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The left and liberalism

People often criticise the writers on Liberal Conspiracy for their lack of liberalism. "Socialist Conspiracy" would be a better title, they say.

It's hard not to agree since they are so keen on state control - "the absolute authority of the state" as one of their writers put it - and their apparent abhorrence of anyone being able to do anything without their behaviour being "regulated".

I've always struggled to understand the connection between the left and liberalism, so I found this article interesting. Its conclusion that the left is grounded in liberalism, but is trying to move away from it explains a great deal about our current predicament.

In this sense, modern conservatism has always been liberal, and there is nothing particularly contradictory about the fact that ... conservatives are the defenders of classical liberalism... There is also nothing terribly surprising about the way in which the modern left, in the effort to progress beyond liberalism, has often undermined and attacked liberalism.



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Reader Comments (6)

Ah, the abuse of language for political purpose...
There are so many contradictary meanings for left and right. As far as I'm concerned the majority of the modern left are as right wing as the Tories.

Liberalism also has several contradictory meanings. Liberal Conspiracy take it to mean the corporate liberalism which dominated most of the 20th Century, many on the right take it to mean the neo-liberalism of state controlled market oriented regulation.
Neither is consistent with the classical liberal and the true Whiggs.

The left does despirately need to rediscover liberalism. The true free trade of liberalism, the decentralisation and voluntary and mutual cooperation.
Unfortunately much of the terminology of liberalism has been adopted by the corporate and neo-liberals in defense of the state and the continuation of the ruling classes domination, so those truly on the anti-authoritarian left often confuse liberalism with state capitalism and oppression...
Apr 17, 2009 at 9:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterTristan
To understand more of the liberal left take a look at the left libertarians (
Personally I think Kevin Carson is one of the best left-wing writers out there, even when I disagree with him. Sheldon Richman, Roderick Long and RadGeek are also fantastic.

Granted they're all the extreme left of liberalism, but they are definitely liberals in the sense you understand the term.
Apr 17, 2009 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterTristan
The folks at the Corner are always a good read.

I think it makes a lot of sense to see the shift in usage of the term 'liberal' as related to the ideological shift in the Liberal Party in the UK from the 1880s onward. This shift was probably encouraged and exacerbated by the expansion of the franchise and by the acceptance by the Conservative Party of much of what the liberals had previously stood for (free trade, electoral reform).

In a similar way conservatism was redefined in the post war years as it expanded across the political spectrum to occupy ideological space vacated by the left's move towards 'scientific planning'.
Apr 18, 2009 at 5:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonny Newton
PS. Tristan,

I've never really got my head around what 'left libertarianism' really is. Just read the wiki article, and it seems like left-libertarian property rights theory (the communal stuff) focuses mainly on land & natural resources

I guess that makes somewhere like Hong Kong a fairly left-libertarian society then because of its land laws?
Apr 18, 2009 at 5:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonny Newton
This is a topic I and many others have wrestled with on this side of the pond. I did two posts on it within the last few months, highlighting the thoughts of Victor David Hanson, Peter Hitchens and Arthur Brooks. You may find them of some interest.

Todays left, though they may claim the moniker of liberal, are the progeny of the socialists that grew out of the French Revolution it seems to me. They merely claimed association with real liberals while out of power. Any pretense to actually hold classical liberal values such as intellectual honesty has gone quickly by the wayside in each place that they have achieved power.
Apr 21, 2009 at 7:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterGW

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