That the old concepts of left and right do not make sense anymore, has been said a thousand times. Still, especially among commentators from the United States, the category “the Left” aka Socialism is often used to indicate the root cause of all that is wrong with the modern world, as if globalism ran by venture capitalists and the neoliberal Gospel were somehow a product of leftist ideas. Contemporary liberals view themselves as left wing too, but for the most part they are not touched by the economic concerns of the traditional left-wing electorate, the working class or the petite bourgeosie, and in fact they actively despise them. It may have been the case in 1967, but today being a liberal does not mean being left-wing anymore.
What did traditionally being left-wing mean? As it is well know, the terminology left and right originated in the aftermath of the French Revolution, when the old aristocratic order of the Ancien Regime was liquidated. In the French parliament, the National Assembly, those who sat on the right of the president became a sort of “party of law and order”, while those on the left represented the “party of change”. Later, after the Napoleonic wars, and with the beginning of party politics and the birth of socialism, parties on the left traditionally stood for the larger electorate against the special interests of the ruling classes. Being on the left meant favouring state interventionism, to counter large economic imbalancies, for the people against the moneyed elites. Today, politicians expressing these concerns would be called populists, a term which has come to be used almost exclusively in a denigrating way.
What does being a liberal today mean? In 2017, liberals come from all sort of places. In 1953, only but a few of children of well-off parents would be under the danger of drifting towards “Communism”. Today, most Hollywood billionaries and their children see themselves as liberals, almost without exception. Material concerns are not a liberal priority now. Salaries did not grow for the last 40 years? There has never been so much wealth disparity since the Gilded Age? I do not think that Madonna and Myley Cyrus (I don’t know how her name is written and I am too lazy to bother and spell check) care. But we so much freer now and we have gay marriage too, and so we will be able to smoke pot everywhere …
Ultraliberals or liberal evangelists also like to think that the more people are educated the more liberal they tend to be. Maybe. Because it is true that being a liberal today means being a progressive, a global citizen, against the old world of oppression and injustice. The core liberal value, as it is suggested by the very word liberal, is freedom, “freedom“ from all sort of bonds, from the bonds of the family, from the bonds of tradition, from the bonds of culture, from the bonds of ideology, from the bonds of religion, from the bonds of relationships. Real liberals cannot but look down to masses of people whose lives are constrained by all these and other bonds, for example the bonds of needing to work in a dull job just to get by.
Being a “left-wing” liberal today does not mean caring about the welfare of the “stupid masses”. In fact “left wing” liberalism is the true elitist credo of our time. Liberals have come to see their own minimalistic philosophy, which in reality stands for the rejection of philosophy and ideology, because all philosophies and ideologies are residuals of the old, oppressive, dictatorial, patriarchal, etc. tradition, as the sole philosophy and ideology worth of having survived into the XXI century.