You often hear the term ‘left-liberal’ but almost never ‘right-liberal’.
Here’s John Howard slagging off the ‘left-liberal’ media in front of his mates at the American Enterprise Institute:
But perhaps the most convincing sign of all that some progress has been made is the significant decline in media coverage of Iraq – noticeable both in the United States and Australia. The dominant left-liberal elements in the media in both our countries apparently cannot bring themselves to acknowledge good news stories coming out of Baghdad.
Left-Liberal v. Right-Liberal
As an exercise, try Googling ‘left-liberal’. You will get a huge number of hits.
Now try Googling “right-liberal”. Very few hits. Why ?
In my opinion the reason for this is that the political discourse in the USA and, latterly Australia, has been dragged so far to the right that liberals are no longer recognised. Small-‘l’ liberals are no longer accommodated in the public discourse.
There is no room for them because the political discourse in Australia over a decade was dominated by Howard and in the USA by the Republicans/Democrats, none of whom are small-l liberals, but right-wing either conservatives or ideologues. For Howard and the power-wielding core in the Republicans and Democrats there are precious few questions left to be answered about political economy and society. The debate is over. Hence there is no more need for critique, small-l liberals or, in fact, Liberalism.
Critique, which is a hallmark of Liberalism is thought instead to be evidence of leftism. Small-‘l’ liberals have had their political habitat destroyed by the rightward shift in the polity and have become extinct. Hence the political arm of ruling class (which is a Business-Corporate Polyarchy) and, under their tutelage, the general public have progressively forgotten what Liberalism entails and what it means to be a Liberal Democracy. In today’s polity of the USA and Australia, a small-l liberal is sighted about as frequently as Wasabi Paste in your grandmother’s lamb roast, and, to the ruling class, is about as disgusting (bordering on treacherous).
This article by Tom Switzer, a former senior Liberal advisor and a research fellow for the Institute of Public Affairs (an Australian cousin of the AEI), writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, appears to concur with my thoughts that the Australian polity has drifted rightward, approaching the topic from an ideological perspective opposite to mine.
notwithstanding the loss of conservative government, the centre of political gravity in Australia remains conservative. No longer, for instance, is welfare seen as an unconditional right. No longer are activist judges rewriting our constitution. No longer are Australians ashamed of our past, pessimistic about our future and unsure about our place in the world. In this environment, why should Liberals lurch left when Labor could only win power by moving right?
To Republican voters, Obama’s comment to ‘Joe The Plumber’ that taxes and redistribution of wealth might serve a useful purpose was seen as tantamount to Socialism or even Communism. This is an indication that the Republican Party is defining the political ground in the USA to telescope everything leftward of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School into ‘hard-left’.
In Australia, the climate is not so dire. John Howard merely believed that all the media (see above) and all Universities (see below) are dominated by the ‘soft left’.
JOHN HOWARD: Despite a more diverse and lively intellectual environment in Australia compared with past decades, we should not underestimate the degree to which the soft left still holds sway, even dominance, especially in Australia’s universities.
In his stultifying presence none of Howard’s party colleagues had the guts to disagree and so Howard’s rather crazed ideological/cultural stance, shared by Quadrant and the IPA became increasingly entrenched in the public sphere, thus providing Tom Switzer with that nice afterglow which permeates his SMH article.
Liberalism – Not Dead But Coughing Up Blood
So, as I was saying, in the context of the rightward shift of the polity in the USA/Australia, anyone who critiques the approach or policy principles of a government is assumed to be a leftist.
Thus the media, which centrally exists to critique, is deemed ‘left-liberal’ simply because it critiques and because it critiques it is thought to be ‘dominated’ (Howard’s term above) or controlled by leftists.
In fact, Howard and his ideological fellows in the AEI are not only non-liberal but anti-liberal. For them, critique only emenates from enemies, not from peers with different and equally valid conceptions of how economics and society should be arranged. For Howard and the AEI the media is an adversary which must be contained, disciplined and controlled. For Howard and the AEI, critique of their views is a sign of a sick mind infected by ‘cant, hypocrisy and moral vanity’, as Howard described the left which for him, supposedly dominates the media.
‘Right-liberal’ is an almost non-existent category because if you are a ‘conservative’ (in Howard’s terms) you do not critique except to say that the government is correct but has not gone far enough with its (basically good because rightward) policies. Such voices are those of friends. They are not critiquing the basic wisdom or ethics of the rightward agenda, just wishing for even more of the good stuff.
Liberalism is centrally about freedom of expression, toleration and debate of different viewpoints. For Howard and the American Enterprise Institute the debate is over. They are anti-liberal. The Right is absolutely right to the point of self-evidence. Hence the only liberals are left-liberals.