Conservative Liberal

FDR would have been a Republican today.

Why Conservative Liberal?

The title requires an explanation. The short explanation is that I believe that those who call themselves Conservatives these days are the true Liberals, in the original sense of the word. Below is the longer explanation. I wrote this article originally for another blog, but since it is, after all, my article, I think I can post it here.

Reclaiming the Terms.

Perhaps it might seem strange to some that someone like me would attempt to write an article on the subject of reclaiming the English language terminology. After all, English is not my native language: I am a naturalized American, originally from the former Soviet Union. On the other hand, maybe that is precisely why misuse of the English political terminology bothers me that much: it conflicts with the way I learned English back in high school and with what I learned about different ideologies over the years.

For now, I’d like to reclaim a term most frequently misused by people on both sides of political spectrum in this country. This term is “Liberalism”, along with people characterized as “liberals”.

Here is what Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary has to say on the subject:

“1: the quality or state of being liberal

2 a often capitalized: a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity; b: a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard; c: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; d capitalized: the principles and policies of a Liberal party.”

So, there are 2 main definitions. The first one basically states that those who believe the ideology of Liberalism are generally called “liberals”. The second one actually deals with the term itself. Let’s look at it. 2a says: “a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity”. Does this really look like something people of the Left, often described as “liberals”, believe in? First of all, this ideology seems to have a religious component, Christian to be exact. This is often an anathema to the leftists. (For the record, I have absolutely no religious interest in the subject: I happen to be a very non-religious Jew). As for the intellectual liberty, how can it coexist with political correctness, always practiced by the Left and always defended by the Left? In fact, there is no intellectual liberty on the Left. Those who disagree with the “party line” are usually wilified. The examples are too numerous to list here, but most recent one is what is happening to Senator Lieberman. On the other hand, on the Right nobody would ever have a problem with the religious component of the ideology, as long as the actual religion is not being imposed on anybody. The fact that the religion is not being imposed on anybody is pretty obvious: it is just a philosophical component that has its origins in theology. The intellectual liberty is also found on the Right: the absence of political correctness on the Right ensures that. Indeed, there is a great variety of opinions on different subjects that is often express by people who are generally considered to be on the Right. Thus, it seems that at least the first definition of liberalism in the dictionary applies to the Right more than to the Left. Let’s continue.

2b says: “a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard”. Wow! That sounds like good old capitalism, hardly bearing any similarity to any kind of re-distribution of wealth ideas usually advocated to various extend by so called liberals of the Left. Quite the opposite. This kind of economic theory is advocated by the Right. So, the second part of the definition also applies to the people on the Right, otherwise known as conservatives.

2c says: “a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties “. This part at a first glance looks like something that could be claimed by the Left. But let’s analyze it further. If liberalism based on belief in progress, I guess we need to define “progress”.

If progress defined as technological advancement, then capitalism seems to be the answer: the Capitalist West is much more technologically advanced than Socialist (until very recently) East. Former Communist countries, like Russia, are catching up now, thanks to their new-found capitalism. Furthermore, there seems to be much more technological innovation in much more capitalist United States than in pretty socialist Europe. There is no European Intel or Microsoft. Even Linus Torvalds, the Finnish inventor of Linux, lives in the US.

If progress is defined as socio-economic progress, then again capitalism seems to be the answer. The standard of living of those considered to be poor in the US is much higher than that of the average person living under Socialism. And again, the standard of living of the average person in Russia, for example, is now improving, thanks to capitalism. Also, the capitalist United States created a society where person’s racial or ethnic origin is absolutely irrelevant to everyday life: only person’s abilities matter. That is quite a contrast with ethnic-based European societies. Just look at France. Thus, socio-economic progress also promoted by policies advocated by the Right.

The belief in the essential goodness of the human race does not contradict the Rightist outlook on life. For example, I personally believe that even people who do evil for the most part rationalize it that they actually do it for the greater good. The easiest example of people like that would be true believers in Communism. They did a lot of bad stuff, but they sincerely believed that it was for the greater good. It does not excuse them, but this is just an example of basically good people doing evil. But my point is that this particular part of liberal philosophy applies equally to the Left and the Right. In fact, maybe it applies more to the Right, since the leftists do believe in inherently evil capitalists.

Autonomy of the individual is the essence of the Rightist political philosophy. People on the Right always praise rugged individualism of American capitalists. It is the Left that tends to lump people into groups. As for the protection of political and civil liberties, both sides claim to believe in that. I happen to believe that the claim on the Right is more supported by facts. The Right usually defends the freedom to exercise religion, including freedom to offend and be offended. It is the Right who defends the right to keep and bear arms, the ultimate protection of civil liberties. And it is the Right who believes that the civil liberties are worth fighting for anywhere in the world. This is actually the only traditionally liberal belief that historically was not part of the rightist philosophy. The Right in this country was traditionally isolationist. But even isolationism shifted almost completely to the Left (except for a few so called paleo-conservatives, like Pat Buchanan).

Finally, we come to the 2d of the dictionary definition of liberalism: “the principles and policies of a Liberal party”. But there is no party called “Liberal” in the US. So it comes down to which of the 2 major parties the definition of liberalism applies to. Even though the Democrats are usually called “liberals”, I think the the dictionary definition of liberalism applies to the modern Republican Party much more.

So, if the dictionary definition of liberalism is taken as a basis, we see that true liberalism is actually found on the Right. Some people might say: “But why is it important? Who cares about dictionary? We call ourselves ‘conservatives’, our opponents call themselves ‘liberals’, let’s now argue about issues”. Well, I think it is very important, because now we live in an upside down world. In this crazy world those who try to force political correctness into political debate are called “defenders of freedom of speech”. People who try to ban public displays of religious beliefs are considered to be “defenders of the 1st Amendment”. The opponents of the race-based quotas for university admissions and government contracts are called “racists”. Even the opponents of an organization called “La Raza” are called “racists”. And that for merely pointing out that “La Raza” is, as the name implies, a racist organization. Those who think it is right to confront fascism wherever it is, by force if necessary, are called “fascists”. Supporters of Israel, usually on the Right, are routinely called “Nazis”, even though the other side of that particular conflict has well documented historical ties to Hitler’s Nazis and even now proudly adopts the Nazi symbols for themselves, as seen in this Reuters photograph (also shown here):

Reuters – Tue May 9, 11:50 AM ET

Palestinian police officers salute during a graduation ceremony in the West Bank town of Jenin May 9, 2006. Two Fatah supporters were injured in renewed clashes in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday between the group and Hamas supporters, Palestinian witnesses said. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman


Even the Nazi and fascist ideologies are consistently characterized as Right-wing, despite the fact that Nazism is short for National-Socialism, Socialism being important part of it. The Hitler’s party program, as well as Mussolini’s Manifesto, reads like a summary of policies that the Left in this country routinely advocates. The similarities between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union were staggering. My late grandfather told me many times that after the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed the Soviet newspapers published editorials praising friendship forever between two socialist countries. Grandpa wrote in his diary that he and his co-workers were almost relieved when the Germans attacked on June 22, 1941, since they at least ended up on the good side of that global conflict. Minimal research would prove that Nazism is a leftist totalitarian ideology, similar to Soviet Communism, yet people call it “far-right” solely based on the fact that Stalin and Hitler did not trust each other enough to make an alliance and instead ended up fighting each other.

Before we can move ahead we need to stand our world back on its feet. Our leftist opponents effectively use what is known as “turnspeak“. And we continuously just take it. We debate on their terms. We proudly call ourselves “conservatives” and them “liberals”, even though they are anything but liberals. Just recently a talk show host substituting for Rush Limbaugh was talking about some nut case professor in Wisconsin who was teaching the 9/11 was done by US Government. He kept saying that the Left came to that professor’s defense, claiming “academic freedom”. And in order to prove the sanity of the Right he said that the Right would not be defending some Holocaust denier. And that just infuriated me: why would anyone associate the American Right with Holocaust deniers? In fact, now it is the Left who often takes side of Holocaust deniers. We keep trying to be civil, and whenever they accuse us of something, we just take it or just put up some feeble defense saying: “No, you are wrong to say that”. Instead, anytime they throw some accusations at us, we should say: “This thing you are accusing us of, that actually what you do, that’s what you are, that’s who you are!” I wish I could see the so-called conservative commentators proudly proclaim that it is they who are true liberals, and so-called liberals are anything but liberals. I personally purposefully avoid calling my political opponents “liberals”. Instead, I proclaim myself a true liberal. I hope I will not be the only one on the Right who does that.



    Comment by JOHN FREEMAN | January 19, 2007 | Reply

  2. Eric,
    I think this John Freeman needs to stop calling himself a true anything. Getting on a sincere blog like yours and calling people names is less than meaningless. Too bad.
    Any way, I have a new post that you might like…
    Check out my latest.

    Comment by Yaacov Ben Moshe | February 12, 2007 | Reply

  3. Yaacov,
    Thank you. I have already read your post. As you might imagine, I can relate to it. It is not an accident that the “Russians” tend to vote Republican now. Not because they have some special affiliation to the Republican Party, but because they know what is necessary for survival. But I am merely repeating what you have already said in your post.

    Comment by Eric-Odessit | February 12, 2007 | Reply

  4. This is a really wonderful article. You do a great job expounding on the reasons for the emptiness of the Left’s claim to the term “liberal.”

    Also, your comments about Nazism, and Fascism are right on. Here are a few links on that, and related material, which you might find interresting. (Note, some may be linked from others here) This first is VERY thorough.

    These others are good, too.

    Anti climate-control-freaks

    Regards, and a FREILICHEN PURIM!

    Comment by ytba | February 26, 2007 | Reply

  5. huh, that didn’t come thru . . .

    “anti climate-contro-freaks”

    Sorry, and Regards.

    Comment by ytba | February 26, 2007 | Reply

  6. Ayn Rand was Russian too.

    Comment by Dubya | November 28, 2007 | Reply

  7. Hi Eric, Actually, I hate labels and use them mostly to diffuse attacks. I’ll comment on your “definition of liberal” tomorrow. It’s far too long for a morning person to tackle now. I consider myself more “progressive,” if you must have a label. But definitions – like all of language – is dynamic. What was “gay” in WWII isn’t “gay” today. 🙂

    Comment by helenl | February 7, 2008 | Reply

    • progressive? so, you want socialism like hillary clinton? if you disagree with what it means, look at the history of progressivism first.

      Comment by me | May 18, 2009 | Reply

      • Have you bothered to read the article you commented on? My point was (and is) that leftists-socialists should not be called “liberals” because there is nothing liberal about them: they support totalitarian leftist ideologies. True liberalism is found on the Right, among those who defend individual liberties and Capitalism.
        Regarding your other comment, I spammed it: I won’t allow personal insults on my site. Any more of those, and you’ll be banned from the site.

        Comment by conservativlib | May 18, 2009

  8. After reading this again, Eric, I really don’t have much more to say. Etymology is an interesting field. But I do think it’s part of the reason the term “progressive” came into being. What you learned when you studied English has changed. All languages are living, dynamic, or else dead, like Latin. As times change, so does language. There are those who are mad because homosexuals use the term “gay.” They have to do what you have to do: Get over it.

    Comment by helenl | February 10, 2008 | Reply

  9. What we need now is a true conservative liberal candidate for the presidency. My personal fear is that the likely Democrat candidate will win the election, and bring us statism in the manner of Robespierre.

    But, of course, we live in the the decade of celebrity, so that status is what’s most important to too many of our citizenry. Too many of our younger voters are more interested in instant gratification and ten-second sound bites than to spend the time required to learn and understand politics. Those failures could have a major impact on the fate of this Republic.

    Comment by Joe Chernicoff | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  10. Found your blog from Sultan Knish. Here are my comments:

    “The title requires an explanation. The short explanation is that I believe that those who call themselves Conservatives these days are the true Liberals, in the original sense of the word. Below is the longer explanation.”

    Nothing controversial or need for a longer explanation. You are known as a classical liberal or, perhaps, neo-liberal. At least that’s how you would be identified in Europe or most places. When one travels abroad, supporters of the ideas of Smith, Ricardo, et al.—people who agree with the perspective of “The Economist magazine”—are known as liberal. The Shinui party in Israel, for example, would be considered a liberal party.

    In the United States things are different. The liberal label has been used to designate supporters of the New Deal since the late 1930s. Those who opposed the New Deal were labeled “conservative.” The labels have remained ever since. If you favor a welfare state approach you are liberal and if you favor a private sector approach you are conservative.

    During World War II liberals and conservatives in the U.S. were united in their desire to win the war against fascism. During the early Cold War era, many liberals and conservatives were similarly united in their support of anti-communism. Where they parted company was the civil-rights movement.

    Conservatives, generally speaking, were in support of “state’s rights” while liberals supported federal government intervention in the effort to desegregate schools and other public facilities.

    But by the 1960s and 1970s, with the eclipse of the civil rights movement and the ascendancy of the New Left things changed. You still had some old school liberals around here and there. But they were a dying breed. The New Left ushered in the self-styled radical “progressives”. The progressives constructed a political rhetoric based around social and political identity. In the language of conservatives, it was a politics based around victimization. Both are correct.

    But the right also played a role by denigrating the term “liberal” and connecting liberals to the loony radical left. There was, and is, a difference.

    Anyway, I enjoy reading your blog.

    Comment by newcentrist | April 3, 2008 | Reply

  11. […] Why Conservative Liberal? […]

    Pingback by Renaming the terms « Conservative Liberal | May 18, 2008 | Reply

  12. “FDR would have been a Republican…”

    Perhaps. I think he would be quite republican on some issues, but he would differ in the sense that he believed the government could be a force for good. Republicans today would (unfortunately) never support a New Deal. Sad because liberals would take it too far. Conservative restraint might make a New Deal work smarter.

    Comment by Progressive Conservative | August 25, 2008 | Reply

  13. Hi Eric – very interesting post. And first may I welcome you to the great USA however belated that might be. This country was built by smart, hungry immigrants and protected from the excesses that might imply by the Judeo-Christian religious and philosophical framework (and I’m not denying the ethicality and morality of other beliefs; I’m just saying the unique character of the US was forged in the Judeo-Christian tradition of Western Europe and specifically as it evolved in England).

    The only point where I might cavil with you is what I’d consider a little too emphatic a belief in the intellectual liberty that the Right in this country may offer. BOTH sides of the political spectrum in this country require social orthodoxy to their beliefs.

    On the Left, where I experienced it particularly stridently was in college where I was continually harangued to subscribe to victimology gender and race politics as an Asian woman. It left me bitter about gender and race politics, and is one of the reasons why I’m a Republican (in addition to a lot of the reasons you set forth above). In general I’ve never been questioned about my views on gender or race by Republicans; I’ve just been allowed to do the things I want to do like become an investment banker and a US army officer. Additionally, the Liberal Left constantly derided my decision to choose military service, until 9/11 – the unflattering assumption being that I did it because I needed the money or had no other options. Well, sorry, I attended an Ivy League but could have done it completely on my father’s dime if I’d chosen. Instead, I chose to earn it through jobs and scholarships. My parents helped, for which I cannot begin to be grateful enough, and in turn I worked to lessen the blow to them. The left does not give enough credit to the hard work of people who study themselves to the bone in school and incur massive student debt to work themselves to the bone in high-octane jobs whether in big corporations or entrepeneurial settings; or to the people who may not have had educational opportunities or just weren’t suited to school but DO work hard; the assumption that all efforts are equal is anathema to me and IS reminiscent of the blind adherence to communist ideology that ruled the US Left until the fall of the USSR discredited it completely to any remaining adherents who aren’t utterly insane (just as I’ll concede there MIGHT be life on another planet, I’ll concede a more Perfected group of humans might be able to make communism work, but not at this stage in human history and probably not in this universe).

    Let me start now on my own side of the woods though – on the Right, the social orthodoxy that has become ascendant over the past let’s say 20-30 years, is purity on the abortion issue. It is by far the most emotional issue this country faces. It touches on the most personal, intimate and troubling aspects of the human condition. I think there is no easy or satisfying answer to it – it’s ugly no matter which way it’s cut. Unfortunately the extremists on the Left and the Right leave no room for compromise – it is truly a fight to the death. On the Right, and in the Republican Party, there is very little oxygen left for anyone who advocates anything less than absolute opposition to any form of abortion at any stage for ANY reason. What concerns me about that position is that I do not hear then a concomitant chorus of concern from the Right for the unwanted babies that result – where is the outrage over the state of adoption laws in this country; why is it that so many people in the US including Republicans adopt children from overseas when our orphanages and family services system are bursting with children who need loving homes? I know whereof I speak. I was adopted from an Asian orphanage, not a US one. This side of the issue has been utterly neglected in comparison with the passion spent on the first half of the equation.

    And I do agree with Progressive Conservative – as a banker (out of work currently which is why I’m finally getting on to all those blogs I’ve heard so much about and never had time to read) I tend to find more regulation problematic not because I inherently think it’s a bad thing but because the vast majority of the time it is SO poorly conceived and written that it harms the very people it’s meant to help. I have no illusions about the untrammeled greed and corruption that would ensue without any effective regulation (Russia being a marvelous case in point), but intelligent government CAN be a force for good. While the gap between rich and poor in this country is at levels I believe are unconscionable (even though I’m at the very upper end of the national income spectrum, in my circles I’m just another laboring-class stiff), generally speaking I think the institutional laws of this country have helped make it the economic powerhouse of the world – and by that I mean laws that allow for rapid creation of businesses and technologies, laws that do not penalize people forever for financial mistakes but allow them to recover and start fresh, laws that appropriately criminalize corrupt dealing etc. We do need regulatory reform, but I would caution both the Left and the Right to step warily as they try to reform the most intertwined, dizzyingly complex financial markets of all time. It’s not just about punishing greed. It’s not just combining the various US redundant regulatory bodies. It’s the whole complex basket of laws, codes, regulations, markets, participants and how they interact.

    Incidentally, one of the biggest eye openers for me was reading Hernando de Soto’s Mystery of Capital – the charts showing the number of documents, ministries and years YEARS that it takes to establish a business in the countries he highlights were mind-boggling. This country’s success is founded on agility and hard work. And generally I think simpler is better than more complex (sorry if my prose does not follow that; I’m too tired to make it simpler).

    Look forward to reading more of your posts. All the best, Questioner

    Comment by Questioner | September 18, 2008 | Reply

  14. Questioner,
    Thanks for commenting. And thank you for your service.
    The government in theory can be a force for good. But somehow it never is, if it is not kept in check. That is why the American system is the best that be designed under the circumstances: it has enough checks and balances. Still, we, as citizens, have to be vigilant.

    Comment by conservativlib | September 28, 2008 | Reply

  15. […] Why Conservative Liberal? […]

    Pingback by My letter to a Liberal Jew « Conservative Liberal | March 10, 2009 | Reply

  16. I’m better in Russian writing but let me try here. Some of my articles were published in the Internet Russian language magazine “Zametki po evreycroy istorii” All three of them are about Obama as one may notice from their common title:

    A Zitspresident: Barak Obama As a Left Radicals’Jack

    It seems to me it would not be a bad idea to publish them in English. If somebody would undertake the translation work, I could update the texts before that and make them much shorter. So, who would dare to?

    Comment by eugene | November 21, 2009 | Reply

  17. […] Why Conservative Liberal? […]

    Pingback by Links updated « Conservative Liberal | September 5, 2011 | Reply

  18. Refreshing! Never thought I’d read another’s post that reclaims the word “liberal” in its classical sense. Most people now conflate ‘liberal’ with ‘left,’ and ‘left’ with ‘progressive’ (don’t disagree with one!), and ‘progressive’ with ‘socialist’… You get the picture. Of course socialism is communism in effect. Socialists tend to be those who are too ‘educated’ to think they might be wrong.

    Comment by Rachel Ann Gray | September 18, 2011 | Reply

  19. Interesting long article but you got it all wrong about nazism being a leftist totalitarian ideal. There’s plenty of big differences there and it takes a lot more than minimal research to see if.

    Comment by Ross N | December 18, 2016 | Reply

  20. I am Conservative Messianuc Jew and I agree with everything you’ve said here.

    Comment by fivewithasix | June 29, 2021 | Reply

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