of the parties–which our Marine visitor has obviously missed. Not that Democrats were ever as socialistic as Republicans claimed, but to the degree there was some truth to this in the past, this is no longer the case. The real difference now is that Republicans use government to benefit and transfer wealth to big corporatons and the rich, while Democrats represent the interests of the middle class as well as the poor, including both small businessmen and working people.

    The major differences between the parties right now are on social issues and foreign policy. Whether someone goes to church multiple times a week versus once or less is the most accurate predictor of someone’s political party. Note that this leaves both moderately religious people who go to church once a week, as well as the non-religious as more likley to be Democrats, contrary to the image Republicans prefer to portray. On foreign policy, we have Republicans who have fallen for the neocon line versus Democrats who prefer a more rational foreign policy, and one which concentrates on defending the country from terrorism as opposed to fighting in Iraq.

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