Liberalism vs Leftism

Joe Miller shares his thoughts on the matter. A snippet:

I've been trying for a while now to articulate the distinction between liberals and leftists. I know that there are all sorts of trends on my side of the political spectrum that I find quite distasteful. Multiculturalism. Relativism. Marxism (and its bastard post-isms spawn: postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism and deconstructionism. Yes, I know the last one isn't a 'post-ism'. I think that it deserves (dis)honorable mention here, though.) It's these sorts of ideologies that spawn the blame-the-U.S.-for-everything mentality that pervades the academy. I, for one, get tired of the assumption that my Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker means that I must agree with the latest Limbaugh/Hannity/O'Reilly librul bogeyman. Liberals end up, in the popular mindset, being equated with every leftist loon out there.

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thats because in actuality,

thats because in actuality, they ARE, joe. the fact they cannot see that or will not see that is why no one has any respect for them, in any walk of life.

Shorter Qwest: "I don't do

Shorter Qwest: "I don't do nuance." :razz:

Qwest- I'm a liberal, and


I'm a liberal, and I'm not a loon. Generally speaking I abjure the capital-L Left and all of its/their works. There *is* a difference...

Brian, your associating with

Brian, your associating with the 'classical' liberal, i assume?

sorry Joe, i should have

sorry Joe, i should have qualified that with' philosophically'. i did not mean morally or professionally. my bad. i'm sure your an upstanding honest guy. i have lots of good friends in my biz who are neo .... i mean, thats it....who are good people. but we do disagree on that topic.

Qwest- I have long denied


I have long denied and rejected the misappropriation of the honorable adjective 'liberal' by socialists, authoritarians, and other conservative social controllers of the left. Thus I defiantly reject the need to modify liberal with anything else. Social Democracy is (in 90% of cases) NOT liberal, full-bore socialism is NOT liberal, massive intervention in the US economy to serve top-down goals and objectives is NOT liberal, etc.

Thankfully those folk have now taken to calling themselves "progressives" so there's hope for a removal of confusion about the term 'liberal' in the future....

To add, though, as I've said in the past there are many divisions within liberalism proper, and simply advocating some parts of the welfare state does not make you illiberal; Joe and I are liberals but we disagree (probably less than we think) on the proper mix of market v. welfare liberalism to follow, as well as on where to fall on the pluralist/universalist divide (the 2 fundamental tensions in liberalism, the latter being less soluble than the first).

Libertarians being almost entirely Market Liberals and more pluralist than universalist, form a subset of liberal; I fall in that category, Joe falls outside, and there we go...

Brian, I agree with most of


I agree with most of what you just said, but I don't think it's right to say that libertarians are mostly pluralist. Randians, Nozickians and Rothbardians seem to me to obviously fall within the universalist quadrant, and they make up a pretty huge chunk of libertarians.

Matt- What I meant was more


What I meant was more pluralist than universalist; Rothbardians are fairly pluralist in their foreign policy and their political economy, for example- the US gov't is the ultimate evil and whatever the rest of the world wants to do is fine. The high regard by Rothbardians for the Confederacy also militates against a 'universalist liberal' stance; the confederate project being, philosophically at least, the ne plus ultra of pluralist sentiment. Randians I grant- they seem to be full-on universalists (being, er, Objectivists and all). Nozick I don't see at all- his whole bit was "a framework for utopias" which is, unless I'm doing great damage to the term or we're talking past each other, very strongly pluralist. If universalism in a strong sense means anything it certainly *can't* mean a framework for utopias, it would instead be a prescription for utopias.

And finally, an appeal to the text:

Libertarians being almost entirely Market Liberals and more pluralist than universalist, form a subset of liberal;

I did say *more than* and not one to the exclusion of the other. Personally I have more than a few views I think are universal and trump local peculiarities (Scott, Jonathan, and I touched on this over coffee last week), yet by and large I say that most local peculiarities should be tolerated and if that results in some (small) pockets of illiberality, so be it (to an extent).

Brian, fair enough. I'll cop

Brian, fair enough. I'll cop to not actually having read nozick, but it was my understanding that he had a notion of rights as rights side-constraints that was fairly absolutist. I'll also grant that you're right about the Rothbardians in practice, though I think this is more a major inconsistency on their part: if they think self-ownership and whatnot is an absolute natural right then they have to logically hold that it applies to all people and that that everywhere should be Ancapistan.

Matt- I think we may have


I think we may have different understandings of what does and does not constitute universalism; while Nozick may have an absolute sense of rights as side-constraints, that to me does not rule out pluralism; the word "constraint" itself suggests not a prescription for what outcome should happen but rather saying "you *may not* do this" in the particular. Broad and simple rules/constraints leading to or at least allowing a multiplicity of outcomes is pluralist to me. Whereas my understanding of Objectivism has somewhat explicit and comprehensive prescriptions for society and ethics rather than mere 'constraints'.

Indeed, the argument on plural v. universal is posterior to the initial, universal claim of liberalism; to be a liberal one is individual-oriented, that individuals have objective value rather than value simply as subjects and that as such individual goals and existences should be respected and protected. To an extent that *is* universalist and necessarily so (though at a very high level of abstraction, too); the question between the pluralists and universalists is exactly what kind of society and rules should apply in order to implement the liberal meta-ethic and how to balance competing concerns.

Another thing to consider between universalism and pluralism is how insistent you are; I can say up and down the street that there is but One True Way to live and One True Ethics but if I'm never willing to go to the mattresses to see that My Will Be Done then I'm not much of a universalist now am I? And if I'm only willing to go a little bit to push for a standard ethic then I'm only a little bit universalist, while if I'm tirelessly seeking out oppression and injustice then I'm pretty much not pluralist at all- the ethic is universal and must be applied until there is nothing counter.

Between the two poles of "meh" and eternally seeking monsters to slay is a great deal of wiggle room, to be sure.

Brian, Broad and simple


Broad and simple rules/constraints leading to or at least allowing a multiplicity of outcomes is pluralist to me. Whereas my understanding of Objectivism has somewhat explicit and comprehensive prescriptions for society and ethics rather than mere ‘constraints’.

I'll agree with you that on this reading of "pluralist" Nozick counts as a pluralist. What I'm less sure about, though, is who would count as a universalist on this understanding (aside perhaps from Rand). Your reading would turn Kant and Mill into pluralists; they, after all, provide a basic rule (the Categorical Imperative and the harm principle respectively) and then leave open a pretty broad range of possible conceptions of the good life. As I understand it, though, Levy for instance would put Kant and Mill pretty squarely on the side of the universalists.

Levy's charactarization of the two sides:

On one side of this divide lies a pluralist liberalism, hostile to the central state, and friendly toward local, customary, voluntary, or intermediate bodies, communities, and associations. On the other we see a rationalist liberalism, committed to intellectual progress, universalism, and equality before a unified law, opposed to arbitrary and irrational distinctions and inequalities, and determined to disrupt local tyrannies in religious and ethnic groups, the family, the plantation, feudal institutions, and the provincial countryside.

On this understanding, I'd say that Nozick probably falls on the universalist side. Yes, there would be a broad range of possible laws under Nozickian libertarianism and all would be permissible. But any law (or any system of laws) that ran counter to one of his proposed side-constraints is impermissible.

I think, in other words, that the real dividing line between rationalists and pluralists is, as you say, that pluralists are willing to tolerate pockets of illiberalism while rationalists are not.

I am always correcting the

I am always correcting the Ditto-heads when they label socialist policy as "liberalism". My take is that the term was hijacked because socialism is hard to stomach, even by socialists. Generally I argue that they are paying the socialists a compliment, and buying into their propoganda. Call them what they are!