Home > Academia, Conservative, Elitist, Intellectuals, Labels, Liberal, Sowell > Sowell on Liberals and Conservatives

Sowell on Liberals and Conservatives


Thomas Sowell hits a home run here.

The late liberal Professor Tony Judt of New York University gave this definition of liberals: “A liberal is someone who opposes interference in the affairs of others: who is tolerant of dissenting attitudes and unconventional behavior.”

According to Professor Judt, liberals favor “keeping other people out of our lives, leaving individuals the maximum space in which to live and flourish as they choose.”

That of course would be the classical definition of Liberalism. What we call Liberal in the US now, is anything but liberal. As Sowell says later, “‘progressive’ may be more in vogue.” Progressive is what todays version of liberals used to call themselves. That was back in the early 20th century, until Progressive policies gave us the Great Depression. Liberals love to forget that Hoover was a Progressive Republican. So Progressive that Democrats wanted him to run for the Democratic Party instead of Al Smith. But I digress, history is selective to the modern Democratic Party.

Does the sweeping legislation empowering federal officials to tell doctors, patients, hospitals, and insurance companies what to do, when it comes to medical care, sound like leaving individuals the maximum space to live their lives as they choose?

Communities that have had overwhelmingly liberal elected officials for decades abound in nanny state regulations, micro-managing everything from home-building to garbage collection. San Francisco is a classic example. Among its innumerable micro-managing laws is one recently passed requiring that gas stations must remove the little levers that allow motorists to pump gas into their cars without having to hold the nozzle.

Liberals are usually willing to let people violate the traditional standards of the larger society but crack down on those who dare to violate liberals’ own notions and fetishes.

Our academic institutions are overwhelmingly dominated by liberals. They feature speech codes that punish politically incorrect statements. Even to apply to many colleges and universities, students must have spent time as “volunteers” for activities arbitrarily defined by admissions committees as “community service.”

I think most modern liberals would stop reading there, thinking that Sowell is only berating them. If they’d be truly tolerant and keep reading they’d see Sowell take Conservatives to task as well.

As for conservatism, it has no specific political meaning, because everything depends on what you are trying to conserve. In the last days of the Soviet Union, those who were trying to maintain the Communist system were widely– and correctly– described as “conservatives,” though they had nothing in common with such conservatives as William F. Buckley or Milton Friedman.

Professor Friedman for years fought a losing battle against being labeled a conservative. He considered himself a liberal in the original sense of the word and wrote a book titled “The Tyranny of the Status Quo.” Friedman proposed radical changes in things ranging from the public schools to the Federal Reserve System.

Sowell is making two points here. First and foremost, don’t get caught up in fancy rhetoric. Anyone that considers themselves educated and intelligent should always look past the flashiness of words to their real meaning.

The second point is also easy. Don’t get caught up with labels. People are much too complex to be labeled.

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  1. yttik
    September 18, 2010 at 13:08

    “…liberals favor “keeping other people out of our lives, leaving individuals the maximum space in which to live and flourish as they choose.”

    See, that’s my political belief but that’s where it gets really complicated! Liberals, progressives, Dems, pay lip service to that ideal while invading people’s lives about recycling, carbon credits, smoking, eating trans fat, salt consumption, monitoring bigoted thoughts, taking over health care, regulating your wages, telling you how to run your business, controlling your charitable donations, telling you what religions are politically correct and which ones can be criticized, banning skateboarding, telling you want plants you can have in your front yard, fining you for the wrong grocery bag, forcing people to wear bike helmets…

    LOL, sorry. I live in Liberal Utopia and I needed to vent. Sometimes I feel invaded, monitored, and regulated to the point of being unable to breath, and that’s just when doing something so subversive as standing on a street corner drinking out of a plastic water bottle. My bad, I’ll now say five Hail Mary’s to the Great Carbon God.

    • September 21, 2010 at 09:30

      I just moved to a hot bed of liberalism. The paper here, The Syracuse Post Standard, is so biased it’s funny. I love how the state took away those little clips on the gas pumps that you used to use so you didn’t have to stand there the whole time pumping gas. All it does is create massive lines, since I used to use that time throwing my trash away, now I just wait until Im done pumping…holding up the line. Although I did see one guy use his cell phone of all things to prop up the pump handle….unintended consequences anyone?

  2. Woodhull
    September 20, 2010 at 18:07

    yttik: I think we’ve already established that you and I live in the same city. Mayor O’Schwinn?

  3. Woodhull
    September 20, 2010 at 18:12

    Before I knew what I was saying, back in the day, I used to label myself a “fiscal conservative and a social liberal.” My how things have changed. I think of myself as a vanilla conservative — and I define that as conserving the constitution as it was intended, rule of law (not man).

    • September 21, 2010 at 09:33

      I used to label myself the same…then I realized that they are the same thing…classical liberal.

      Modern Liberalism in the US and Classical Liberalism are two diametrically opposed things. Now that the Dems have trashed the liberal name, they are trying to go back to calling themselves Progressives, they probably forgot why they stopped calling themselves Progressives in the first place. You know what Wilson, FDR, El Duce, Lenin and Hitler all had in common? They were Progressives.

  4. September 21, 2010 at 15:00

    I refer to Progresives as “The Man”.

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