I believe that scholarship is confused when “liberal” means leftist in the USA, but not elsewhere. There is no end of confusion when Americans say things like “I am liberal on social issues, but conservative on economic issues,” by which they mean to some extent that they are classically liberal on both sets of issues. Plus, I am alarmed by the increasingly illiberal trends of the modern academy, and don’t think the left should retain the rights to the word “liberal.”
The word liberal is powerful. It relates to liberty and toleration, reflected in to liberalize. Words have histories that a generation or two cannot undo. A word has cognates and connotations that make our language cohere, more than we know, more than dictionary definitions can tell.
The statement explains that “liberal” once represented the views of Enlightenment era, perhaps best identified through the work of Adam Smith, an 18th Century moral philosopher and the father of modern economics.
It was Clancy who taught me that no, the libertarian tradition doesn’t begin with Ayn Rand but goes back to the classical liberals of the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, said Clancy, they didn’t call themselves classical liberals. They were, simply, liberals.
Don Boudreaux declares that Paul Krugman is not a liberal at cafehayek.com.
I refuse to call the likes of, say, Paul Krugman or E.J. Dionne or Rachel Maddow or Alec Baldwin or Nancy Pelosi or Bernie Sanders or Barack Obama or Francois Hollande or Thomas Piketty or Pope Francis “liberal.” They are not liberal.
Brian Micklethwait discusses LU and highlights governmentalization at samizdata.net.
I think there may be clue to what we should call them in the first quote above, in which the LU Statement talks about “governmentalization”. This surely gets to the heart of what we are objecting to here.
Alex Chafuen writes about LU and the language of politics at Forbes.com
Two noted scholars, Mario Rizzo and Richard Epstein, at NYU, started the Classical Liberal Institute in 2013. They are part of a group of economists, political scientists and philosophers who have endorsed Liberalism Unrelinquished (LU), an effort to recover the word.
David Henderson writes about LU as well as Chafuen’s article at econlog.
George Leef defends the classical meaning of “liberalism” at Forbes.
Liberals wanted to free people from domineering institutions so they could pursue their own happiness and goals. They also understood that free individuals are more productive, more charitable, more innovative, and more inclined to cooperate with others.
Julie Novak celebrates LU with a bio of the late classical liberal Bruce Smith at CatallaxyFiles.com.
[Liberalism is] a philosophy which, in practical terms, has enabled human beings to become richer, safer, healthier, smarter, happier, and more socially accepting, everywhere it has been applied to its fullest extent.
In North America, before liberal came to represent a position favoring increasing government intervention in the economy — consolidated in the 1940s with the New Deal era of public works and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society — this word referred to the ideas of intellectuals like Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, or Herbert Spencer (the nineteen-century US liberal who witnessed the demise of the tradition).
In modern Canadian and US politics, many take the word liberal to mean progressive. In this sense, people usually associate it with the Democratic Party (or the Liberal Party in Canada) and with those who favor state intervention in the economy.
Robert V. Young, editor of Modern Age, writes in his preface to the Summer 2015 issue:
Our lead essay, by Daniel Klein, “A Plea Regarding ‘Liberal,‘” does not merely lament the capture of the beguiling terms liberal and liberalism by the progressive left; Professor Klein exhorts us to undertake a reversal of this semantic coup d’état. His plea ought to be heeded: conservatism in some ways requires a healthy liberalism in order to define its own vision; and teaching the true meaning of words like liberalism in the context of their development in our culture is a means of teaching history, which is also critical to explaining conservatism to our contemporaries. We acquiesce at our peril in the expropriation of such terms as liberal to the social and political developments that are increasingly bizarre, benighted, and simply destructive.