Agreed. I am quite annoyed that its use in the U.S. is so counter to the term’s origins, as well as how it is used elsewhere.
I even often replace “liberal” with [left] or [leftist] in many of my posts (see here and here for two quick examples). I wasn’t sure if I should include it in my previous post but ultimately I decided to since that’s how many of the American left self-identify and it was helpful in the context of that post.
Still, no term is perfectly clean. “Capitalist” was coined by socialists to describe owners of capital, and later to refer to what we’d call “corporatists.” The term “libertarian,” I believe, has its origins as a descriptor for a type of communism or socialism. “Anarchist” has a number of meanings, some of them directly contradictory. Murray Rothbard, the quintessential anarcho-capitalist, even offered up “nonarchist” as an alternative.
It’s because of this perceived etymological taint that the terms “agorist” and “voluntaryist” have seemed to have gained popularity: relatively less baggage.
Update: I offer this bit from Mises’ classic, “Liberalism in the Classical Tradition”:
Those who are familiar with the writings on the subject of liberalism that have appeared in the last few years and with current linguistic usage will perhaps object that what has been called liberalism in the present volume does not coincide with what is understood by that term in contemporary political literature. I am far from disputing this. On the contrary I have myself expressly pointed out that what is understood by the term “liberalism” today, especially in Germany, stands in direct opposition to what the history of ideas must designate as “liberalism” because it constituted the essential content of the liberal program of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Almost all who call themselves “liberals” today decline to profess themselves in favor of private ownership of the means of production and advocate measures partly socialist and partly interventionist. They seek to justify this on the ground that the essence of liberalism does not consist in adherence to the institution of private property, but in other things, and that these other things demand a further development of liberalism, so that it must today no longer advocate private ownership of the means of production but instead either socialism or interventionism.
As to just what these “other things” might be, these pseudo liberals have yet to enlighten us. We hear much about humanity, magnanimity, real freedom, etc. These are certainly very fine and noble sentiments, and everyone will readily subscribe to them. And, in fact, every ideology does subscribe to them. Every ideology - aside from a few cynical schools of thought - believes that it is championing humanity, magnanimity, real freedom, etc. What distinguishes one social doctrine from another is not the ultimate goal of universal human happiness, which they all aim at, but the way by which they seek to attain this end. The characteristic feature of liberalism is that it proposes to reach it by way of private ownership of the means of production.
But terminological issues are, after all, of secondary importance. What counts is not the name, but the thing signified by it. However fanatical may be one’s opposition to private property, one must still concede at least the possibility that someone may be in favor of it. …
The school of thought that advocates private ownership of the means of production must in any case also be granted a claim to some name or other. But it is best to adhere to the traditional name. It would create only confusion if one followed the new usage that allows even protectionists, socialists, and warmongers to call themselves “liberal” when it suits them to do so.
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- tjslater said: Doing what I can. Doing what I can.
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- joshymoony said: while they’re at it, please learn what socialism actually is.
- boxdog1 said: It’s a giant mess of labels right now. Especially since the re-introduction of “progressives” into the language. I fault the progressives for tainting the liberal label.
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- jennyjenjen said: The problem is that the vast majority of Americans only think of two sides. It has to be that simple, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to grasp it. It’s a real tragedy for democracy, if you ask me. (P.S. I’m American)
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