Liberalism is a mighty big tent

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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22 Responses

  1. “But the fact is, liberalism is a big tent. It has room for neoliberals and leftists (and I think libertarians, too), I think, though I may be naive in thinking so.”

    Where I have so much trouble with this is because, as you point out, people are complicated and often have a wide-range of positions. How would liberalism embrace a pro-lifer?

    I think what you really need is an un-official parlimentary system within the government that works on a case-by-case basis (basically coalition governing).

    More and more I just self-identify based on the issues. I’ll say, “I’m conservative on most issues”.Report

    • Well yeah, a pro-lifer doesn’t fit into liberalism any better than a pro-choicer fits into conservatism. But the abortion issue is a rather special and especially incendiary case among all the various issues (at least in the US) so I wouldn’t say it’s definitive.Report

      • Well you could even get more nuanced. Does someone that favors logging the our national forests have a home in liberalism? To be clear, that’s different than saying he has a home on the Left or among Democrats.

        I guess I think of liberalism or conservatism as more pure and it’s an oxymoron of sorts to say you can hold a non-liberal view and find a home in liberalism.Report

    • James Cameron in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

      Identity politics is important to a lot of people, so the case-by-case governing would probably just morph into larger groups. Of course, in a parliamentary system, that wouldn’t be so bad either.

      This whole thing is less about objective purity tests and more about how people form social groups online. The original theme, I thought, was that Yglesias was being excommunicated from certain online leftist communities for not being “pure” enough, but they didn’t want to actually say something that mean, so they shifted it into a discussion about the failures of neoliberalism (as some sort of pejorative codeword), which morphed into the Great Neoliberalism Debate. Talk about a runaway conversation.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

      More and more I just self-identify based on the issues. I’ll say, “I’m conservative on most issues”.

      I do exactly the same. The set of my views is X; liberals tend to embrace more of those views than any other ‘major label’, so in conversations with people I self-identify as a liberal; Democrats embrace more of those views than any other political party, so I identify as a Dem. Even tho I tend to not agree with many, or sometimes even most, Democratic legislation.

      One thing I don’t understand is the purpose of attributing a new semantics to an understood word. ‘Neoliberalism’ refers to both the ideological commitments of it’s adherents as well as the economic systems that derive from implementing them, even if the ideal isn’t attained. Same for ‘libertarianism’, in which there often seems to be a desire to cleave off what is viewed as the negative connotations of that word for something which more accurately describes a preferred understanding by the speaker. Same, of course, for ‘liberal’ and etc.

      If we just skip the infatuation with labels and focus on policy, and the complexities of the merits of that policy from practical and political vantage points, then all the label skirmishes dissipate in any event.Report

  2. North says:

    It’s a mean think ol’ Freddie does judging poor neoliberalism on its performance in the realm of education. I mean is there any ideology that fare well when dumped into that particular policy pit? I’d submit no.Report

  3. James Cameron says:

    A good approach. The best way to get past a person’s defenses and engage them in nuanced discussion is to talk to them like a member of their group, so you’re not actually threatening them. Since when was being polite in politics a revolutionary idea?Report

  4. Larry says:

    Couldn’t we just get over labels? They’ve become the political equivalent of gang signs, signaling who’s in and who’s out of your or their particular herd (to mix metaphors). They do real intellectual harm in debates where they’re used to block thought — e.g., in liberal-left circles it’s enough to label a particular argument as “right-wing” in order to derail any further consideration of its merits. It’s not to say that ideas and arguments don’t clump together in patterns that can be categorized in various ways. But here’s a suggestion: take people’s labels, whether self-applied or pasted on you, with both skepticism and indifference, and stay focused on the actual argument, regardless of label.Report

    • Plinko in reply to Larry says:

      Stereotypes are a real time-saver.Report

    • James Cameron in reply to Larry says:

      Unfortunately, that’s not how people work. You would just be insulting them if you ignored how they labeled themselves.Report

      • Larry in reply to James Cameron says:

        I’m not saying ignore how they label themselves (or others), but I am saying focus on the substance of their arguments (and your own) rather than on the baggage associated with label.Report

        • Mike Farmer in reply to Larry says:

          “I am saying focus on the substance of their arguments (and your own) rather than on the baggage associated with label.”

          Amen. It hardly matters how people label themselves these days — there is a lot of obfuscation going on. Just watch what and who they support politically and the content of their ideas, if they’ll clearly state them — if they don’t clearly state their ideas, then labels certainly don’t matter, and neither do the people, politically.Report

  5. Michael Drew says:

    I want to try to think about whether I think neoliberals are as consistently market-ideology-driven ed reformers as freddie says they are, but then I realize that trying to be that precise about the term is an entirely bad-faith pose, so I just back off the matter entirely and retreat to my unexamined, comfortable assumptions that my neoliberal preferences (which on education policy happen not to coincide with Freddie’s understanding of neoliberal education reform ideas, but that’s just me) are supported by a combination of sound theory and empirical observations, and that hence they exist above and beyond politics, whose grimy messiness I don’t want mussing up my neat determinations.

    And that’s the way it was.Report

  6. Mike Farmer says:

    If you start from a more fundamental separation — statist and anti-statist — then you see less diversity on the Left — the tent is really big, but all the clowns and jugglers and ringleaders basically look the same. When the State is threatened, as by limted government proponents, the tent is big and active in defense of the statist system — the differences among players on the Left are pragmatic choices within the statist system — for instance, none really consider private assistance over the welfare state, or private education out of the hands and control of government, or free market healthcare. This is true of both political parties — statism is a Right and Left system used to control in different ways. From the position of the anti-statist, the distinctions under the big tent, even if some are moderate Republicans, Big Government Republicans, and such, hardly constitute a difference.Report