This has been sticking in my craw for a long time and it is high time that I penned a short post about it.
You see a lot of people in America who will self identify as “liberal”, but in almost all cases those people are in fact the opposite of liberal. The general understanding of the definition of “liberal” in America has changed greatly over the years and now means authoritarian.
This reality and the widespread misunderstanding of it have bothered me for a long time. In fact, while re-reading portions of F.A. Hayek’s incredibly good The Road to Serfdom a few weeks ago, I saw that Hayek himself addressed it.
When I first read Hayek’s classic, which contends that all collectivist systems ultimately descend into tyranny, I was initially confused by his use of the word liberal to describe people that I would more properly label as libertarians. My confusion was based upon the reality that the word liberal got hijacked in America by people who are most decidedly not liberal. In the 1956 preface to the book, Hayek addresses this directly:
The fact that this book was originally written with only the British public in mind does not appear to have seriously affected its intelligibility for the American reader. But there is one point of phraseology which I ought to explain here to forestall any misunderstanding. I use throughout the term “liberal” in the original, nineteenth-century sense in which it is still current in Britain. In current American usage it often means very nearly the opposite of this. It has been part of the camouflage of leftist movements in this country, helped by the muddleheadedness of many who really believe in liberty, that “liberal” has come to mean the advocacy of almost every kind of government control. I am still puzzled why those in the United States who truly believe in liberty should not only have allowed the left to appropriate this almost indispensible term but should even have assisted by beginning to use it themselves as a term of opprobrium. This seems to be particularly regrettable because of the consequent tendency of many true liberals to describe themselves as conservative.
In other words, let’s stop playing along with their self-congratulatory but demonstrably false labeling.
When someone self-labels as a liberal, ask that person if they support ObamaCare or the takeover of the student loan program, for example. If they answer affirmatively, you should calmly but firmly communicate to them that liberal is an inappropriate word to describe their ideology and that the more correct term is authoritarian or, even better, statist. Mark Levin has returned the word statist to the lexicon and it is absolutely the most correct word to use when describing the American Left. They do not believe in individual liberty. What they do believe in is massively increased centralized control over the lives of the American people. That is the opposite of freedom.
In my case, I am a lowercase-L libertarian conservative, and I am far more correctly described as a [classical] liberal than any American so-called liberals. Unlike the American Left, I do believe in individual liberty, whereas they see us all as livestock living on their government collective.