04 September, 2010

I hate the "political spectrum" of "liberals" and "conservatives"

...because in the real world, people differ on more than one dimension, and the terms "liberal" and "conservative" have been so misused they have lost much of their practical meaning.  Occasionally, somebody points this out.  Much more rarely, that someone is a journalist:
“Liberal,” in Europe, means almost the reverse of what it means in North America. In Europe, it refers to laissez-faire economic policy. And because most large parties of the European left and right are committed to maintaining large, bureaucratic welfare states, liberal parties across the continent tend to be fairly small.

Liberal Democrats in Britain, the Liberal Alternative in France, Progressive Democrats in Ireland, Free Democrats (or Die Liberalen) in Germany — these smallish, also-ran parties pipe up reliably in parliament for freer markets, civil liberties and (sometimes) lower taxes. Now and then, they even form ruling coalitions with a big party on the left or right. In American English, they’d be called “neoliberal” or “libertarian.” But they’re also the parties closest in spirit to liberal democracy as it’s practiced in the United States.
Is it just a problem of essentially contested concepts?  No, there's something more here--deliberate obfuscation to use the emotional power of a particular word to carry an argument. And most reporters play right into it.

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