DECODE: Liberal


DECODE: Liberal
adj. Politically favorable to governmentally imposed progress, reform, or tolerance.

History: By the 17th century, events such as the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and England’s Glorious Revolution had given rise to a new ideology that prized the rule of law over absolutism in government. Championed by the philosopher John Locke in his 1690 work Two Treatises, this movement, which would come to be known as “liberalism,” insisted that private individuals had a fundamental right to life, liberty, and property. “Liberals” were thus people who opposed tyranny, defended individual liberties, and pushed for the expansion of civil rights, free markets, and free trade. The American and French Revolutions, so different in other ways, both shared the goal of freedom from governmental coercion and other external restraints. By the time of the Great Depression, however, political and economic theorists were insisting on increased involvement by the state. The economist John Maynard Keynes, in particular, argued that the free-market system was no longer viable, prompting President Franklin D. Roosevelt to launch the New Deal—so-named in part because it represented a departure from classical liberal thinking. Roosevelt’s new “social liberalism,” as it came to be called, sought more governmental involvement not only in economic matters, but in any area favorable to progress, reform, or tolerance. By 1960, when President John F. Kennedy described a liberal as “someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, [and] someone who cares about the welfare of the people,” the term “liberal” had come to have nearly the opposite of its historical meaning.

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Another article from our DECODE series, in the latest issue of Salvo. Now available. Other words that have been “decoded” include: Homophobia, Fetus, Fundamentalism, Science, Conservative, Love, Tolerance, Homosexuality, Diversity, Education & Tradition. What fun! Check them out.

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