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.
“But,” some will claim, “liberal right is a contradiction in terms!” No, it is not. It is an integration of terms that logically belong together. And it serves a purpose that no other term serves: It clearly and concisely identifies the cultural-political position of people who advocate a rational and free society, and it differentiates this position from those of the regressive left and the religious “right.”
Whereas “classical liberalism” names the pro-freedom ideology rooted in the Enlightenment; whereas “laissez-faire capitalism” names the social system in which government establishes and maintains freedom by protecting and not violating rights; and whereas “radical capitalism” names that same system but with an emphasis on the need to support and defend it by means of philosophic fundamentals; “liberal right” captures the pro-reason, pro-rights, pro-freedom ideology, with an emphasis on two important facts: (1) “Liberal” means “advocate of liberty”—and (2) Conservatives have no legitimate claim to the pro-rights, pro-freedom end of the political spectrum.
Consider the clarifying value of “liberal right” and its implications with regard to the regressive left and the religious “right.” We’ll take them in turn.
Liberal Right vs. Regressive Left
The term “liberal” derives from liber, which is Latin for “free.” In a political context, “liberal” means “advocate of freedom” or “advocate of liberty,” and it has meant this since it was first used as a political term in the 1700s. Consequently, the term both belongs to and has value to a movement seeking to support liberty. (Although the term “libertarian” derives from the same root, it carries extremely problematic baggage, which “liberal” does not. For details, see “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism.”)
And “liberal” has meaning deeper than “advocate of liberty.” Historically, the modus operandi of liberal thinkers has been to defend liberty by means of reason. The major thinkers in the liberty movement—from John Locke, to Adam Smith, to the American Founders, to Jean-Baptiste Say, to Auberon Herbert—sought to show the propriety of liberty by means of observation and logic. They used reason in their quest to understand and secure property rights, to grasp and explain the mechanics of a free market, to argue for the separation of church and state, and to establish limited government and the rule of law.
Granted, not everyone associated with the liberal movement proceeded exclusively by means of reason; nor did everyone involved advocate liberty consistently. John Locke, for instance, proceeded partially by means of faith and opposed freedom of speech for Catholics and atheists. He also regarded homosexuality as morally wrong and properly illegal, as did many classical liberals of the past. This is not surprising given that Locke and many such liberals were religious and that religious scripture demands faith and obedience, and condemns heresy and homosexuality (more on this below). But that is beside the point here. The effort to secure liberty by means of reason was and is the essence of liberalism. And the regressive left rejects this aim.
Observe some of the ways.
Although regressive leftists often call themselves “liberals,” they oppose the very cornerstones of liberty, such as the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of contract. For instance, they oppose freedom of speech by advocating laws against so-called hate speech (e.g., criticism of Islam); they oppose freedom of association by advocating laws that force businesses to engage with or support institutions they disapprove of (e.g., forcing Christian bakers to make cakes for gay weddings); and they oppose freedom of contract by advocating laws that forbid employers and employees to contract by mutual consent to mutual advantage (e.g., minimum-wage laws).
And that’s just the tip of the illiberal iceberg. Regressive leftists oppose liberty in myriad other ways as well. For instance, they oppose a free market in energy, by advocating subsidies for businesses that create wind and solar power, and by advocating laws that throttle the production and use of fossil fuels. They oppose a free market in education, by advocating state control of K–12 education, by calling for the abolition of private schools, and by attacking private colleges for making money by providing students with marketable knowledge and skills. And they oppose freedom from Islamic terrorism, by pretending that Islam is a religion of peace and that jihadists are not motivated by it.
Most fundamentally, however, regressive leftists oppose the very foundation of liberty, which is reason. This is clear by way of the above observations as well as in the following facts: They pretend that all cultures, no matter how irrational, mystical, primitive, or murderous, are equally good—except Western culture, which they pretend is uniquely evil. They pretend that “you didn’t build that,” when, as a matter of observable fact, you did. They pretend that success is merely a matter of “luck,” when, as everyone can see, it is not. And they pretend that socialism deserves a chance, despite the universally known fact that socialism has had countless chances over the course of a century and has proven time and again that it leads inexorably to human sacrifice and widespread suffering, and ultimately to rivers of blood.
The term “irrational” hardly captures the depravity of a mind willing to evade on such a massive scale about such grave matters. Far from being for reason or liberty or the production and prosperity that follow therefrom, the regressive left is for naked irrationality, tyranny, and the destruction and misery that follow therefrom. (That is not hyperbole. To advocate the means is to advocate the ends.) No wonder reasonable people are leaving the left. And no wonder the term “regressive left” was coined and made popular by reformed leftists who see how unreasonable the left is.
The left does not deserve the term “liberal.” Advocates of reason and liberty do. By using “liberal right” to name our political position, we capture the rich meaning of “liberal,” and we reclaim this vital asset from the regressive left, which illegitimately uses the term to describe itself and thereby lends undeserved credence to its illiberal aims.
Think of it as a win-lose proposition—but in a good way: We gain a positive value in our effort to defend liberty, and they lose a means of obfuscation that otherwise aids them in their effort to destroy liberty.
Likewise in regard to the religious “right.”
Liberal Right vs. Religious “Right”
The term “right” has three related meanings with respect to a free, civilized society. It refers to: (1) the right side of the left-right political spectrum—the side that is supposed to stand for a free, rights-respecting society; (2) the inalienable right of each individual to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness—a principle that must be grounded in reason if it is to be objective and thus to withstand assaults from the left; and (3) the principle that it is morally right for each individual to pursue his life-serving values while respecting the rights of others to do the same—that is, the principle of rational egoism.
The religious “right” advocates none of that. Consequently, it has no legitimate claim to the term “right,” and should instead be called “religious conservatism” or simply “conservatism,” which captures the fact that it aims to conserve the traditional, religious approach to knowledge, morality, rights, and governance.
Conservatism is a movement whose members—in the 21st century—believe in an invisible, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, supernatural being named “God.” They believe that he created the universe, that his will dictates truth, that the Bible is his word, that creationism is true, that homosexuality is immoral, that a zygote has rights, and myriad similar absurdities. And they believe all of this despite the fact that there is not a shred of evidence to support any of it (not to mention the world of evidence that contradicts all of it).
If such baseless beliefs did not redound negatively on important social and political matters, they wouldn’t be a problem for anyone except those who hold them (and their unfortunate children). But they do redound negatively on such matters. And they do so in spades. Consider some of the ways.
Because of their insistence that God’s will is the source of moral truth, conservatives oppose the very foundation on which rights and freedom depend. For instance, they oppose the idea that rights are principles of reason, derived from observation and logic—insisting instead that rights are gifts from God, whose existence and will can be “known” only by means of revelation and faith. Well, if rights cannot be derived by means of observation and logic, then rights have no rational basis or rational defense; thus no rational argument can be made against individuals, groups, or governments that violate rights.
That fact alone disqualifies conservatism as an ideology capable of defending a free, civilized society. And that’s just the tip of the faith-based iceberg.
The ideas of the so-called religious “right” are not merely incapable of defending rights. The “holy” scriptures embraced by conservatives (and religious leftists) amount to an outright assault on rights. Few religionists like to face this fact, but neither ignoring it nor denying it can make it go away.
The Bible explicitly calls for people to violate rights. For instance, it calls for people to murder blasphemers (e.g., Leviticus 24:16), to murder those who entice you to believe in other gods (e.g., Deuteronomy 13:6–9), to murder homosexuals (e.g., Leviticus 20:13), and to murder children who curse or disobey their parents (e.g., Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18–21). It also condones slavery (e.g., Leviticus 25:44, Deuteronomy 15:12).
Lest anyone claim that such commandments are found only in the Old Testament, bear in mind that the Old Testament is as much a part of Christianity as is the New Testament. According to Christianity, there is one God, and all of his laws, including those spelled out in the Old Testament, must be upheld. The New Testament is crystal clear about this. In the words of Jesus: “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the [Old Testament] Law to become void” (Luke 16:17).
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17–19)
Further, although the New Testament is less overtly violent than the Old, it does include parables and metaphors in which Jesus urges his followers to kill those who refuse to accept him as the Messiah. For instance, in the Parable of the Pounds, Jesus tells a story about a man who was to be king and who, after becoming king, calls for his subjects to round up those who opposed his reign and kill them: “As for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27).
If the point of a parable is to convey a moral lesson (and it is), what could be the moral lesson there?
Similarly, following the Last Supper, Jesus relayed the following metaphor to his disciples:
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:5–6)
If the purpose of a metaphor is to convey one idea by means of another (and it is), what idea is Jesus conveying there?
Regardless of how anyone today might choose to interpret such parables and metaphors, Christians throughout history have interpreted them precisely as you just did—which is (in part) why Christians have murdered so many people who refused to accept Christ as their Savior.
Fortunately, almost no one involved with today’s so-called religious “right” takes religion so seriously as to murder unbelievers or homosexuals or to enslave people or the like. But the Bible does command (or permit) people to do so. The ideas in the Bible clearly cannot serve as the basis for a rights-respecting, civilized society. And no one reasonably can say otherwise.
This brings us to the deepest problem with the so-called religious “right.” The most fundamental problem with this movement is that—like the regressive left—it opposes reason. This is evident in the above commandments and passages, and it is inherent in the most fundamental tenet of religion: the idea that faith is a means of knowledge.
Faith is acceptance of ideas in the absence of evidence supporting them or in defiance of evidence contradicting them. (If you accept ideas on the basis of evidence, you are accepting them by means of reason, not faith.) If faith is a means of knowledge, then reason, evidence, and logic lose all standing as arbiters of the truth—because if faith is a means of knowledge, then any idea a person accepts on faith is by that fact true. For example, if faith is a means of knowledge, then:
- If a person has faith that a snake spoke, then a snake spoke.
- If a person has faith that a man died and three days later arose from the dead, then that happened.
- If a person has faith that the world is only six thousand years old, then it is.
- If a man has faith (as Abraham did) that God’s will is the moral law and that God commands him to murder his son, then he should murder his son.
- And if a man has faith that God wants him to fly passenger jets into skyscrapers full of infidels, or murder gays at a nightclub, or murder his daughter for “dishonoring” the family—or any other horror—then he should act accordingly.
Although religionists often claim, “If there is no God, anything goes,” the truth is: If faith is a means of knowledge, anything goes. (For more on this, see “Islamic Jihad and Western Faith.”)
Revelation, faith, and religious scripture are not sources of rights. They are not pillars of liberty. They are not foundations of freedom. They are antithetical to all such values. Yet conservatives pretend otherwise.
Although few conservatives call for strict adherence to biblical law, practically all conservatives call for rights violations based on faith or biblical teachings. For instance, they advocate laws against homosexuality and gay marriage because of the aforementioned commandments; and they advocate laws against abortion because “God” allegedly creates the soul at conception. They also advocate institutions and programs that forcibly redistribute wealth—such as government-run schools, government-run health care, and government-run retirement programs—because the Bible says you are your brother’s keeper.
Conservatives’ thinking is biblically throttled in the realm of national defense as well. Because the Bible gives mixed messages about how to deal with those who attack you—an eye for an eye, turn the other cheek, kill your enemy, love your enemy, and so on—and because conservatives turn faithfully to scripture rather than rationally to reality for moral guidance, their thinking in this area is correspondingly a mess. What kind of defense policy results from such a contradictory stew of commandments? The kind President George W. Bush and his cabinet of conservative advisers enacted following the Islamic terrorist attacks of 9-11: a policy of moral compromise, half battles, the sacrifice of many thousands of U.S. soldiers, and the failure to eliminate the regimes that spawn and sponsor Islamic terrorism—which America could eliminate in a matter of days if we unleashed our military. That policy continues to this day under the administration of religious leftist Barack Obama. (For more on this, see “The Creed of Sacrifice vs. The Land of Liberty”; “‘Just War Theory’ vs. American Self-Defense”; and “The Jihad Against America and How to End It.”)
Given the fact that conservatives do not advocate a free society or the defense thereof, they have no legitimate claim to the right side of the political spectrum. Given that they do not acknowledge and embrace the evidence-based case for the individual’s right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, they have no legitimate claim to the concept of “right” in that regard. And given that they do not accept the fact that morality can be derived from evidence and logic, they have no legitimate claim to the concept of “right” as in “morally correct.”
Conservatives do not deserve the term “right.” Advocates of rational morality, evidence-based rights, and objectively defensible freedom do. By using the term “liberal right” to name our position in the cultural-political landscape, we capture the multifaceted and extremely valuable meaning of “right,” and we reclaim this vital asset from the so-called religious “right,” which illegitimately uses the term to describe itself and thereby gains undeserved credence for its faith-based ideas and rights-violating policies.
Again, this is a win-lose proposition of the good kind: We gain an important value for our cause; and conservatives lose a means of pretending that they stand for reason, rights, or freedom.
The terms “liberal” and “right” logically belong together. In fact, “liberal right” is redundant—but in a good way, given the widespread misconceptions about culture and politics today. To be a liberal is to be for freedom and thus to belong on the freedom end of the political spectrum—which entails advocacy of reason-based, demonstrable rights—which, in turn, is morally right because it enables people to live in peace and prosperity.
Just as “progressive left” is a contradiction in terms that muddies the waters of cultural-political discourse, so too are “liberal left” and “religious right.” These terms don’t make sense. They are invalid. And they throttle the thinking of all who accept them as valid.
Conversely, just as “regressive left” is an integration that makes sense and serves a vital and clarifying purpose, so too is “liberal right.”
If you advocate the ideas captured by “liberal right,” use the term to describe your cultural-political position. It’s yours by logical right.
- Political “Left” and “Right” Properly Defined
- Dave Rubin and the Return of Classical Liberalism
- Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism
- Religion vs. Subjectivism: Why Neither Will Do