What Is A “Liberal Socialist?”

Roosevelt mixing radical ingredients in his speeches in this 1912 editorial cartoon by Karl K. Knecht (1883–1972) in the Republican Evansville Courier newspaper — Wikimedia

You must be a liberal socialist!” The Right’s refrain goes, every time you contradict a cherished talking point or, God forbid, criticise President Trump. Anyone would think that such people were morally deficient crybabies whose main goal in life is to beggar the rest of us to support their slacker lifestyles, the way some people go on. Let’s take a look at some of the accusations, shall we?

Blue-skying dreamers

Read through the comments on this Bill Moyers blog post, “Who are the ‘legitimate poor?’” Oh. Dear. Me. Commenter Bullit’s facile arguments pretend that we’re the authors of our own fates even though he mentions that there’s a “a luck-of-the-draw aspect to life.” In the land of the free you’re supposed to strive for the American Dream: to make the most of what you’re good at until you’re able to live in comfort. Stephanie is basically being told, “Silly Steph, writing is for rich people. You are poor. Go and get onto a career track that pays well.” When challenged on his harshness he responds,

The meanest thing I said was she should’ve chosen a career field to support herself & her kids better. If you think that’s mean, you must be a liberal socialist.

It’s not that simple…

In a money-first society where the arts are for the well-to-do, you peon, it makes sense to bin your dreams and focus on whatever pays the rent. But what if you’ve been encouraged to believe that you’ve got a future as a writer if you just put the effort in? It can be very lucrative in some situations. If writing does indeed prove to pay the rent (when you’re paid) why not pursue it?

I’m creative

My own experience is of being creatively-minded all my life but lacking the training and that extra sparkle of talent that might have got me the career in graphic design I yearned for as a teen. I’m an administrator now and content myself with making my own graphics for my blog posts and helping my friends out with graphic and web design projects but that’s after years of pursuing a career in various creative fields including writing and web design. Basically, we’re told one minute, “Follow your heart, believe in yourself and you’ll get what you want in the end,” then “Get a job, any job, don’t be a burden” the next.

I worked my way through college, but…

I had planned for my creative career, working two jobs and going to college, then securing a place in the University of North London. I never planned to get chickenpox, for my health to take a nosedive, or to be burdened with undiagnosed rheumatoid arthritis that knocked me out of the job market for five long years. Since I’d had the “Don’t be a burden!” trope dunned into me during my formative years you can’t imagine how miserable I was, particularly when I didn’t even know what to call my condition and people I knew were saying I was malingering, not really ill. And so it was that after I’d been diagnosed and my meds kicked in, I immediately went and got a job in a call centre doing soul-sucking surveys for computer operating systems with unqualified people (one was the school janitor!). It didn’t last but it gave me the experience I needed to get another position with a company that took calls regarding stocks and shares for companies undergoing reconstruction. Remember when Marks and Spencer sold a third of its properties? I was fielding calls from greedy shareholders irate that it wasn’t the windfall they’d been promised, they were only getting a third of their shares converted to cash, which they could then use to buy more shares. The stories I could tell… Meanwhile I was working on creative writing projects in my spare time which resulted in public performances of my work, which I’d hoped would lead to bigger things. It didn’t.

Things kinda worked out for me

A personal upheaval, which I won’t discuss here, convinced me to move to Manchester where I got married. I temped to put bread on the table, then got a job in insurance, which I quit due to low pay, then temped again. Since nothing worked out for me I tried my hand at running my own web design business but the market for websites for small and startup businesses is saturated. Since then I’ve been working for a facilities management company. My only creative outlet is blogging and occasional graphic design projects. The point is, you can plan all you want but unless you aim for a career like nursing where there’s always demand, you’ll have to compete in a buyer’s market. While I’m a decent administrator and enjoy my job I’d be lying if I said I’d always wanted to be one. Had I chosen nursing I’d be stuck; I can’t stand for long (bad knees) and I’ve got the wrong temperament. You can only plan so far; we are not the authors of our own fates, there are too many variables.

Is he right?

Well yes and no. It’s reasonable to say that nobody owes us a living and that the market will decide whether or not we succeed in the career of our choice. However, we don’t find out whether or not we will succeed unless we try. If we fail, is that poor planning? Perhaps, but should we be punished for it? If you argue that maybe I should have tried to get a position as a civil servant with a decent wage and pension, hindsight will make it hard to argue back, but you don’t get the benefit of hindsight until after the fact, do you? Ultimately, I don’t regret the choices I’ve made, even though I could have had a fatter pension pot if I’d stopped chasing creative fantasies and knuckled down to a job as a pen pusher because being more narrowly focused would have stunted my personal development, leaving me without the skills and knowledge that I have today. Make lemonade, and all that.

Those who disagree with right wing talking points

Newsmax is an economics blog. You’d think that the discourse in the comments would be less… well… hysterical, but in a political environment in which echo chamber mentalities are enforced with shaming, don’t be surprised to see the likes of ignorant commenter slk using “liberal socialist” the way dogs use lamp posts. I’ve found four examples which are basically paranoid ravings and ad hominem attacks.

Education, education, oh, forget it

sorry bud, you’re a big liberal socialist dreamer!!! you’ll be working as their servant!!! sensitivity classes will only get you into more debt!!! hopefully, there will be a cashier’s job, waiting for you, at minimum wage!!!

If you follow the thread where he’s arguing with ron, he seems to be arguing with a man who shares his views just because he replied to him. Even a hint of dissent gets absolutely hammered. Can you imagine the stress-related illnesses a man like him must suffer from? I’m cynical myself but don’t flip my wig if someone merely answers me.

Left/right red/blue

hey nein, didn’t vote for bush, nor any of the idiots he faced!!! most of anything added after 1–3–07 was credited to the liberal socialist controlled congress!!! just like you can’t say bill leveled the budget…he had no choice, except doing what bama’s doing, but then thats why bill will always be remembered as a better potus, then bama!!!

The trouble with characterising all Democrats as liberal socialists and all Republicans as conservatives is that it’s not actually true. President Obama is centre right and governed as a moderate Republican would have done — to the chagrin of the left/liberal progressive members of his party. Have you noticed the consternation over Trump’s cabinet picks? That didn’t happen to Obama because the new guys were basically the old ones: neocons. This is why it’s intellectually dishonest to play the partisan pattycake game: you have to do all kinds of mental gymnastics to make your statements appear to be reasonable. I can’t be bothered with that.

Obama is bad

This rant contains the lines,

bill did the right thing, and worked with congress!!! on the other hand, bama fights tooth and nail, every inch, to do it his way!!!

slk really needs to get back on his meds, since his points appear to be “Whatever right wing pundits say.” He never heard the Republicans muahahahaha-ing in the background as they worked to make Obama a one-term president. While the fact-checkers split hairs over what individuals did or didn’t say, the fact is that either Obama was obstructed or he wasn’t. Now if Obama had just rolled over and let them do whatever they wanted, they’d still have found fault with him; that’s how partisan pattycake works.

Thinking is bad!

Conformity is the name of the game for these rugged individuals; the cult of personality that grows around a Glorious Leader must never be questioned. See how slk responds to SJJolly’s fable about leadership:

you must be a liberal socialist thinking guy, with the lead from behind theory!!! i dare you to cross bama’s faint red crayon line!!!

Eye-rolling hurts if you do it too often. What I’m saying is, use the correct words to describe things. Using “liberal socialist” as a catch-all boogeyman term is lazy. I push back whenever I see it. We all need to do this.

Trump Derangement Syndrome sufferers

The Old Testament-style idolatry of the Cult of Trump is downright creepy to behold. Even as his supporters project their hero’s failures onto Obama (I am not a fan of his, for the record. His cult of personality among Progressives makes me cringe), they exalt their Glorious Leader and take offense at the slightest possibility that when the music plays you won’t bow down to their golden(-haired) image.

Commenter iitywybad is a prime example of this. See him flip out over criticism of Trump Almighty:

I’ve never seen so many comments from people suffering Trump Derangement Syndrome and uncontrolled jealousy of a very successful man.
Donald Trump is the only one with serious proposals to make America great again. If you’re not hearing them, you must be a liberal socialist communist democrat or one of the liberal mealy mouthed, lily livered, gutless, spineless, politically correct, diplomatic double speak, afraid of your shadow, go along to get along, do nothing elite republican metro sexual new castrati males that Rush mentions so often!

I see comments like this over and over and over again in various media. Even now, while America’s global reputation is on fire, Trump’s supporters insist that we’re just jealous that their guy won instead of Hillary Clinton.

Your guy was no better

The false equivalence and tu quoque logical fallacies are on display on the right at the moment because they know they can’t defend Trump. Even the ones who don’t like him much are playing the partisan pattycake game, oblivious to the fact that they’ve been played by the Neocons for sixteen years; Obama was basically Bush II lite; he kept Bush-era staffers in their jobs, remember. So why is the writer saying this?

Phony hysteria
I cannot believe all the phony hysteria over the new president. For someone who has voted Democrat before, I am embarrassed completely by the behavior of elected officials and others. It is beyond my imagination, what if people had done this 4 or 8 years ago against Obama? People are protesting and do not even know why. Children are leaving school over what is being told to them by liberal Democrat teachers. I will never associate myself or with any Democrat candidate again ever. — Sound Off (opinion column), Eagle Tribune (Massachusetts).

Because the media, for the most part, splits along the culture wars party lines. The Neocons were the more acceptable face of the right — more Establishment-friendly. The media struggles to place him on the left/right axis on traditional party lines and the Establishment ones fail because he doesn’t fit in the mould they’ve carved. As a result they treat him as some kind of alien invader who doesn’t belong here and needless to say his supporters are calling them out for not flipping out when Obama did anything remotely similar. That’s partisan pattycake for you; the only way to win the game is not to play.

What made “Liberal” a dirty word?

Americans have, in many cases, been convinced that socialism, and now liberalism, are so irredeemably evil that all traces of them must be expunged from the land at once lest their personal freedoms continue to be infringed. Get a clue, Yanks: all of the freedoms enumerated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based on… dun dun dun… straight up, no messing about liberalism. Learn what words mean before you go tossing them around like frisbees. Okay, so where did they get the disheveled bohemian workshy hippie image from?


Progressives are the force behind political correctness, in their New Left iteration. The New Left gave us the flower-power hippies and the anti-war movement. Progressives are, by and large, all about improving social mobility and protecting minorities via state intervention. This is the root of the overweening exceptionalism and authoritarianism that gives them such a bad name.

Weirdness is the new normal

The fact that the rest of us appear to be the subjects of their social experiments without our consent at times really doesn’t help their cause. Example: men who fall within the parameters expected for maleness do not have a uterus. So what’s all this about “expectant person, not expectant mother?” Read the leaflet for yourself [warning: .pdf file]. The explosion of outright weirdness in our society can be traced right back to the New Left and their Marxist forbears. This is what sticks in the conservative craw.

Classical liberalism

This is the elephant in the room, as it were. While various iterations of liberalism (including the progressive faction) gave America its Constitution and Bill of Rights, it was classical liberalism that gave us the notion of the laissez-faire free market. While, to most conservatives, classical liberalism is the acceptable face of liberalism, the hard right doesn’t like the part about everyone being equal, particularly women and minorities. What I’m saying is, Americans on the right like the idea of classical liberalism, they just don’t like to see it in action once they realise what it actually means in practice. All Americans ultimately love “big government” when it does what they want, they’ll just never admit it. So yeah, activism to really render everybody equal is one of those things that made “liberal” a dirty word.

The decline of Christianity

Christianity, particularly the white protestant version(s), is in decline. Even the powerful Evangelical faction is losing members. Salon’s Amanda Marcotte knocks it out of the park in this searing indictment of conservative moral authoritarianism:

…the past few years have created a self-perpetuating cycle: Christian conservatives, in a panic over changing demographics, start cracking down. In reaction, more people give up on religion. — White Christian America in Decline: Why Young People Are Sick of Conservative Religion, by Amanda Marcotte for AlterNet

Basically, the main reason why Christianity in America is declining is because of the control freakery of its leaders once they get a sniff of power. The appeal of Protestantism has always been about not having a cult of personality around a Glorious Leader, e.g. the Pope. However, the rise of the televangelists brought that screaming back to life. Result: breakaways in a secular world opt for agnosticism or atheism. So what does Religious America do about this? Become more controlling, making a boogeyman of liberalism and a scapegoat of progressivism instead of cleaning up its act.

Right wing conservative weirdness

Rival groups have even joined forces in an unprecedented power-sharing cabal, which, to no-one’s surprise, has led to the undermining of core Constitutional values: the church should not rule the state because you can never be sure of which one will end up in charge. Since when were women exempt from Constitutional freedoms? While I’m not exactly a pro-choice campaigner I don’t like the idea of being reduced to my biological function on religious grounds. What about other people’s religions? This is what right-wing weirdness looks like. And that is why they hate liberalism. Can’t have anyone but rich white males having either rights or stuff.

Binary politics

Due to the left/right axis being used to force binary choices on Americans, good luck with getting a conservative to ever admit to having liberal or progressive sympathies. Well I’m conservative and I’m full of them. If you want to maintain an orderly society that works for the benefit of all you’ll need a welfare state, social housing, free education and free healthcare. I also believe in the intrinsic equality of all because the Bible says so. Yes indeed, it turns out that far right political ideologies are antithetical to Christianity [for the record I’m not a Catholic]. Who knew?

No ideology exists in a vacuum

No matter what the various groups assert, the truth is that no political philosophy exists in a vacuum. Each and every one of them draws from others in either a positive or negative way to create the talking points used to win followers. So when anyone tells me I must be a liberal socialist I deny it, not because I deny having sympathy with the more sensible liberal/progressive policies but because I know what they mean when they call me that; I’m not an unwashed hipster scrounging off the state while standing wiv effnick minor’i’ies wearing a safety pin over my heart, thank you very much. This is why I’ve advocated learning what words mean: I’ve got to mentally translate words into their current meanings every time people lob loaded words like “liberal socialist” at me. And they do that because I refuse to be an extremist, clinging wholly to either of the two choices they present me with. The political world is bigger than they will ever admit to.

What is liberal socialism?

Liberal socialism as an ideology in and of itself exists. It’s what most European countries have, to be honest. It’s why we have tax-funded services. It’s the Christian iteration that gave the British the NHS.

Liberal socialist’s [sic] seminal ideas can be traced to John Stuart Mill. Mill theorised that capitalist societies should experience a gradual process of socialisation through work-controlled enterprises, coexisting with private enterprises. Mill rejected centralised models of socialism, that could discourage competition and creativity, but argued that representation is essential in a free government and democracy could not subsist if economic opportunities were not well distributed, therefore conceiving democracy not just as form of representative government, but as an entire social organisation. — Liberal Socialism, Wikipedia

Basically it cherry-picks the best, most positive aspects of socialism and injects the full spectrum of liberalism. Tony Blair was an example of this before he went all neoliberal and dragged us into two pointless wars to suck up to Bush and make himself more popular.

Liberal democracy

During Theresa May’s recent visit to America, I cringed in horror as she spoke of America and Britain leading the world to promote “liberal democracy.” This is a liberal democracy:

Liberal democracy is a liberal political ideology and a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of classical liberalism. It is also called western democracy. It is characterised by fair, free, and competitive elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms for all people. — Liberal Democracy, Wikipedia

We have fallen off a cliff into Fascism. First of all, we’re not being properly represented due to gerrymandering and disenfranchisement. In most countries, elections are a two-horse race. It’s a little better in Britain than America, where people are reluctant to vote for third parties in case they “steal” votes from the party they hate less than the one they hate most. The separation of powers is being undermined by the monstering of judges; are we really to be governed by a right-wing press with a lynch mob mentality? This also undermines the rule of law: we now have secret courts and secret interpretations of the law. How can that be right? Don’t get me started on asset forfeiture, an injustice suffered by Americans. Oh, and the UK wants rid of the Human Rights Act. Oh, goodie. So… May wants to lead the world into more of this? No thank you. See her speech. British exceptionalism and post-colonial paternalism rule here. I’m surprised Trump didn’t pat her you-know-where and tell her to run along like a good little girl. Doesn’t she know the Republicans are composed of religious authoritarians, fascists, and anarcho-capitalists? They weren’t impressed. That’s what happens when a speech that should have been called out for inconsistencies with the current situation in UK governance was hammered for basically being liberal.

We need a new paradigm

Ultimately it doesn’t matter a damn what you call anything, it only matters that we can discuss it without bashing or belittling each other as we do so. The current political paradigm as a binary choice between left or right is actually a choice between being eaten by a lion or a bear; you’ll be gobbled up one way or the other. Why should we put up with that? If the truth, as I stated earlier, is that there’s no “pure” ideology, it doesn’t matter if we cherry-pick from the ones we’ve got and create a new one. The truth is it won’t be particularly new; just a rehash of successful old policy positions polished up and presented as new but that’s okay as long as they work.

Freedom V tyranny

If you really, truly, absolutely must insist on a binary axis why not freedom v tyranny? That’s how I roll. You might argue that we’ve got that now but due to framing as subordinate to the left/right dichotomy we only get to choose which tyranny and which freedoms we can have. Why not bin the left/right dichotomy altogether and frame the argument as the Twofold Principle?

I use the Twofold Principle as a litmus test for the ideologies I come across. The truth is that each and every one of them will infringe on the rights of either the individual or of the public sooner or later. The liberal mantra, “Your rights end where mine begin” sounds reasonable to me, but this must be applied to everyone, not just the favoured few. If we’re going to adopt a new paradigm that runs on a freedom v tyranny axis let the Twofold Principle be the test of how balanced and fair a particular policy is. I cherish my freedom both as an individual and as a member of the public and the way I see it, policies that benefit us as a whole without limiting our personal freedoms are the most desirable ones. If that makes me a “liberal socialist,” so be it, but if you’re honest with yourself, it actually makes me conservative, too.