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Modern Liberalism: A Critique

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Liberalism has meant many things to many different people over the centuries. During the days of the American Revolution, in its quintessential classical form, it stood for individual rights, participation in the free enterprise system, and inalienable civil liberties. Utilized most notably by Thomas Jefferson while drafting what would eventually become our Constitution, it serves an integral historical role in the socioeconomic fabric of our nation.

However, since the dawn of the Great Depression, liberalism has essentially abandoned its former principles in favor of currying support with economically depressed and ethno-social minority voters. This shift picked up considerable steam during the 1960s, in which a slew of federal macroeconomic interventionist programs were enacted for the purpose of creating a more equitable society. After most of these went on to become abject failures, for example, affirmative action, which forced many employers to hire based on stringent racial quota systems, liberalism’s fiscal policies summarily fell out of favor with the general voting public. They were retooled and revitalized with mildly conservative ideas by a group of forward thinkers during the early 1990s, however, and produced a booming economy which remained remarkably dynamic throughout the remainder of the decade. By the time the late 2000s occurred, though, liberalism had once again resorted to interventionism, an action which produced an incredibly strong conservative electoral backlash that effectively fractured its near-total dominance on Capitol Hill.

Despite its extremely turbulent economic record, post-Depression liberalism’s undying adherence to the ideas of social justice have ensured it some degree of popularity with the mainstream of the United States’ body politic. Indeed, many of its stances on social issues, such as the ceaseless pursuit of equal rights for all, serve as efficient counterweights to some of the lesser ideas presented by authoritarian conservatives.

Modern liberalism’s views on national security matters vary widely; a great deal of its adherents favor moderately hawkish policies, while others are self-declared pacifists, and yet more are somewhere in between. As there is very little consistency in this regard, it is most difficult to pin down exactly where modern liberalism lay; perhaps it can be stated that it is, at its very core, a catchall.

While it is undeniable that modern liberalism has played and will continue to play a pivotal role in the American political arena, it is extraordinarily hard to determine just what exactly this will be. Should it continue in the mold of uncompromising interventionism, then its contributions to fiscal policy are sure to be problematic, to say the least. If it were to return to its centrist form of the 1990s, which has been dubbed the “Third Way”, then the results are all but sure to be very different. Only one thing is for sure: modern liberalism’s core social principles are here to stay, and the same is true of its nonconformist nature on national security policy.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Cannonshop

    #2 I can’t add to, or argue with this…though I’d be delighted to try. it’s a very good expression of the positive perspective on big-“L” Liberals in the modern context. One can not believe in any philosophy, nor endorse it with any sincerity, if one does not believe that philosophy to be good and right.

  • zingzing

    it were written by english gents, what were dead. then it were plagiarized by other dead men who once were english, but lately had become american, because they decided that was so. then it were interpreted by idiots. then it were raped and turned into the strumpet we see today, a floozy bent to whichever angle one wishes to thrust into it from. truly, it has become whatever you wish it to be, either full of hate, if’n yer likin’ the hatefuck, or full of justice, if’n you find justice in it, like the proper whore it always were.

    yar. an ignoble history we see before us. get me my flagon, for i wish to drown me sorrows. yar, yar. let’s fight about something. it’s all the will carry me away from the awfuls i can bear witness no longer. it itches i smell satan’s sulfuric stench in its ink.

  • The pragmatism of ‘liberal’ presidents like Clinton and Obama covers quite a lot of policy ground. Clinton’s centrists were very deeply involved in the finance and auto bailouts, the stimulus program, the healthcare bill [which was not nearly as far left as the Clinton proposals of the 90s].

    [And in fact the ‘interventionist’ TARP was pushed through by a Republican president, treasury secretary and Fed chairman.]

    There has been a backlash against some Obama policies from activists on the left [as there was to some of Clinton’s policies] — including government bailout of banks and auto companies, at the expense of middle class Americans who have lost their jobs.

    So trying to define liberalism is a challenge. Still, I’m not sure Joe understands liberalism as well as he does conservatism.

    But there are some principles: strong safety net for the poor; commitment to progressive taxation; skepticism of big Pentagon spending; civil rights for ethnic minorities, women, gays.

    I wouldn’t confuse the rhetoric of realpolitik with a change in the definition of liberalism. Politicians say what they think they gotta say to get reelected.

  • Joe, please. Thomas Jefferson had nothing to do with drafting the Constitution.