The West Has A Continuous History of Becoming more Liberal Only Because We Have Changed the Definition of "Liberal"

Kevin Drum writes, "the entire Western world has been moving inexorably in a liberal direction for a couple of centuries."

If this is true, it is only because the definition of "liberal" has changed.   After becoming increasingly less authoritarian and intrusive and controlling for hundreds of years, government is again becoming far more authoritarian and intrusive.  Only with a change in the definition of "liberal" over time can one consider attempting to ban, for example, the eating of certain types of foods as "liberal"

Until a few years ago, I would have said that Drum was right that there is a continuity of liberalization in the social realm.  I celebrate the increasing acceptance of differences, from race to sexuality.  But even here people who call themselves "liberal" are demanding authoritarian limitations on speech and expression, try to enforce a dictatorship of hurt feelings.

The whole post of his is a really interesting insight into the Progressive mind.  Apparently, the (purported) lack of compromise in government is the fault of just one of the two sides.  I am not sure how that is possible, but that seems to be the Progressive position (you will find an equal number of folks on the Right who believe the same thing, though they blame the opposite group).

Essentially, you can see in this post the strong Progressive belief that the default mode of government is to constantly generate new prohibitions, rules, strictures, taxes, regulations, and penalties.  And that anyone who stands in the way of this volume production of new legal entanglements must be overcome, even if one has to break the law to do it.

A few days ago Matt Yglesisas wrote a #Slatepitch piece arguing that Hillary Clinton "is clearly more comfortable than the average person with violating norms and operating in legal gray areas"—and that's a good thing. In a nutshell, Democrats can't get anything done through Congress, so they need someone willing to do whatever it takes to get things done some other way. And that's Hillary. "More than almost anyone else around, she knows where the levers of power lie, and she is comfortable pulling them, procedural niceties be damned."

Unsurprisingly, conservatives were shocked. Shocked! Liberals are fine with tyranny! Today Matt responded in one of his periodic newsletters:

A system of government based on the idea of compromises between two independently elected bodies will only work if the leaders of both bodies want to compromise. Congressional Republicans have rejected any form of compromise, so an effective Democratic president is going to try to govern through executive unilateralism. I don't think this is a positive development, but it's the only possible development.

So Democrats are within their rights to lie, cheat and steal -- to do whatever it takes -- to break through the gridlock.  I wonder:  The worst gridlock this country has ever had was in the 1850's, when no compromise could be found on slavery.   If Democrats are empowered today to lie, cheat, steal to break the gridlock, should they have been similarly empowered in 1850?

Of course, no one would want that.  But it raises an important point.  If you define the game as one with nietzsche-ist / Machiavellian rules, no one ever seems to consider that it is just as likely the other side will win as yours will.  In fact, if you truly represent liberality, I am not sure this kind of anything-goes game is stacked in favor of the truly liberal players.

For folks who think that the end justifies the means here, and that we need to break the rule of law in order to save it, I would offer this paraphrase to an old saying: you can't sell your soul and have it too.


  1. J_W_W:

    It sure is funny how Progressives completely believe that the Government should be constantly legislating. "Do nothing" is an option, its an option they hate but it is an option.

    I believe that Mr. Trump has figured out that the role of President of the United States is no longer being contested and the position that is really being voted on is Emperor of the United States and thats exactly why he's running.

    I bet Mr. Yglesisas, would literally shit his pants if President (nee Emperor) Trump tried doing anything by executive fiat.

    And that is why the Progressives need to be stopped. Anyone, ANYONE, who ascribes to "the ends justify the means" doesn't realize just how incredibly mean (and deadly) these means will get when they truly believe theirs ends MUST be achieved.

  2. jdgalt:

    I agree with everything except the conclusion line here.

    The Left (I won't call them "liberals" since they're against liberty) have dominated politics for decades now exactly because they're willing to stoop to methods the Right are above using. Some examples:

    * The Left insist that it's unthinkable to consider a bill that would repeal laws they've passed, but not laws the Right has passed.
    * The Left insist it's OK for them (only) to circumvent the Constitution by appointing Justices who will fudge what it means. If the Right tries to prevent this, the Left threaten to pack the Court.
    * The Left will always vote politically, rather than honestly, in impeachment trials.
    * The Left will make civilians they disagree with testify before Congress, to try to make them choose between losing their jobs and going to jail for perjury.
    * A Leftist president will use executive orders to rule by decree, and Leftist judges will uphold this. They won't if the Right tries to do it.
    * The Left will campaign using personal attacks and sound-bite slogans (and shout down any argument with those slogans). If the Right tries these methods the Left will scream about human rights violations.

    It's time for the Right's attitude about being above these tactics to go the way of Chivalry. Until that happens we will simply keep losing.

  3. stan:

    The is only one moral/ethical commandment that matters to progressives/Democrats -- do not hurt the cause of the Left. They do not care about anything else. They will elect and re-elect those who kill, rape, sexually assault, steal, defraud, cheat, lie, slander, molest, violate the Constitution, abuse power, commit treason, perjure themselves, obstruct justice, harass and intimidate the innocent, or commit any other manner of corruption or dishonesty. They don't care. See e.g. Clinton's defense of lying to his cabinet. The ends justify the means has been SOP for Democrats for over a century. See Wilson and FDR.

    The only thing that matters is power and the only 'sin' is to do something which threatens that power. They don't even care if their own constituents get screwed over (see feminists and sexual harassment or blacks on pretty much anything) provided that the screwing doesn't cost the party votes.

    There is no lie, no crime, no abuse, no immorality, no horror that they aren't willing to endorse in pursuit of the cause.

  4. Onlooker from Troy:

    It's frightening the lengths these people are willing to go to force their views on all of us. One small step from tyranny; and they're lifting their foot.

  5. ErikTheRed:

    So... the liberals are being liberal with the definition of "liberal"...

  6. mlhouse:

    The fact is that the Democrats will do whatever they think will help elect Democrats, even if it conflicts with the rest of their agenda and constituency. For example, how can the party of the "little guy" and $15/hour minimum wage be simultaneously the party of the illegal immigrant who competes against the little guy and drives down the wage levels of low wage labor?

    The reason is that they see these illegal immigrants as future Democratic voters, one way or the other. IT is worth the economic dislocation and the people who have to pay the bills for these new Democratic voters are not Democratic voters. In the long run this could be a major miscalculation on their part. When the mainly Hispanic immigrants, with conservative social values, look at how hard they have to work to make a living versus the welfare recipients it could well drive them to voting the opposite way. But unfortunately that might take a long time to turnaround.

  7. slocum:

    You know, Matt, there's this other option that doesn't involve aggressive unilateral executive action of dubious constitutionality. That would be to A) govern within the law and then B) try to regain control of Congress by running against those 'no-good, do nothing, obstructionist' Republicans. You might call this second option...hmm, what would be a good, catchy name for that about 'Democracy'?

  8. MJ:

    My theory about this is that lefty shills like Drum, Yglesias, etc. are not really angry at congressional Republicans, but the people who vote for them. These are people that many on the left honestly feel are beneath their contempt. You can hear it when you read the comments section at any left-leaning rag like Slate, Salon or Kos, and hear what they have to say about residents of southern states.

    But most writers, like the ones Warren quotes, understand that if you're not just preaching to their choir and are trying to write for a broader audience that it's considered impolite to simply sling this kind of invective at the average voter. So instead they choose a whipping boy, namely congressional Republicans. Elected officials are usually considered fair game for this kind of criticism.

    So, if it were possible to win the hearts and minds with their policy prescriptions they would. But they can't. And that's frustrating. So the fact that our system of checks and balances produces roadblocks to an unfettered 'progressive' agenda just signals that there is something 'wrong' with our legislative system which can only be overcome by making an end-run around it. Ends justify the means. Of course, as others have pointed out, I doubt they would be as comfortable with that mode of operation if control of all three branches were vested with their political opposition. That is the ultimate test.

  9. MJ:

    The cynic in me wants to see Trump elected just to put this hypothesis to the test. He obviously would have little support in Congress and would probably have to resort to legislation by executive rule-making. And I'd bet that the 'progressive' commentariat would be the first to scream bloody murder.

  10. jdgalt:

    The bottom line, though, seems to be that when Republicans do have that kind of control (as they did 2000-2002) they're not willing to use it that ruthlessly, but the Democrats are. We need to become willing to.

  11. jdgalt:

    No, they'd be all in favor. Because Trump is a "progressive".

  12. obloodyhell:

    "I fear, more than anything else, [he] reminds me of William Roper, Sir Thomas
    More's son-in-law, who in Robert Bolt's 'A Man for All Seasons', insists that
    the law of England be set aside to get at More's enemy, Thomas Cromwell. More,
    saying that it would make no difference if Cromwell were the Devil himself,
    asks Roper, 'What would you do? Cut a road through the law to get after the
    Devil?... and when the last law was down,... do you really think you could
    stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil the
    benefit of the law, for my own safety's sake
    - Stephen L. Haynes -

  13. obloodyhell:

    ACTUALLY, "The Ends Justify The Means" IS an accurate statement. They do. ALWAYS.

    But the tricky part that most forget is that you don't get to CHERRY PICK your "Ends". You have to consider them ALL, not merely the ones you're a big fan of.

    So the anarchy-government which derives directly from breaking the rules to do "what you want" is not a good end, and negates one HELL of a lot of "good ends".... As I note below, few could stand in the winds that followed that trashing of the Forest of Laws.

  14. jhertzli:

    One reason the left appears to win is that failed left-wing movements are no longer considered Left. Another reason is that victorious right-wing movements are frequently reclassified as Left.

    You can see these phenomena most clearly in the case of the aftermath of the American Civil War. The losing side engaged in a "long march through the institutions" which first caused a Yankee withdrawal from the occupation of Dixie. It was followed by the growing respectability of eugenics and it then culminated in the capture of the Presidency in 1912.

    Come to think of it, the standard left-wing rhetoric about indigenous movements might have been injected into liberalism by Wilson, who might have been looking for an excuse for Confederate independence.

    On the other hand, after eugenics failed racism was re-re-classified as right-wing. (Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia comrade!)

  15. Dan Wendlick:

    Just go back to the basics of Marxist theory. The ruling classes have used the institutions of the state, the church, and the media to not only instill in the working classes a false consciousness that not is the perpetuation of the system in their own interest, but also to participate in their own oppression. It is the duty of the party, acting as the vanguard of the proletariat, to smash these institutions and lead the people in an uprising against the oppressor. Any action against these institutions is thus by definition to the benefit of the people and is thus moral, up to and including violent revolution.
    Incidentally, this is also why the Left continuously maintains the claim that the media and universities are biased against them, even though this can be empirically demonstrated to be false, especially since to them empiricism itself is a tool of the oppressor.

  16. CapnRusty:

    I would suggest, with the notable exception of Obamacare, that the vast majority of the laws currently on the books, most of which have been in place for decades, were enacted through a process of compromise. It is the process of compromising that makes them legitimate; neither side got everything they wanted, both gave up something in order to generate a law that all could agree to impose upon themselves. With respect to laws, the only function of the President is to faithfully execute and carry them out. It is not to change them. It is not to make new laws. Those functions are the province of the people, through their elected representatives. And therein lies the crux of the problem: Progressives feel themselves to be morally superior to mere little people, and thus, Progressives feel it is their destiny to rule their inferiors. Marie Antionette felt the same way.

  17. Rob McMillin:

    The Spanish Civil War seems a real precedent.

  18. Rob McMillin:

    I have literally had lefties tell me that they would not care if someone showed up with video of Hillary killing someone for no reason, they would pull the handle for her regardless.

    That is an indictment of the universal franchise.

  19. Dan350:

    Speaking as moderate Democrat who's watched as the Republican party has been taken over by crazies who think it's OK if the U.S. defaults on its debt, and seeing what is being said in this post and in the comments, I think I must be living in a different world.

  20. Dan350:

    Where was the compromise when the Republican Congress forced through the Medicare changes back in the Bush administration with no Democratic support, keeping the floor open into the early morning hours so they could arm wrestle GOP members to change their votes? If you're saying the Republicans are the party of reason and compromise, you must be living in your own little echo chamber with no idea what's going on in this country.

  21. CapnRusty:

    There were some rare exception, yes, but none of them destroyed 1/6 of the economy against the opposition of 60% of the citizenry.

  22. Mercury:

    The isn't that much liberty remaining in Liberal politics and there isn't that much left for conservatives to conserve.

  23. MJ:

    If you're talking about the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, I don't know of one Democrat who was in principle opposed to it. The objections seemed to be based one of two things: 1) Bush and the Republicans made no provisions for actually paying for the additional spending it necessitated and the Ds wanted a tax increase to cover it, and 2) Having the Bush Administration propose this benefit meant that they couldn't take credit for it come election time. Better to be on record being opposed to anything Boooosh! than to be seen comprising with the enemy.

  24. m1shu:

    Republicans don't want to have the US default on its debt. Their remedy is to stop increasing spending not voting for more fake money to borrow more of it.

  25. TravisV:

    TravisV here from TheMoneyIllusion comment section.

    This would have been a better blog post if Meyer had acknowledged the underlying incentives that our multi-branch Presidential system of government promotes. Our system of government encourages polarization. The median voter isn't represented. It encourages the House to push the envelope of its powers and the Executive branch to push the envelope of its powers. Our system discourages compromise. In the future, it's inevitable that polarization, gridlock and filibusters will increase. Don't blame our politicians for it. They're only responding to the incentives built into our multi-branch Presidential system:

    In his classic 1990 article, "The Perils of Presidentialism," [PDF], Yale's Juan Linz observed that "in a presidential system, the legislators, especially when they represent cohesive, disciplined parties that offer clear ideological and political alternatives, can also claim democratic legitimacy." In other words, both an elected president and an elected House speaker can plausibly claim--and plausibly feel entitled to claim--that their agenda reflects the true desires of the people and deserves to carry the day.

    In contrast, a uni-branch Parliamentary system has a better incentive structure. There is a clear choice for voters. Political parties present actionable agendas. When voters step into the ballot box, they know that if they vote for party A, party's A's promises have a high probability of becoming law (with minimal obstacles standing in the way). Plus, political parties have an incentive to present moderate agendas. If they become too extreme, then the majority will vote against them in the next election and the opposing party will be able to enact its agenda (with minimal obstacles standing in the way). As Yglesias observes, the result is moderate "bipartisanship by alternation."

  26. jdgalt:

    Polarization is not a bad thing. And the farther our system wanders away from what it's constitutionally required to be, the more "extreme" we who demand the rightful return to the constitution must become.

  27. AudreyA:

    We need to keep our sense of humor. It is so ironic to see aging anti-establishment hippies lobbying so ardently for BIG government. How does a dedicated liberal feel when its the Republican candidates making angry charges that "Big Government serves Big Business first"? Must make their heads explode...