Why does it matter whether advocates of illiberal ideas and policies are called “liberal”? Why does it matter whether advocates of cultural and political regression are called “progressive”? Why does it matter whether a person or a movement advocating rule by biblical law is granted the pro-freedom end of the political spectrum?
It matters because such labeling enables advocates of illiberal, regressive, anti-freedom ideas to mask the true nature of their aims and thereby to advance their destructive causes more effectively than they otherwise could.
Just as we need accurate labels on food and poison containers in order to know what we are consuming or using in any given instance, so too we need accurate labels on our cultural and political ideologies, movements, and positions in order to know what we are thinking about, talking about, supporting, or opposing.
Cultural and political labels matter. They especially matter when they carry substantial preexisting meaning, as do the words “progressive,” “regressive,” “liberal,” and “right.”
If we want to advocate a rational, civilized, free society, we need to label both the corresponding and the opposing ideologies, movements, and positions with terms that capture their respective natures. And when opponents of reason and freedom attempt to commandeer or steal positive or benevolent-sounding labels to mask the true nature of their ideas or aims, we need to shine light on the terminological crime and, when appropriate, to reclaim the stolen terms.
Consider, for example, the left’s use of the term “progressive” to describe itself. This usage is historically and logically absurd—yet culturally and politically effective. It is absurd because the left’s ideas—from socialism to multiculturalism to environmentalism—are not progressive but regressive. They do not move the world forward, toward more enlightenment or greater freedom; rather, they move the world backward, toward darkness and tyranny that great men fought long and hard to leave behind. And the left’s use of the term “progressive” to describe itself is effective because it conveys the myth that it is progressive—which myth is then picked up by impressionable youths who have not yet thought out the issues at hand but who want to be with the movement that is forward thinking, civilized, progressive.
Fortunately, the left’s illegitimate claim on the term “progressive” has been substantially throttled by ex-leftists (or reluctant leftists, as the case may be) such as Maajid Nawaz, Sam Harris, Bill Maher, and Dave Rubin, who have aptly labeled today’s left the “regressive left.” This label is fitting not only because it is descriptively accurate, but also because it helps to reclaim the term “progressive” for people and movements that genuinely are progressive.
Among the other important terms that we who advocate reason and freedom need to reclaim from our opponents are “liberal” and “right.” Toward this end, we would do well to embrace the term “liberal right” to describe our position in the cultural-political landscape. . . .