(AP Photo/ Nam Y. Huh)
This past October, I participated in a debate at North Carolina State University sponsored by the Libertarian group Young Americans for Liberty. The YAL debates join a libertarian, conservative and a liberal. I held down the liberal pole. Why two positions to right of center and only one to the left? Good question, given that I find the potential breach within the the Democratic coalition—between, you might say, Keynesians and austerians, Krugmanites and Obamaites—more profound and potentially more portentous than that between conservatives and libertarians within the Republican coalition, but that’s an issue for another post. For this one, though, my inaugural post, the first of my thrice-weekly missives I’ll be blasting your way here at TheNation.com, you get a manifesto: my opening statement at that debate.
Richard Kim, the editor of this site, asked me for a few lines about what I’m going to be writing about here. I wrote back, “I’ll be interpreting contemporary political developments in light of their historical context. I’m especially interested in educating folks on the left about the organic continuities in right-wing thought and action—since the 1960s, since the 1920s, even going back to the eighteenth century. Too often we act as if the forces we’re fighting came about only the day before yesterday.” But first, before I get into all that, here are some “priors,” as the philosophers put it, some thoughts about where I’m coming from and why, the very best brief statement I could muster, for an audience of mostly conservative Southern college students about why I am a card-carrying liberal, and why they should be to.
A “liberal.” Yes, I’ll own the designation, not, as many on the left do, preferring the identity “radical,” disparaging “liberal” as a synonym for all that is anodyne, weak-kneed, not really leftist at all (see the classic statement by Phil Ochs here). I own it in part for the reason that liberalism, done right in this all-too-reactionary nation, is always already radical; for the reason that what most of the people putting their lives on the line to make left-wing political change around rest of the world—in Iran, say, in India, in Greece—are fighting for is liberalism; because a politics not merely of tolerance but of recognition—radical recognition—of those “different” from contingent cultural norms also is liberal, properly understood; and because frankly most of what I think is worth doing to create an economically just society is pretty damned liberal, too. If it was good enough for Franklin Delano Roosevelt to call himself a “liberal,” saying stuff like this (start reading at the part about “our resplendent economic autocracy” and “the individualism of which they prate”), it’s good enough for me.