Here’s what my dictionary says about the word “liberal”: favorable to progress or reform, of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies, favorable to concepts of maximum individual freedom as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties, free from prejudice or bigotry, open minded or tolerant, characterized by generosity, broad-minded, beneficent.
Why should anyone be ashamed of this word? I would feel honored to be so named. The day when “liberal” became a dirty word was a catastrophic day for us, politically and morally.
Here’s what my dictionary says about the word “conservative”: disposed to preserving existing conditions, institutions, etc., agreeing with gradual rather than abrupt change, having the power or tendency to conserve, preservative.
How do those who call themselves conservative fit this description? Rather than preserving existing conditions, they seek to establish radically new ones: the merging of church and state, the arrogation of dictatorial powers by the executive, the undermining of habeas corpus and other basic traditions of American society, the use of torture, the propagation of endless war. Citing the threat of terrorism, they seek to abruptly transform the values and principles of a nation that managed to survive a civil war and two world wars without abandoning its traditions. And what do they conserve? Not the environment—in fact, they mock and deride those who seek to conserve it. Not our liberty, which they consider a threat to security. Not individual choice, which they violate through increasingly invasive forms of social control and surveillance. Not science or education, which they attack when it does not agree with their prejudices. Not free enterprise, which is devoured by ever-expanding corporate monopolies. Not freedom of the press, which is controlled and co-opted by corporate interests. Not the economy, which continues to plummet into mind-boggling deficits and debt. Not our values, which they erode by approving torture, disappearances, pre-emptive war based on lies, and a poisonous political culture based on name-calling and accusing one’s opponents of treason.
In fact, they conserve nothing. We who speak out and organize and struggle for peace and freedom—we are the conservatives, and the liberals. The so-called conservatives and “centrists”—what should be call them? Royalists, because they believe in the absolute authority of a king disguised as a president? Fascists, because they seek corporate domination in all areas of social life? For now, let’s just call them: Nihilists.
The only thing a nihilist knows how to do is destroy things. They are never really happy, because they cannot create. We who work for peace and freedom are working for them as well. Happiness is a revolutionary act.