You're a liberal. No, you're a liberal.

Often when I discuss politics with Americans (not here, elsewhere) I am ‘accused’ of being a liberal. It’s a bit confusing to me because I’ve never said I am a liberal. I am very politically active so I’ve definetely taken sides, and I am a paying member of a political party that is not identified as liberal.

I say ‘accused’ because within the context, the label of being a liberal seems to be intended as somewhat derogatory. Which is also a bit odd to me. Especially, since the people who accuse me are almost invariably… wait for it… liberals.

It seems popular to split ones political leanings first into two categories, social and economic, and then label them. In the social political spectrum it makes sense to have Liberal and Conservative at opposite sides, and people putting themself somewhere on that sliding scale. People will often say “Well I am economically conservative but socially liberal” or, less often, the opposite.

But the economical spectrum is different. On the left you would put Socialism, and on the right… liberalism. As far as I know there is no economic policy to the right of liberalism on the political scale. Liberalism promotes minimal government involvement and a free market. Which is usually exactly what people who say they are ‘economically conservative’ claim to want.

A simplified scale would look something like:

Socialist — Social Democrat — Liberal

So when people tell me they are “socially liberal and economically conservative” what they’re really saying is that they’re “socially liberal and economically liberal”. If you split your political opinions into two categories, and they both come out liberal, doesn’t that mean you’re… a liberal?

Americans use an assbackward political spectrum.

It’s not our fault though, our parties are run by morons who are borderline incapable of feeding themselves, much less discerning what words really mean.

When I try to explain that I’m a liberal in the true sense of the word, not in the politicised sense of the word, I invariable get responses like “So why do you want to ban guns?” or “So why do you like socialism!?”

Neither of which are political points of view I hold.

I think you’ve probably lost that battle of terminology. What you’re describing as “liberal” is what’s referred to in modern American English as “libertarian”. Now, you can argue that “libertarian” shouldn’t mean that, or that “liberal” should, but what a word actually does mean is what the speakers of the language understand it to mean, and the speakers of American English understand the word “liberal” (in economic contexts, at least) to mean policies favorable to the have-nots, and understand the word “libertarian” to mean minimal governmental intrusion into the economic sphere.

OK, that’s maybe not what the words historically meant, but if you’re going to go by history, then you’d have to conclude that “awful” is a compliment.

The previous two posters are spot on. I’ll add that many of the Founders of the US considered themselves “liberals” at the time, but would be horrified at the uses of the term now…TRM

in the larger world there exist economic ideologies other than the ones espoused by mainstream Democrats, mainstream Republicans and libertarians in America. E.g. there are the distinct economic systems of Germany and Japan, which should be quite familiar to us as hearkening back to American practices of the 1950s. Then there is the modern Chinese model.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter what is to the “right” of what - different models and ideologies are different. They have their good points and bad points that we can seek to learn, understand, apply and avoid. One of my favorite quotes is from the Japanese Meiji constitution: "Knowledge shall be sought for all over the world " - notice how different the attitude is from the more familiar zero sum ideological infighting between two camps both of which at the present are apparently morally bankrupt.

In the meantime, in American political discourse the word “liberal” is certainly closely connected to notions such as gun control. That’s because many self-identified liberals in America support that position.

I would only have lost the battle of terminology if we agree that what the average american means with a word is the definition of the word. The word liberal means, as far as I know, what I described in every nation except that of the US. And while the US is an important country, it is not the only one that matters.

No, sir. Words change their meanings over time, and especially in political discourse. What you are describing is classical liberalism or economic libertarianism, which is not economic liberalism as the latter term has been used in America ever since the New Deal. Liberalism is New Dealism, really. Neoliberalism is something different, more libertarian. And progressivism, as I argued in this thread, is something else again, something well to the right of “socialist” and well to the left of (New Deal) “liberal.”

Americans have a very difficult time discussing politics outside of discussing the conflict. They cannot discuss an issue and its merits without bringing up some nominal side that it places you on if your views superficially resemble one side or the other. Labelling a person as ‘the other’ is very important in American politics for some reason.

As for the contention that there are no economic policies to the right of “liberalism”, well, what economic policies do actual right-wing Europeans advocate?

They certainly aren’t in favor of economic liberalism. Usually they advocate protectionism of favored industries, subordination of industry to the state, distrust of bankers and merchants and foreign capital (that is, Jews), and so on.

Liberal economics isn’t conservative, it is of course anti-conservative. Here in America conservatives for various complicated reasons don’t advocate traditionally conservative economic policies.

Forget having the meaning of words change over time, the meaning of words change in different contexts. Most of the time, when someone is describing the views of someone who stands on the left side of the political spectrum, we can say they are liberal. However, this is not the same word “liberal” as would apply to the social/philosophical movement that we more commonly know as libertarianism.

It’s no different than calling Nixon a “foreign policy realist,” but that doesn’t mean he is also a “Platonic realist” or a “philosophical realist.”

Protectionism and subordination of industry to state is obviously very much to the left of liberalism, since liberalism promotes a free market, deregulation and minimal government involvement.

As far as I know there is no such thing as a universal “conservative” policy of economy. The conservative political movements are not coherent across nation borders since it depends on the history of the relevant country. Conservatism promotes values such as tradition, stability and continuity. What this means will of course vary depending on the specific nations history. You could argue that conservative economics in the US would equal liberal economics because historically the US has been at the front of liberalism. Older nations often have a history of mercantilism, some have more recent histories of socialism. So being a conservative in Romania or India might mean something completely different. Whereas being a liberal means the same thing everywhere in the world. Except the USA.

Also, the phrase “traditionally conservative…” did strike me as quite funny. :slight_smile:

Usually liberal policies such as deregulation and free trade.
Republicans are the (economic) liberals. The Democrats would be closer to progressives or (right-wing) social democrats.

My point is that the REAL liberals in the US are those who say that they are “fiscally conservative but socially liberal”, they are in fact fiscally AND socially liberal. Whereas the Democrats are more like social liberals. Basically you have a centrist right wing (Dem) and an extreme right-wing (Pub) party, as seen from a neutral viewpoint.

Again, “they” are talking about the political spectrum with liberals belonging on one end and conservatives on the other. They are not talking about the political philosophy of liberalism, which is what you are doing. Liberals do not have to believe in liberalism, no more than conservatives have to be conservationists. Similar words, but different meanings.

“Liberal” as the term was understood by Gladstone and his allies meant a political philosophy in which people would be free to act in any legal way they listed, subject to laws evenly applied across the board to all persons. This was in contradistinction to perceived Tory subservience to aristocratic wealth, privilege, and tradition-based authority. (While this is phrased in British terms, similar attitudes were valid in Europe, particularly in Germany and the Habsburg domains.

As such, they came to be seen as the Left, “change-is-good” side of the non-extremist vast majority of the population.

However, with the rise of social justice and social welfare movements, socialism and its variants, and radical anti-statism, traditional Liberalism east of the Atlantic was perceived as more and more a rightist party, clinging to the changes already made by then and unwilling to go on to the more radical reforms advanced by the new Left of the time. This view was exported to Australia, where the Liberals are the major right-wing party.

In America, however, the terms Liberal and Conservative tended to keep their old significance, of the groups that embrace change for the social good and those who accept already-made changes grudgingly if at all as a part of the status quo, but who resist any further change and might well seek to reverse more recent changes respectively.

Canada being Canada, they took an inbetween stance between U.S. and European values, in which the Liberal Party was centrist.

A ‘neutral viewpoint’? What exactly would that be?

The bottom line is that you’re always going to get into trouble if you try to pigeonhole anyone’s political beliefs with a single-word label, except for those people who are so rigidly doctrinaire that you can completely predict where they fall on every single issue, in which case you might as well stamp whatever label you want on them and use it as shorthand.

The problem with political terms is that they are slippery - because politicians and partisans have no trouble re-branding themselves when their policies fall out of favor.

It’s worth pointing out that in some contexts in the 1960s, “liberal” meant “not radical” as often as it meant “not conservative”.

The emphasis was on moderation in working within the system for change rather than tearing down and re-creating the entire system.

Obviously not true, since in most of the world, “liberal” doesn’t mean anything at all. Not everyone speaks English, you know. Sure, you can come up with French or Russian or Chinese words that mean the same thing, but then you have the burden of proving that “liberal” is the correct English translation of those words, rather than “libertarian”.

Words have no inherent definition. They mean what the speakers understand them to mean. The definition of a word cannot be wrong, if that’s how people understand the term.

I’ll grant that some definitions may be better than others, because they cause less confusion, or are more precise or whatever. Is your definition of “liberal” a better definition? How so?

And comparing America to the rest of the world isn’t very important. There are lots of words that America and the rest of the English speaking world disagree on the meaning of.


You know what liberal is in swedish? Liberal. In french it is libéral and in finnish it is liberaali. In croatian it is liberal but in german it is liberale. Considering that english is my second language I think it is safe to assume that I already know that not everyone speaks english. But a lot of people do. And a lot of other languages have the word liberal.