The highly estimable Michael Novak has an excellent article in today's edition of National Review Online, available here, which was originally published in La Monde. Novak, who is a self-described conservative, notes that the United States is increasingly becoming liberal in the classical sense, the sense in which Europeans still tend to use the word:
"Year by year," he writes, "the American electorate becomes (in the European meaning of the term) more 'liberal' — that is, more committed to liberty, less willing to heed elite opinion, and a little more religious and 'traditional' in their moral ideals. Put another way, they become less like France. Less social democratic, less bewitched by the Left."
Novak mentions the "the optimism and energy of the 'conservative' movement for change," a phrase which astutely points out the confused nature of the terms liberal and conservative in the United States at this time. He makes a point with which we strenuously agree: that many people now called by one or the other of these terms actually would be better described by the other.
That is, many if not most people whom today's conservatives condemn as liberal are in fact either radicals (strongly dismissive of present institutions and realities) or real conservatives (people who want to preserve and perhaps extend the current welfare state, sexual revolution, national secularization, and the like; are elitist in nature; and approve of heritable social status and advantages, usually taking the form of race or sexual categorization). These latter individuals are quite conservative by termperament. Likewise, many if not most self-described contemporary American conservatives are actually liberal by both temperament and politics, hungry for reform of the very things the Left wants to preserve. (The most notable exception are the Buchanan American Conservative group, many of whom I would suggest are in fact radicals of the Right.)
Novak's article strongly shows what we believe to be the real value of the term liberal, which we see as a label not to be shunned but one to be embraced. (See my initial post for this site, from October 18 of this year, "Why the Reform Club . . . ," available here.) In the United States today, Liberal most aptly describes a rather large group of people on the Right, and very few indeed on the Left.
Novak's article is a very thoughtful and comprehensive analysis in the brief span of a couple thousand words, well worth reading.