The meanings of words such as liberal and conservative vary in varying contexts, a situation that has caused confusion with unfortunate consequences. We’re going to review the evolution of liberalism, some ambiguity in modern nomenclature, and how that has been exploited by reactionary elements to defeat American liberalism by deceiving the American right, who we will see are also liberals themselves, inciting them to disesteem liberalism, and in so doing, to facilitate the installation of an un-American government.
In the grand scheme of the evolution of political systems, hunter-gatherer bands with subsistence economies settled to form civilized tribes which, with increasing specialization and advancing technologies, began accumulating wealth and stratifying into classes. Typically, this included a ruling class, a priestly class, a warrior class, and perhaps a class of skilled artisans, the remainder being the lowest class of unskilled and untitled workers. This top down hierarchical structure was the original archetype for almost all governments, from nomadic bands with their chieftains and shamans, to the great monarchies ruled by various pharaohs, ceasars, kings, emperors and tsars – all variations on a hierarchical power theme.
Originally, the monarch was considered the source of all authority and the owner of all wealth. Despite brief experiments in ancient times with democracy, this model of the absolute monarch, ordained of god, was largely intact in our western tradition through the early Middle Ages. By that time, a nobility had evolved which shared some of the wealth, but initially, none of the political power. Beginning with the Magna Carta, signed by King John I in the 13th century at Runnymede, and with multiple subsequent innovations such as courts of law and various guaranteed legal protections, parliament and then a House of Commons, there was a diffusion of political power from the extreme concentration in a single monarch outward to the nobility, and then to the landed but untitled soldier and artisan classes, and even eventually, in small degree, to the peasant class. It was with these changes that a struggle ensued between the monarch, who was trying to CONSERVE his authority and his great fortune according to the ancient order, and the various competing interests that wanted to LIBERATE some of that wealth and political power for themselves. Each change that liberated more of that wealth and/or power from the monarch was another liberal advance.
Liberal government was not invented at Runnymede. The short-lived democracy in Athens and the Roman republic of ancient times alluded to above deserve that honor, and these went much farther in distributing political power than all of the advances between the Magna Carta and the American Revolution. But these disappeared from the world, and the world was void of democracy until its renaissance in modern times. The Athenians were defeated in war by foreign aggressors, and the Romans reestablish dictatorship following a civil war and military coup. The English revolution under Cromwell deposed a monarch, but replaced him with another dictator, and only temporarily. It wasn’t until the American Revolution, and shortly thereafter, the French revolution, in the late 18th century that modern democracy reemerged and persisted continually since. Dozens of other states have evolved without revolution into republics since then, many retaining titular monarchs stripped of all political power.
The state of government that existed prior to liberal government, usually absolute monarchy, is the extreme in the conservative end of the spectrum, demarking the far right of the political spectrum. If the monarch also controls all property, it is also the far right of the economic spectrum. Advocacy of or movement back toward this position from a more leftward configuration of government is called reactionary politics.
Taking the liberation process to its extreme, we have complete and equal sharing of political power and wealth, which is Marxist Communism, or Marxism. This demarcates the extreme left in both the political and economic spectrums. Advocacy leftward toward this extreme is called radical politics.
Marx’s leftist vision is not to be confused with the visions of men like Lenin, Stalin, Mao and even Castro, who are also called Communists. Each of these advocated a controlled, or socialist economy like Marx, which, as stated, is the far left of the economic spectrum. But each also retained authoritarian rule, which is the extreme right of the political spectrum. It is a partial untruth to call the Soviet or Chinese Communists leftists and to equate them with political liberalism with that language. To liberals, such Communists are no different politically than fascist dictators like Hitler and Mussolini and are also reactionary governments. To repeat, Marxism, which calls for a form of democracy and which was never successfully implemented in any of the states in which it was attempted, represents on paper the ultimate liberation and diffusion of both wealth and power, and is thus at the far left end of both the political and economic spectrums. Marxism and absolute monarchy define the full political spectrum from extreme left to extreme right.
It profits us to consider the political and economic elements separately, since a state’s political and economic models can occupy different relative places on the power and wealth spectrum, that is, each can be diffused or concentrated independently. While Marxism with its democracy and pure socialism maximizes the diffusion or liberation of both wealth and political power, capitalistic democracies advocate an equally extreme diffusion of political power, but not of wealth. Economically, America, with its tycoons and paupers, is to the right of Marxism.
Lets dwell a moment longer on the political similarities between democracy Marxist style and democracy American style which account for both being called leftist, or more accurately, liberal. Generally, the term radical is not applied to Americanism, just Marxism, which suggests that it is the economics if anything, their chief difference, that is being referred to with the label radical as applied to Marxism. The extreme in diffusion of power amongst citizens is found in democracy, whether it be the one that Marx was describing or the one that our own Constitution approximates. It invest all power in the body of citizens, each being free and treated equally under the law, and each possessing the franchise (i.e., having an equal vote) with which he has an equal say in determining public policy and the law, and who will be the elected public servants in government. No actual Communist country has implemented this state of affairs. Nor has America, although its political evolution through most of its history - until well into the 20th century - has been to approximate this ideal ever more closely. Black citizens, female citizens and finally 18-21 year old citizens were added to the list of voters, and legal protections for various minority interests were added or bolstered, such as those for racial minorities, women, gay citizens, the elderly and others. Thus, America originally occupied a place relatively far left on the political spectrum, and it inched further leftward as it moved toward perfecting its form of democracy by more evenly distributing the power of the franchise and the protections of the law. Freedoms were maximal for heterosexual white males from the outset, but these also increased somewhat for other citizens over this period as abolition, suffrage and gay rights movements, among others, advanced of less free citizens. And all Americans across the American political spectrum, including conservative, who over the centuries have organized into political parties called Federalists, then Whigs, then Republicans, were fervent advocates of the twin liberal ideals of freedom and democracy. I take the pains to elaborate all of this because this is what liberals believe and what defines political liberalism, whether Marxist or American. Anybody who supports these ideas is ideologically some form of liberal, including most Republican voters.
Now, lets switch gears and consider economic systems briefly which also vary from maximally concentrated wealth on the right to maximally distributed wealth on the left. We are mostly interested in the monarchy or aristocracy models of the extreme and far right, capitalism in the center, and socialism on the right. Here, America was originally purely capitalist, the central position on the economic spectrum, one which diffuses wealth more than the one in which the monarch owns everything, but not as much as controlled communist economies, which even wealth out very nearly perfectly. The original form of Americanism, which today is called classical liberalism, paired democracy with laissez-faire capitalism. Capitalism was a natural choice for the new American state, as it a reaction to all both forms of government control – monarchical on the right and governmental in communism. People like the first Americans were skeptical of government, and viewed it as a necessary evil whose intervention in matters economic was both unnecessary and undesirable.
With time, a competing philosophy evolved in America that borrowed ever more from socialism, one which advocated using the government to redistribute a fraction of the wealth from the rich to the poor. America began experimenting with a mixed capitalist-socialist economy. Advocates of this model were still champions of individual freedom and empowerment. But, they argued, a person could not be truly free if he or she was hungry, needlessly sick or illiterate, for example, and that a limited share of the discretionary wealth of the most prosperous Americans should be redistributed to underwrite various public works such as public health, public education and a minimal social safety net. This list grew with time to include a standing military, various police agencies, roads, utility infrastructure and more. These liberals were called progressives because of their belief that government could improve society, that we could make progress from where we started and improve society with this social engineering. They were also called social liberals to distinguish them from the classical liberals of the American right from which they derived and who were objecting to ever increasing public projects and higher taxes, what was called creeping socialism. Classical liberals argued that we had won our freedom from the oppression of government once, and that we had at one time agreed that the government that governed least governed best. Such people, while still liberals as always, were to the right of the new liberals. They eventually were called conservatives. But remember, these classical liberals were only conservative relative to the social liberals. Both species of patriot were still over on the far left wing of the bird, where the individual rights and freedoms, and the rule of law where all men were created equal reined supreme.
Let us then conceive of two scales, the shorter one contained in the left end of the longer one. The macro-spectrum ranges from absolute government on the right to minimal government on the left. The micro-spectrum contains two types of liberals sitting beside one another. To the right are the classical, laissez-faire liberals, and to their left are the progressives or social liberals. The groups call themselves liberals and conservatives, but these conservatives, as classical liberals, have much more in common with the social liberals who are just a notch to their left than with classical conservatives as embodied by the absolute monarchies of the Bourbons of late 18th century France and the Romanoffs of early 20th century Russia.
And here is what we have been working up to. Lately, an antidemocratic and antiegalitarian element that respects a Machiavellian methodology, one so far to the right of the macro-spectrum that it is off of the American spectrum altogether, has emerged and gained control first of the Republican Party, and then of the American government. This latest innovation, which initially came to power in 1980 under Reagan and gave us the Iran-Contra crimes, the loss of the Fairness Doctrine and the savings and loan crisis and bailout, and which is now manifest as the Neocons of the present, authors of a fraudulent war, rampant lawlessness and crony capitalism and the trampling of the Constitution, in between having manifest through the nineties under the Atwaters and Gingriches of the Republican revolution with their Contract with America and the politicized impeachment of the Democratic president. This ideology is not contained in the micro-spectrum at all. It is fascist and authoritarian, and represents the far reactionary right that has no respect for ordinary individuals, their rights, their freedoms or their property. These fascistic elitists intend to concentrate both the wealth and power of the nation by stealing it from the citizens. Actually, they mostly already have cornered the power market, having established and presently consolidating a reactionary regime, complete with a fabulously wealthy and unelected aristocracy that is above the law, and which exploits a politically and economically disempowered emerging peasant class. It has been systematically disabling the Constitution and regulatory agencies which would constrain it, infiltrating all branches of government in order to defeat egalitarian and democratic safeguards from within that formerly divided and limited governmental power and regulated business practices to serve the interest of the citizens. It has filled four of nine spots on the Supreme Court, almost all of the Republican Party in Congress and the White House, and a sizeable chunk of the Democratic Party to boot.
Concomitantly, this sinister movement has poisoned the election process with a multitude of devices including voter purges, election day dirty tricks and even fraudulent voting boxes and vote counts.
Finally, these people also transformed the media from a watchdog of the democratic process to a corporate lapdog with the a three-prong approach consisting of repealing the Fairness Doctrine, consolidating and concentrating the media into the hands of a relatively few corporate friendly interests, and manipulating journalists and citizens with a continual and disingenuous claim of a liberal bias to the news and a network of print and broadcast propagandists, most notably, hate radio and Fox News. From this position of media control, the Neocons have co-opted the less sophisticated minds among us with their retinue of pseudo-newsy talking heads continually repeating the same disingenuous memes and manufacturing support for its stealth agenda.
An important element in that process was the exploitation of the ambiguity of the words liberal and conservative. These monsters convinced the conservative American voters, which, as we recall were also known as the classical liberals, that all things liberal were bad. Of course, all of this was done with feigned interest in the welfare of the American people and lip service to a shared culture of respect for the Constitution, the traditions of America, a love of freedom and democracy, and a vision of shared prosperity, all of lies, and all the while draped in the flag and the Bible.