So what about those liberals—by which I mean, those socialists—by which I mean, those communists?
Thus far in this little series (which starts here), we have tackled some terms whose definitions may be obscure to many readers: postmodernity, Critical Theory, and Cultural Marxism.
This week, let’s look at terms everybody thinks he or she understands: liberalism, socialism, and communism. Spoiler alert: most people don’t, in fact, understand them. And we must.
It’s true that the term “liberal” has undergone definitional alterations over the last several centuries. But if we remember that “liberal” comes from liber, Latin for “free,” we will see that mainstream North American political life is entirely liberal.
The political scientist Louis Hartz published an influential volume in 1955 called The Liberal Tradition in America. In it, he convincingly argues that American politics (and, I would aver, Canadian politics also) ranges almost entirely within the liberal part of the political spectrum: respect for the freedom of the individual that entails the protection of basic human rights, the rule of law treating everyone equally, constitutional constraints on power, governance by elected officials, and so on.
Few Americans, that is, call for a return to the divine right of kings or would like to be ruled by a charismatic priest or prophet. Not many Canadians advocate communism, or fascism, or governance by a military junta. If we consider all the political options thrown up by history around the globe, all of ours are pretty close together on the spectrum.
Truly, it makes more sense to think of our politics as contests and arguments among various “conservative liberals” and various “progressive liberals.”