I Come Neither to Bury Nor to Praise Liberalism
By Norm Scott
My wife and I got a major dose of American history last week when she won the Hamilton $10 lottery – first row baby. (Sorry, I had to brag at the paying off of my wife’s year long quest of entering the lottery every day.) The experience (the show was even better than I thought it would be) got me to thinking, which can be a dangerous thing. So let’s talk a bit about “liberalism.”
When people on the real “left” as opposed to branded “left” hear the NY Times and the Democratic Party – and Obama and the Clintons branded as “left” they pull their hair out. Maybe liberal or neo-liberal – which can mean different things but not what I consider the real left. But we’ll deal with my view of the left another time.
All people to the right of Genghis Trump have been branded as liberals, and by the more extreme alt-right wing as “libtards.” The liberal label has been much misused and misunderstood. For instance, I have not considered myself a liberal since the 1960s. I find no easy way to label my politics, which has ranged from Marxist to social democratic (Bernie Sanders style) to center-left. Many of us who have been on the defense of public education bandwagon have classified the assault by the “school choice” movement as a neo-liberal free market based attack on public institutions. One of the many contradictions in the choice movement is that they refuse to let the public hold votes on charter expansion and vouchers because the public almost always votes them down. So in essence they suppress democracy in the name of the free market. We’ll explore this contradiction another time.
Liberal, liberty, libertarian, and libertine all come from the Latin liber (free). Our system of government was one of the first liberal democracies (along with England) based on the European Enlightenment during the 17-18th centuries. The key was to reduce the power of the monarchy and to hold kings accountable. Early democracy was not for everyone. Certainly not women or the poor.
A major event was the
You may have noticed recently a lot of talk about checks and balances between the 3 branches (executive, legislative, judiciary) with the press (the 4th estate) being another check. On the French side, Voltaire and Montesquieu actually laid out many of the ideas (3 branches of government, separation of powers) used by the founding fathers to frame the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution which took shape from 1787 and was ratified in 1789. Hamilton and Madison played major roles in the process but once the nation began to function in the 1790s found themselves on opposite sides in the political wars – and there were political wars just as vicious as we have today. (See Aaron Burr/Hamilton duel which ended that feud in a pretty definitive way --- imagine settling our elections that way.)
Checks and balances are designed to prevent tyranny but don’t always succeed in many liberal democracies. But that can also lead to gridlock and a growing impatience over the messiness of democracy where maybe the trains always don’t run on time (see MTA transit) and a wish for a strong man (or woman) to shake the tree, democratic institutions be damned – see Mussolini and Putinism and the growing threats to European liberal democracies as the right wing rises.
Note: the far right is anti-liberal democracy, anti-globalism, anti-immigrant and pro-nationalist, which leads to some interesting thoughts on where we started. If liberal equates with free and individual rights, where does that leave us as the far right morphs into the mainstream?
Norm wrestles, not duels, with the alt right, the right, the left, liberals and the center on his blog ednotesonline.com.
*From James Eterno:
From Ed Notes:
A major event was the beheading of Charles II and the Glorious Revolution of the late 1600s which was a pretty effective way to show monarchists that they were going to be under some level of control. (It took the French another century to do the same to their king). The monarchy was kept in England but with major controls, like parliamentary supremacy, a bill of rights, habeas corpus and other basic building blocks of a liberal democracy.
Charles I got his head chopped off mid 17th century, not Charles II. Charles II died of kidney failure or the cures doctors tried to give him. James II was the king during the Glorious Revolution in 1688. He fled the country and lived out his life in exile in France after he failed to take back Ireland.