Mirriam-Webster's definition of the word "liberalism" begins, "[a] political and economic doctrine that emphasizes the rights and freedoms of the individual and the need to limit the powers of government."
By this definition, I am a liberal, and I have been a liberal for my entire adult life. I believe strongly in individual rights, civil rights. I don't believe in human beings being placed under the thumb of government oppressors. This comes from a knowledge of history. Most of human history consists of monarchies, emperors, and other various forms of authoritarian government dictatorships, the kind that trample individual rights. Liberalism, a relatively modern invention, was the better way.
Liberalism originated as a defensive reaction to the horrors of the European wars of religion of the 16th century (see Thirty Years War). Its basic ideas were given formal expression in works by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, both of whom argued that the power of the sovereign is ultimately justified by the consent of the governed, given in a hypothetical social contract rather than by divine right (see divine kingship). In the economic realm, liberals in the 19th century urged the end of state interference in the economic life of society. Following Adam Smith, they argued that economic systems based on free markets are more efficient and generate more prosperity than those that are partly state-controlled.
I'm still completely on board with liberalism, proud to be called a liberal. I prefer people be left to make their own social and economic decisions, rather than have some distant government body make their decisions for them, as if the people are little more than mindless sheep who must be led into the pen. While government is obviously necessary to avoid anarchy, it shouldn't be overly intrusive. I am the embodiement of this liberalism.
But then liberalism began to change a bit, as Mirriam-Webster points out:
In response to the great inequalities of wealth and other social problems created by the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America, liberals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries advocated limited state intervention in the market and the creation of state-funded social services, such as free public education and health insurance.
In response to "inequalities of wealth", liberalism stopped being about promoting individual liberty, and it started to be about promoting equality of outcome, also known as redistribution of wealth. Still, in the early 20th century, the intervention of the state was limited to certain areas, providing a basic social underpinning to the collective. That wasn't such a bad thing. It was compassionate, as most liberals would tell you. Also notice that the "inequality of wealth" argument is nothing new to liberals. They've been using it since the 19th century.
The problem is, once the government STARTS sticking it's nose into your business, it KEEPS ON sticking it's nose into your business. That is it's nature, and that's exactly what happened with this change in American liberalism, as Mirriam-Webster notes:
In the U.S. the New Deal program undertaken by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt typified modern liberalism in its vast expansion of the scope of governmental activities and its increased regulation of business.
Notice how, all under the guise of liberalism, the definition of a liberal American government moved from a limited one to an ever more expansive one. While individual aspects of this move can be viewed as either positive or negative, depending on one's viewpoint, the overall direction of the move is inevitably back toward the very authoritative, rights-restricting totalitarian government to which liberalism was initially opposed. This is where I stopped being proud to be called a liberal, and started being very wary of this kind of new liberalism, which, ironically, I don't consider to be very liberal at all. I have problems reconciling liberalism with authoritarianism. In my book, those are supposed to be antonyms, not synonyms.
Finally, Mirriam-Webster has this to say about modern liberalism:
After World War II a further expansion of social welfare programs occurred in Britain, Scandinavia, and the U.S. Economic stagnation beginning in the late 1970s led to a revival of classical liberal positions favouring free markets, especially among political conservatives in Britain and the U.S. Contemporary liberalism remains committed to social reform, including reducing inequality and expanding individual rights.
Wait a minute. Now, according to Mirriam-Webster, if I favor "classical liberal positions favouring free markets", that makes me a "political conservative" ??? Ain't that a kick in the pants !!! And here all this time I thought I was a liberal !!!
This shift in liberalism created quite a conundrum for me. Growing up, I thought conservatives were, like, those rich WASP types who lived on the west side of Akron and went to the Portage Country Club. I didn't have anything in common with them. I was just a working class kid from Goodyear Heights. Everybody I knew was a Democrat. I was hard-pressed to even name any Republicans from my neighborhood, but I wasn't about to stop advocating free markets and begin advocating state controlled markets just because they were pretending to call that liberalism. Heck no. I was a liberal, but I wasn't crazy. I lived in the USA, not the Soviet Union.
So I became a Libertarian in the 90's. At least Libertarians were serious about liberty, unlike these neo-liberal nazi-wannabees who are more aptly described as progressives, socialists, fascists, authoritarians, or whatever. They sure aren't liberal, promoting liberty. They are promoting something else entirely (mainly division). Libertarianism allowed me to keep my classical liberal beliefs about both social and economic liberty, though I did eventually find Libertarians to be a bit naive. These days I just call myself an Independent.
Nowadays, all my hardcore liberal friends look at me like I'm Rush Limbaugh or something, which doesn't bother me, because it only proves how clueless and far adrift they have roamed. The same liberal kids who stood beside me and railed against "the man" in the 1970's, and said things like "never trust anyone over 30", are now advocating in favor of the man at age 60. Go figure. They remind me of all those Marxist revolutionaries who got into power and then became totalitarian monsters wielding absolute power. Total hypocrites. Then my liberal friends have the nerve to complain about things like corruption and crony capitalism, when that is exactly what they have unwittingly brought about with their big government policies favoring connected insiders. These are people who have learned nothing from history, and are then mystified when they are doomed to repeat it's lessons.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, I was always a liberal. I still am. It's just that so many liberals aren't.
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