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Is "Liberal" still a useful term?

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OpedNews asserts itself as 'Liberal' in it's logo next to where it says 'Progressive' and 'Tough.'

No one will argue that being Tough isn't an attribute you want in any journalists who cover important news. God knows we could use some more of it. With the professional, highly-paid journalists unwilling to touch anything resembling serious news out of fear of losing their cushy gig as apologizer and official ignorer, people willing to publicly say anything about the noose tightening around our collection necks should be applauded.

 For the people who dwell on these servers, I'd also be surprised if Progressive wasn't a trait most people like to describe themselves as. Progress seems by definition to be a good thing. A conservative mentality can be useful to prevent overly rapid change from destroying societal glue but overall, I suspect most of us want to be publicly advocating the positive and necessary change and growth our species is always undergoing in regards to respecting minority elements of it. Gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. If progressivism means allowing more people into the societal decision making process, this seems positive to me. For those who argue diversity is the dangerous part and believe Sharia Law will conquer the West's ability to implement democracy if you allow Muslims into it; just remember, the misogynistic, homophobic version of Sharia Law is incompatible with progressivism as well. Stick to the laws of maximum inclusion and any mentality that tries to oppress another is automatically seen as illegitimate from the start. 

I'm wondering something here today though. Is liberalism still a trait that runs parallel to progressivism? Is it something progressives should want tp be?

From what I remember of my political science studies, US liberalism is mostly based around John Locke and John Stuart Mill and those founding fathers who read them. John Locke believed in limited government intervention overall, neither social nor economic. John Stuart Mill was similar. Let people make there own mistakes and don't spoil them with nanny-stating that may destroy their work ethic and sense of responsibility. Government interference should only involve protecting people's bodies and possessions from each others violence, whether physical or emotional. Essentially, liberalism was what libertarianism is today expect that Jon Stuart Mill also believed cruel words are a type of punishable aggression which I doubt many small-government advocates would accept. Since none of the old-school fathers of liberalism are around today, we have no real evidence of what they would say to the notion of corporate oppression being more dangerous than government. All we know is they didn't like state oppression. Clearly they would argue that much of the stuff the government is actively participating in is evil and illiberal as well but what would they say to the idea that concentrated wealth itself is inherently dangerous and should be dealt with by a society. Considering they were intelligent and compassionate theorists, I have no doubt they would despise a culture where business interests buy elections (94% of the time, richer candidates win elections!)

But all we really have on paper is their fear of government.

In any case, looking at different countries gives you a pretty immediate feeling that people use the term differently and often contradictorily. I'm from Canada. The Liberals were originally essentially a western farmer party who wanted to be left alone by the government and by the moneyed classes of the eastern, aristocratic Conservatives. As an originally highly state-directed county, the Conservatives represented the old aristocratic system and the strong commercial interests who knew them. The Liberals believed in maximum freedom from government and the Conservatives believed in a more structured society where neither social nor economic aspects were free from social forces using the government to put controls on society.

Since then, the Liberals have come to represent the eastern provinces, welfare government, reduced social interference except on issues like healthcare where people collectively cover the costs, and a generally low level of interference with business. The Conservatives have come to mostly represent the western provinces (especially their energy sectors), more social interference on moral issues but less on nanny-state protections, a reduced welfare state, and limited interference with capital and business.

Looking at the US, it seems the country has evolved with the Democrats being similar to our modern Liberals and the Republicans being similar to our modern Conservative Party. Degrees differ but they do seem to sync up. In both cases, both major parties demand economic freedom for big capital while allowing people to argue and vote over the social aspects. The Conservatives and Republicans both draw election funds from business since the death of the American labor movement. They are willing to use social divides like abortion and gay marriage as wedge issues to force in even greater corporate-favoring agendas while the debate over the issues gives the appearance of meaningful differences between the parties.

What I'm thinking, though, is that in both Locke and Mill's times, it was the government that was most capable of controlling and oppressing people. Liberalism meant protection from the whims of your often unelected rulers. It's easy to see, though, that an emphasis on protection from government in the US has left the citizens open to assaults from capital. Pollution, government corruption via bribes and campaign funding, the stripping of resources, financial concentration, economic crises, etc. Overly powerful business with a messed-up incentive structure that they helped shape has caused a good number of problems for humanity.

The pundit rhetoric on MSM news in the US describes every event that is 'left-wing', welfare state-ish, politically correct, government-driven, etc as liberalism. That's not what it means though. Being forced to wear seat-belts is the opposite of liberalism. Having to buy health care under Obama's plan is the opposite of liberalism. Having the government force you to do anything is the opposite of traditional liberalism. Personally, being from Canada, I believe in laws like mandatory seat-belts because it allows us to sustain our national healthcare system more cheaply. This means I'm not a liberal by the traditional definition. In the US, both parties are economically liberal and the Democrats tend towards classically liberal in that they allow social freedom as well.

 I realize terms change and are used differently over time but if liberalism no longer refers to allowing total freedom from interference in every sense, the word has lost its coherency. Neo-liberals are bad. We all sort of inherently know this. Their economic system puts as much moral emphasis on preying on each as it does on cooperating. Neo-Conservatives are just the next step when they try and rally the troops around supporting economic aristocracy by bringing in a few social issues they know some people will support. Liberals are drawing from a tradition that essentially gives birth to modern neo-liberalism when followed to its logical conclusions. Basically, what I'm suggesting is that supporting liberalism by the name liberalism is to be supporting total economic freedom for everyone. If you've been seeing the same world I have been for the last decade, corporate freedom is the most dangerous thing facing humanity.

I think it's time to throw Liberal from the title. Economic liberalism outsourced the manufacturing jobs, economic liberalism allows the hiding of funds in pretend banks on the beach, economic liberalism forces us into a race to the bottom to pick up the scraps. Not to say the market and its incentive structure doesn't have its place. It does and some Scandinavian countries have demonstrated how to use it properly. Still, you'd be a fool to say our current neo-liberal market world economy is creating maximum benefits for all in a sustainable fashion. Social liberalism remains a good thing but it is inherently tied to economic liberalism which we cannot afford anymore. Progressivism as a movement properly acknowledges this and only claims to be socially liberal.

Let's be Tough Progressives. Traditional liberalism has come to be contradictory with progressivism in this era of corporate money dominance. We must make it so nothing is off the table in regards to increasing human rights. This must be thought of in the context of realizing we must directly help those in need while avoiding creating groups unable to care for themselves due to excessive welfare and zero expectations since that could be considered an assault on human rights as well. John Stuart Mill was definite on this point. I'm not someone who tends to scream about Caddy-Driving Welfare Queens because I feel the system does much more good than harm but progressives need to take critiques of the welfare system seriously. Getting people to an equal standing must be seen as goal number one and it can take some tough love. But that's the key. It takes love and we've seen that neo-liberal capitalism breeds none of it amongst those who have the most influence. People can no longer pretend that moving capital around in ways that denies people decent lives and destroys communities, environments and lives, is a basic freedom that the forefathers in their love for liberalism would have approved of. The world is finite. Communities will have to make decisions that favor their interests even if it means freedom of capital can't be totally honored.

 John Locke admitted that his justification for private property can only work "at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others." There is not as much and as good for everyone anymore; those with the power are rapidly trying to gobble up what's left. It's time to fight for human rights first. Property rights beyond what is needed to sustain oneself will be offered second.

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25 year-old Canadian student, currently attaining my masters in political science. Work with mentally disabled individuals for employment. Try to be politically involved. A card-carrying member of the provincial and federal green parties of Canada. (more...)
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