In the midst of an argument with a friend on politics, religion, and philosophy, he stopped me cold because I had used the term "liberal."
"Liberal?" he said, "What do you mean by 'liberal?'"
At that point I quickly concluded that my friend had either, a). truthfully claimed that he had no idea as to the meaning of the word, or b). he wanted to make sure I was using the word in a manner was that consistent with his definition.
Being convinced that the latter explanation was the most plausible, it occurred to me once again that the importance of understanding and being understood in communication is of utmost importance. Words do not always mean what we think they mean when used within certain contexts. And unless we take great care, we can wind up at the point at which Strother Martin exclaimed to Paul Newman in the film, "Cool Hand Luke," "What we have here is a failure to communicate."
What is political liberalism? What does it mean to be a conservative? What is a progressive? What does the term "libertarian" mean?
Often thinking people today will refer to themselves as a classical liberal. Does that mean, as the term "liberal" has come to mean, that he or she is a New Deal Democrat in the tradition of FDR? That they are in full agreement with Obama's political philosophy?
Not at all. The qualifying term is "classical." The term "liberal" does not mean what it used to mean.
At one time a liberal referred to men like John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Payne, Samuel Adams, and other patriots whose primary concern was that human liberty be affirmed and preserved.
Within this paradigm a conservative, therefore, was understood to be a person who wished to preserve the status quo, which during the period of the Framers would have been a monarchist who wished to remain under the rule of the British king.
Today these definitions commonly have been reversed. A conservative is viewed as one who wishes to preserve the philosophy of the Founders, the Constitution, and the like. A liberal is one who wishes to depart from such thinking and chart new territory, even if doing so means to trample on all of the rights guaranteed to free men and women everywhere.
But there are those for whom these terms and definitions no longer work. Thus, a new vocabulary is emerging that captures the true nature of the political issues being discussed. A patriot who adheres to the philosophy of the Founders is now often referred to as an individualist or libertarian (small "l" -- which is different from the Libertarian Party or capital "L"). Those who adhere to the philosophy of FDR, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and others are more accurately called "collectivists." They favor the collective over the individual. These persons are also often called "progressives," which actually has nothing at all to do with progress but is quite regressive in nature.
These terms are immensely helpful in framing the discussion. To say that the needs of the collective, the society as a whole, always outweigh the needs of the individual, is the foundational bedrock of tyranny. Tyranny always presumes that the individual does not matter as long as the wants and needs of society as a whole are advanced.
The Founders, such as Jefferson, Mason, Henry, and others maintained that by advancing and protecting the rights of the individual, society as a whole advances and becomes a much better place for humanity to flourish.
My latest entry is now posted on my blog in the series, Musings After Midnight, titled, "Drastic Action: A Proposal and a Critique."
My popular series "Musings After Midnight" is now indexed at my blog, The Liberty Sphere.
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