Thursday, October 20, 2011

Liberalism and Occupy Wall Street

As part of a symposium on Occupy Liberalism Fred Siegel provides a interesting look at liberalism.  While praising The New Republic’s editors for arriving at the right conclusion in not supporting the protests, Siegel makes the point that their way of arriving at this conclusion is wrong.  What Siegel particularly disagrees with is the notion that liberals are capitalists:

Herbert Croly, the founder of TNR [The New Republic], understood himself as a radical for whom the use of the then uncommon term “liberal” was merely a euphemism for an American sort of socialism. Croly spoke of his seminal book, The Promise of American Life—the founding document of American liberalism—as “socialistic.” It’s true that it was only in the 1930s that many at TNR openly referred to themselves as socialists. But looking back, in 1931, Edmund Wilson argued strongly for liberals to give up Croly's "gradual and natural approximation to socialism" and to embrace socialism openly.”

And he goes on:

“Since then the distinction between liberalism and anti-capitalist radicalism has been continuously effaced by the rise of a vast regulatory state staffed, in part, by public sector unionists. Statism in America eschewed a European-style ownership of the means of production. Rather its aim has been, in the name of good and defensible causes such as a cleaner environment, to run as much of the economy as possible through government, directly and indirectly. The upshot is that the American percentage of GDP devoted to government has reached European levels”

No doubt liberals will dispute this history and characterization, make a claim that modern liberalism is more or less socialistic and every liberal I’ve know will laugh at the very notion and usually point to the lack of government direct ownership as the all defining measure of socialism and therefore a clear rebuttal to the charge.  This has always struck me as a far too formal definition of socialism.  Political thought rarely if ever comes with black and white delineations, but rather shows itself in tendencies and presumptions. 

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