Rockridge Institute Reframing public debate

Liberals traditionally are defined as people interested in change. They are usually pro-union and in favor of a social net and interested in environmental issues.

Classical Liberalism Revisited

I ran across an interesting essay regarding the history and original meaning of liberalism. An interesting read. A quick definition, very different from liberals of today:

  • an ethical emphasis on the individual as a rights-bearer prior to the existence of any state, community, or society,

  • the support of the right of property carried to its economic conclusion, a free-market system,

  • the desire for a limited constitutional government to protect individuals' rights from others and from its own expansion, and

  • the universal (global and ahistorical) applicability of these above convictions.


"The eight-hour day; the minimum wage; the conservation of natural resources and the protection of our air, water, and land; women's rights and civil rights; free trade unions; Social Security; a civil service based on merit -- all these were launched as citizen's movements and won the endorsement of the political class only after long struggles and in the face of bitter opposition and sneering attacks" (Bill Moyers. "This is Your Story. Pass It On." Texas Observer, 8/13/04: 4-9, 38).

A Day in the Life of Joe Middle-Class Republican

by Donna L. Lavins and Sheldon Cotler

Joe gets up at 6:00 AM to prepare his morning coffee. He fills his pot with good, clean drinking water because some liberal fought for minimum water quality standards. He takes his daily medication with his first swallow of coffee. His medications are safe to take because some liberal fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10.00 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan. Because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance, now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast -- bacon and eggs this day. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

Joe takes his morning shower, reaching for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with every ingredient and the amount that is contains because some liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and the breakdown of its contents. Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some tree-hugging liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work; it saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees. You see, some liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day; he has a good job with excellent pay, medicals benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer meets these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed he'll get worker's compensation or an unemployment check because some liberal didn't think he should lose his home to temporary misfortune.

It's noon time. Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae underwritten mortgage and his below market federal student loan because some stupid liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive to dadís; his car is among the safest in the world because some liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. He was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans. The house didn't have electric until some big government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification (those rural Republicans would still be sitting in the dark).

Joe is happy to see his dad, who is now retired. Joe's dad lives on Social Security and his union pension because some liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to. After his visit with dad, Joe gets back in his car for the ride home. He turns on a radio talk show. The host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't tell Joe that his beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees, "We don't need those big government liberals ruining our lives. After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

In the years to come, Joe's life will change dramatically. The U.S. dollar will be devalued as a result of our huge deficit, our living standards demolished, our standing with the world diminished, and our social security gone...all because some conservative Republican made sure he could take care of himself and his buddies.

"... Robert Frost's devastating quip: A "liberal" is someone so broadminded he won't take his own side in an argument" (Eric Alterman. "Can We Talk?" The Nation, Nov. 21, 2005: 13).

"Today, when the bottom line is touted as the answer to every question, Americans are imprisoned in a mental world shaped by economic trends. Ironically, its ideologists have become pitchmen for a capitalist caricature of Marxism--promulgating a crude economic deteminism in which the market rules every social, mental and geographic space. Since the fall of Communism, market-oriented ways of thinking, feeling and seeing have permeated our lives and our culture to a degree that Marx never dreamed of.

Yet the real Marxism, although no longer emodied in movements or governments, has never been truer or more relevant: Most of the world's main problems today are inseparable from the dynamics of the capitalist system itself. With corporate capitalism everywhere in command, the outlook is for increased poverty, more environmental degradation, ever more uneven distribution of resources and the undermining of traditional societies and ways of life, for a culture dominated by marketing, advertising and uneven global development.

"But Americans need only glance around the world to see that there are alternatives...

"The reigning economic system will continue to generate opposition as long as it speaks of equality (which it must) yet continues to be unequal and undemocratic (which it must); as long as it incites dreams of a better life (which it must) but deforms social, cultural and political life according to its bottom line (which it must); as long as its rampant abuse of the environment andpillage of natural resources continue (also inevitable)...

"The next left will have to acknowledge, and even celebrate, the socialist spirit. Socialism's values continue to nourish community life. Much of our world continues to be organized collectively, democratically and socially, operating according to need and not according to profitability--in schools and cooperatives; libraries and nonprofits; local, state and federal government programs. September 11 and Hurricane Katrina showed the undying need for extensive and intensive structures of community. The socialist standards of fairness, democracy, equality, and justice are as much a part of daily life as are capitalism's values of privilege, unequal rewards and power...

"What will individuals and groups demanding equality, democracy, respect for the environment and freedom from the market call themselves as they try to coalesce around increasingly global demands and on behalf of increasingly global alternatives? We need not be timid about naming this "socialims." What else is it? What a new progressive movement needs can be simply stated: more socialism...

"In its own terms our society should be taking steps at least to insure that we are equal to become unequal. In other words, fair competition requires an equal starting point. Yet today this is not a liberal but a radical demand...

(Ronald Aranson. "The Left Needs More Socialism." The Nation, April 17, 2006: 28-30).

Colby Glass, MLIS