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Liberal Minded Thinking

Dec
7
2004

My growing disdain for the term “progressive” as a euphamism for “Liberal” knows fewer and fewer limits. Being a creature of Columbia University’s American History department, I regard “Progressives” as an important – but politically moderate – movement that served to create the underpinnings of the current (and now dying) Democratic Party. I am, it seems, almost alone in this and every time I write about “Progressive libertarians” someone writes in and reminds me.


Professor John Luckas, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education – a publication far less boring than its title suggests – starts me thinking again about the abandonment of “Liberal” and the substituion of the deliberately vague and ever-changing term “progressive.” The idea, as far as I can tell, that being in favor of “progress” is somehow preferable to being against it. Unless of course you don’t like the direction things are going in, then being “progressive” means being “morally virtuous.” That’s the worst kind of fuzzy thinking; progress isn’t an idea. It’s a series of events. Philosophy, particularly political philosophy, is supposed to be the way in which you view events, not the way in which events – carefully picked and chosen — shape your world view. Unless, of course, well, unless you’re a “progressive.”
“The acceptance of the word “liberal” as a connotation of something damnable, unhealthy, and odious is to be deplored,” Luckas writes. “Liberalism in its noblest, and also in its most essential, sense has always meant (and, to be fair, here and there it still means) an exaltation, a defense of the fundamental value and category of human dignity.”
So we’re left – no pun intended – with this sad conclusion: “Liberal” has been abandoned because the very folks who claim to espouse the view of human nature Luckas has defined don’t really mean it. Or, just as cynically, they’ve decided to bow to outside pressure – pressure from those they philosophically oppose – and ditch “liberal” because it’s bad “marketing.” Honestly, there’s almost no better way to sum up the problems the Democrats are facing now than the fate of Liberalism.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:48 AM | Permalink

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