For decades, “liberal” has been bandied about as a term of abuse in US politics. The term “liberal” has been defined as “soft on crime,” “soft on communism,” soft on defense,” and “tax and spend,” among others.
Political figures defined as “liberals” have never challenged the capitalist system; they believed that “capitalism works wonderfully, but we have to fix the problems it creates, such as unemployment, poverty, and corrupt government.” So, liberals have advocated such regulations on corporations as occupational safety and health, pollution, racial and other forms of occupational discrimination, etc. In the liberal scheme, capitalism is monitored, but it stays intact.
The Origins of Contemporary Liberalism in the United States
The New Deal of FDR, coming upon the 1929 Stock Market Crash and subsequent depression and the resulting unemployment of millions of workers, along with the fear of, if not the real possibility of, revolution-was the basis of contemporary liberalism. To head off the danger of revolution or other upheavals by workers and low-income people who lost their jobs and so turned against the economic system, FDR implemented series of programs that collectively were called the New Deal; there was no strategy involved, it was a series of expediencies that took place in order to put unemployed workers to work immediately, and to place corporations under control so that a depression would not occur in the future.
After consulting with the British economist John Maynard Keynes, the FDR administration took the risk of bringing the federal government into deficit, to put workers to work in public works jobs so they would have money to spend in local stores to stimulate the economy. Keynesianism was a doctrinal basis of the New Deal, giving it a strategy.
Throughout all this, the liberals of the FDR administration never challenged the idea of capitalism, , denying that they were seeking “socialism;” but conservatives, through the FDR administration and beyond, complained that the administration was leading the country into “socialism” and eventually “communism,” with its effort to control the worst parts of capitalism and thus avert social upheaval.
The Conservative Reaction To The New Deal
The movement known as “conservativism” also began with the 1929 Depression; but it was a reaction against the New Deal, attempting to reestablish total corporate control without any government regulation, denying that the capitalist system needed any policing, clinging to the faith that the system would correct itself.
Corporate leaders are convinced of their superiority as a class, resisting the idea that they needed policing of their management of their corporations by the government or workers organizing themselves into unions.
Thus, much of what we know today as “liberalism” and conservativism” is descended from the struggle over the New Deal and the 1929 Crash era. The corporations were placed under regulation, but they were never disbanded or nationalized; however, the popular belief in their infallibility, cultivated during the “prosperity” of the 1920s prior to the Crash, fell apart, and many corporate leaders, such as Henry Ford, expressed admiration for the fascist regimes in Europe, admiring how they kept order and averted the communist threat.
Liberalism and Conservativism After The Second World War
After the Second World War, conservatives sought to regroup as a political and intellectual force. During the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, the established economic belief was one of a tripartite system of government, private enterprise, and unions, with the NLRB, workers had the legal right to establish unions for their mutual benefit.
As a movement, conservativism carried with it a sense of superiority, in moral behavior and “knowing how the world really works,” with the aura of past beliefs accepted over decades, ridiculing and mocking liberals for challenging their privileged position or these long accepted beliefs that have been accepted as reality.
Conservatives see the advancement of former outcast groups-workers in the 1930s; African-Americans, LGBT, and women in the 1960s-as interlopers people who stole their rightful position of dominance, and blame liberals for accommodating them and supporting their advancement with the use of the government apparatus; but in the liberal scheme, the rise of the former out-groups is within the established economic and social structure, with the legitimacy of neither capitalism or the government challenged. The dream of conservatives has been to regain their power and dominance. To them, the rise of the former out-groups was conducted by the federal government, under the control of people whom conservatives have lumped together under the title ‘liberal,” whether they truly deserved the title or not. Any concession to the former out-groups was looked upon by conservatives as s sign of weakness, and the conservatives have insisted that the out-groups be smashed down and put in their place.
The real idea of liberalism, however, is to raise up the out-groups within the social system as it is established, while keeping the social system intact, utilizing the federal government and political apparatus to elevate the out-groups; and at the same time, trying to manage and direct the movements of the out-groups, to absorb its members into the political and social apparatus to deal it their issues.
Liberalism and conservativism, consciously or unconsciously, are two sides of a continuum, a line, a gauge, like a thermometer, compatible to the good-cop bad-cop routine you see in police dramas; the “bad cop” tries to terrorize the perpetrator into submission, whole the “good cop” tried to “befriend” and soothe the perp into cooperating with the police, i.e., the state and the society it serves.
Often, socialists, progressives, “radicals,” people favoring more advanced policies than liberals have offered, have gone along with the liberals, for practical purposes of getting the legislation passed in the legislative system, operating through public demonstrations, journalism, scholarly research, and often electoral campaigns; but often the liberals, closer to conservatives in wanting to keep the social-economic system in place, try to control the “radicals,” telling them “don’t go too far,” (whatever that is). At this point, the “radicals” have to decide whether to go along with the liberals, who are closer to the established powers, or go it alone and risk the wrath of the police system and its repression, which often liberals have gone along with? Which actions on the part of the ‘radicals” would be most effective-civil disobedience, street demonstrations, or selective acts of violence against state facilities?
These are no small questions; mainly it would be a matter of tactics. I do not have any answers, I simply want to raise questions.