Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Liberals and Leftists are not the same

I've actually been thinking of writing a similar article to this one by Ron Jacobs. The confusion between the center (eg liberalism) and the left is one of the most infuriating aspects of American discourse. Basically, the right supports maintaining the power of traditionally powerful groups (in the US, whites, males, straight people, the military, the wealthy...) by defending all their privileges. Liberals try to maintain most of the status quo by pushing through some reforms to quell demands for more far-ranging change. And the left seeks to upend these hierarchies altogether. Almost all public debate in the US is between the right and the center, with the left altogether excluded, notwithstanding that the right labels the center 'liberals', 'socialists', etc. At times the center repudiates these labels, and joins the right in denouncing the left; at other times, it embraces the 'liberal' label, claiming for itself the right to draw the bounds on legitimate reforms.
There are a couple of things Jacobs gets wrong. Neither right, left nor center maintains a principled support for private property. The sort of economic strategies epitomized by Robert Moses or the Kelso Supreme Court decision, in which the state's ability to seize property for the greater economic good overrides property rights is entirely consistent with liberalism. And Dennis Kucinich is part of the left. Faced with a two-party system, some on the left will work within the Democratic Party. It is a question of strategy, not orientation.

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