Dan Klein, liberalism and the right
By Alberto Mingardi
Daniel Klein has a sort of brief epigram:
Want to advance leftism? It’s easy: Call leftists “liberal”.
The word “liberal” is eternally conjoined with the wisdom and virtue of Western civilization.
This is consistent with Dan’s now long standing fight to restore the word “liberal” to its proper meaning, that is: the classical liberal one.
For one, I deeply sympathise with Dan’s fight but I wonder if this is not simply a lost cause. After all, political language evolves and is used by living people, who benefit from tradition and dead thinkers but are sometimes impatient with their lessons. But it is certainly paradoxical that the “most” liberal people on the left, in the United States, like the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are in fact those in favour of higher degree of “governmentalization” of social affairs. That is, that “liberalism” means making civil society a province of government, rather than government a servant of society.
In this sense, I find this epigram quite efficacious. Perhaps, the fact that people who should be comfortable in self-describing as “socialist” insist in being called “liberal” means that indeed “the word “liberal” is eternally conjoined with the wisdom and virtue of Western civilization”. It signals it is a valuable word, that enemies of economic freedom, the market economy and private property want to claim as their own, as they want to claim they accept concepts such as “individual rights”, though deprived of whatever economic connotations. In these times Dan Klein’s epigram, this time, is a call to action to people on the right, as it tells them that by calling socialists liberals they are actually somewhat ennobling them. I still believe this is most likely a lost cause, but I am glad Dan is searching for a constituency, so to say.