Why "liberal" means "left-winger"

Dear T,

Two of my heroes are Mises and Ayn Rand, but for several reasons I could never consider myself a full-blown libertarian.  First off is the fact that you can and should legislate morality, and in fact every libertarian without exception does.  All government is an extension of moral ideas.  He won't prosecute you for stealing a wife, but he'll put you in jail for stealing a loaf; and beyond this he'll do the same thing for murder, and fraud, and kidnapping, and assault -- all of them moral issues, and 100% featured in the book of Deuteronomy.   

In fact libertarianism is an enforcement of the one Commandment nobody else tries to enforce, which is the second most impossible one after the First.  I'm talking about the Tenth: Thou Shalt Not Covet.  You want your neighbor's property?  Don't be jealous of it, go earn it, they say -- a much healthier and manlier proposition than go tax it, but insane when it turns into taxation is theft (We were prescribed taxation in the same Exodus theft was proscribed in).  Beyond this nobody has explained why sex and speech are governed by "morality" (and thus out of law's way) but property isn't; and I think the case could be made that most aspects of life need some laws and morals -- especially if you're going into business with somebody.  

I would even argue that business needs more laws and morals than other things, since, being hypersocial, it reaches into every aspect of our lives -- far more than government, and if we examine the matter fairly, most times even more than marriage.  But the hardcore libertarian implies that economics, the generation and trading of property, isn't a "moral" issue while taking it religiously.  Nearly every other aspect of life, to him, is "your own business" and can be ruined at any moment -- but the thing known as business is universally sacred, unlike the environment or the church; and the man who dares touch the altar with unclean hands is anathema, and liable to prosecution.  You can ruin a river but you can't steal the water.  Jesus would whip the moneylenders out of the temple, and Murray Rothbard would whip the prophets out of The Money Tree.  

What the libertarian misses is that property rights, just like everything else, are only useful to a point, and every man has to ask himself exactly where the line lies.  There's no one-size-fits-all law here.  It's easy to say property is inviolable like it's easy to say marriage is inviolable.  But what happens when someone punches his wife in the face?  Or pumps poison into the air?  Or chains up women and children for 14 hours a day, for seven days a week?  Or sells your kid heroin?  Or gouges you with hospital bills -- which you would never have agreed upon?  Or an ugly old rich man pays your daughter, who is desperate and out of a job, to have violent sex with her?  Human sentiments eventually get in the way of this all-too-broad "liberty," and eventually we find that rich people, who are good at getting rich, are generally terrible at respecting people.  So I agree that property is central to human life -- but so is not getting poisoned or mangled, and having a day off, and alongside these some level of dignity**.   

That's why "liberal" came to mean "leftist."  At first a liberal meant exactly what it sounds like -- a person who's concerned with liberty.  Life, liberty, and property.  A "liberal education" meant learning the things you need to stay free.   Liberal meant owning your own stuff, and low taxes, and freedom of worship and speech.    

"Liberal" now means almost the opposite of what it did then, and the reason is that the people trying to protect you from government realized they needed government to protect you from people -- a natural assumption, since all government, at bottom, is the attempt to protect the inferior from their superiors.  Large corporations, midway through the Industrial Revolution, began to swallow up smaller businesses.  Many people were reduced from a manly and respectable independence to wage slavery.  People were mangled in factories, and worked seven days a week, and were paid almost nothing for it.  The air was poisoned.  Politicians were being bought out.  The liberals saw far off what we're worried about today: that when a few men own all the grocery stores, "no shoes, no shirt, no service" could turn into "wrong ideas, no fly-by-night vaccine, no service;" and that people who provided you with mass communication could also easily shut you up.  The basis of capitalism is expansion, and somebody imagined businesses getting too big.  

Thus the people who were terrified of government split ranks with the people who were terrified of fat cats.  Both fears were legitimate, but the first one seemed far off and the second one was immediate.  So many went into government regulation, and welfare-statism, or became outright socialists and communists***.  They had no other means of dealing with international corporations, so they did what they could by expanding our national governments.  

The rest of the story is history.  Many of them took it too far.  The quest to make everyone safe and equal and comfortable made them less safe and less equal and less comfortable.  They tried to spread the riches and ended up spreading poverty.  Economies were ruined to protect people from the inevitable thing known as sickness.  Human "equality" turned into the erasure of borders.  Losers were placed above winners to get rid of "inequality.****"  People who couldn't hold jobs were glorified above people who created jobs.  Many of the best businessmen -- i.e., the people who are best at helping people -- were forced to move their businesses to other countries.  Whole industries were strangled in the attempt to better the employees.  Free speech was stifled, in schools and businesses and every kind of media, to protect absurd "rights" against the counter-narrative.  Power corrupted the rich men and the reaction against them created a new and far more dangerous class of corrupt rich men -- not the kind who were good at making things, but the kind who were good at taking things.  And after all this they kept the name "liberal" with them, and we got stuck with "conservative:" a label which only means you hate change -- like the donkey, which represents us better than it does them.

We've already had one split, and now, with Big Tech threatening to silence us, and with Big Media trying to smother us, and with corporate America solidly against natives and patriots, we're facing another.  The question today isn't whether we want big government or small government.  Businesses have become too powerful for us to remain free; and small government is dead, along with everyone who ever lived under one.  The question is whether big government is going to maximize life, liberty, and property for the many or for the few; and, more importantly, how we're going to do it without creating another monster*****. 


*Winston Churchill writes, in his first volume of The History of the English Speaking Peoples, that there existed, well before the name of capitalism, a people even more obsessed with property than the libertarians.  In fact the only thing the Saxons respected more than property was rank.

Theft and failure to report for duty were inexcusable, but any other crime you could commit, from rape to assault to murder, could be paid for in shillings -- a shilling being the price of a cow in Kent.  If you were a prince your life was worth 1500 shillings; a nobleman, 300; a yeoman farmer, 100; a serf, somewhere between 80 and 40; and a slave, absolutely zilcho -- a price too low for the Jews, who at the least valued a slave for what he could do for you.  So if a prince killed a farmer it was 100, and if a farmer killed a prince it was 1500.  Each crime had its own fine, like paying a parking ticket.  To be rich in Saxon England was to be totally free -- perhaps freer than anywhere else in the world.  But I doubt anyone felt safe in the neighborhood of a rich man. 

**You can't legislate dignity, of course, as some people are beyond help; but you can legislate against some big indignities, and I think that's the next best thing.

***Even Teddy Roosevelt, a man who'd be considered a jingo and a fascist by many on the left-wing, and was in almost all respects a great American, was more economically left-wing than many of our leftists today.  H.R. Brands says, in his biography of FDR, that Teddy advocated outright government takeovers of trusts -- perhaps the only thing more disastrous, economically and morally and poltically, than the monopolies themselves. 

FDR was even more radical, and in The Road to Serfdom, F.A. Hayek writes we had a National Planning Board, in 1934, that tried to model our economy after four countries.  These countries were, in all seriousness, Soviet Russia, fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and imperial Japan.  We think of ourselves as the land of the free; but we have Hirohito to thank for bombing us and turning us against our role-models.      

****It's worth remarking that there are some things you can't spread around, and these are intelligence, beauty, charm, personal strength, talent, and ambition -- each and every one of them the precursor to riches; and if you don't have any of them, or even if you have too few of them, the reason you'll soon end up poor.  Thus money can be taken by force -- but the engine of inequality is permanent, and apparently decreed by God.  

*****One remarkable story about a conservative gone bad.  

I read a memoir recently about a young boy whose parents died, leaving him, at the age of 15, to fend for himself.  He went into the city, working here and there doing piecemeal work, and when he was jumping between jobs he ran into the labor unions.

His first encounters were during his lunch breaks.  They would tell him to join and he'd say no.  He wouldn't be forced into doing anything, first of all, and second, he had no idea what the union was about.  When he refused they began to explain, and when they explained he began to argue.  They were too left-wing for him.  They hated his country, his race, the national religion, the family, the policemen, the laws, the whole shebang; and every day he argued with them he hated them more.  The only thing he agreed with them about was that finding work was miserable, and the conditions of work were miserable too.

So he began reading all their books and pamphlets he could get his hands on.  He began beating them soundly at lunch breaks, and when the left-wingers began losing they began threatening -- so strongly, in fact, that he was threatened with death.  He realized his position, and, being completely isolated, he laid low; at least for a bit.

But even when he laid low he found the enemy was out to get him.  When he wasn't getting attacked by his coworkers he was getting it at home.  The press was always against him because it was against his country -- always making fun of it, lying about it, criticizing it, openly praising its enemies and wishing for its destruction.  They praised the weakling conservatives, such as our Mitt Romneys today, and took down anyone who stood up for his country.  Slander was their modus operandi.  Any businessman or other figure who took a stand against the left-wing would be ruined immediately, and remorselessly.  

But the papers weren't enough for the left-wing, and they moved out into the streets.  This young man was walking along one day and came across a demonstration -- banners flying high, thousands marching in unison, chanting vile slogans, and threatening anybody who'd stand against them.  He realized then that an enemy army was in the heartland of his country, fuelled by an extensive propaganda machine and fed with foreign money, and that the only way to fight back was to put fire against fire.  So he wanted the press to himself.  He wanted to have an army of street-brawlers.  He wanted unions on his side, and the police, and the businessmen.  And he got them.  What you have just read is the story of Adolf Hitler, as related in the opening chapters of Mein Kampf. 

I wish this story was the only one like it, but every story I've read about fascists and conservatives fighting communists, especially the memoirs, tells the same story.  For My Legionaries, by Corneliu Zelinski of the Iron Guard, tells almost the identical thing, including the Jewish funding of the subverts, and the ownership of the press.  Orlando Figes writes similar things about pre-Soviet Russia.  Patriots get bulldozed by an enemy press, they get beaten by organized thugs, and they're told they're worthless and backward and that a new age is coming.  And they fight back.  And I agree we have to fight back.  And I agree that we have to match left-wing aggression with our own -- God bless The Proud Boys.  But I also see where all this can lead -- and the question isn't so much whether we ought to be brutal back, but whether after the brutality is over, we can ever return to normal.  This country will have to be cleaned up before it gets burned down; but can we ever trust the cleaners, once in power, to stop cleaning?

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