Does anyone else have this autonomic reaction? Every time I find myself discussing something with a liberal an involuntary shudder courses through my body. Oh, I don’t mean classic liberals or liberal in the sense of open minded. I mean contemporary political liberals.

Part of it is that liberals are genetically wired to be annoying. They might insist that it is not so much genetics as it is an inescapable result of their childhood. Counseling is, of course, recommended by other liberals…followed by mediation. Blaming others (parents come particularly to mind), and society in general, is encouraged. This will be preceded by general denial. Among the annoying aspects of the liberal demeanor is the utter inability to recognize how annoying they are.

Ever try to have a conversation with a liberal? You need a damn book on what you can and can’t say without drawing that “you jerk” look. Then there are the nuances that some things can be said in certain contexts but not in others, and some people can use certain words, but other people can’t. There must be volumes of footnotes I’m not aware of. You start off trying to make a point and end with a lecture on your verbiage rather than the substance of the discussion. Good God. Oops. Am I allowed to say “Good God” or is reference to the almighty verboten? Can I say verboten or is that an offensive term? Where did I put those footnotes?

But, enough of these pet peeves and on to the main thesis. The most annoying thing about liberals is that they’re not liberal. The one valid reason to tolerate liberals would be if they were, yes, liberal, and added progressive dialogue to the exchange of ideas. But, let’s be honest. Contemporary political liberals are among the most reactionary of thinkers.

“The term reactionary refers to viewpoints that seek to return to a previous state in a society.” Reactionary derives from the French reactionnaire. The French usage arose during the French Revolution and referred to “a movement toward the reversal of an existing tendency or state and a return to a previous condition of affairs.” Wikipedia definition, usage and history.

Once a derogatory reference to conservatives, the term now equally applies, and in the same pejorative sense, to 21st century American liberals, or self-misnamed progressives. Following the French Revolution and into the industrial revolution, “reactionary” was most commonly applied to those who sought a return to agrarian societies governed through monarchist structures with landed gentry, all in coordination with the dominating authority of the Church. The reactionaries failed to understand, or accept, fundamental and permanent social and economic changes that rendered wistful visions of a return to the past impractical.

In much the same vein contemporary liberals (I refuse to call them progressives because they are not) wistfully, and often inaccurately, reflect back on the successes of the 1930’s and/or 1960’s for future direction. It is noteworthy that the time frame from pre-French Revolution to the height of the industrial revolution is not much different than the time frame from pre-New Deal to the present. And, similarly dramatic social and economic shifts have taken place. I’ll use one example here, though there are many.

Liberals, blind to societal and economic shifts in the past half century, bemoan the movement of industrial jobs offshore and the decline of labor unions. Hear this. We have moved past the industrial age where smokestack industries provided our economic life blood and where trade unions were necessary to protect the rights, health and well being of industrial workers. Today’s America is based in service, information and technology. We are no longer the world’s smokestack. Nor will we be again.

The emergence of American affluence, combined with a consumer base that demands value priced luxuries, required that industrial sources move offshore. Demanding that business be regulated, taxed or otherwise coerced to return industrial jobs to our domestic shores is nonsense. Those corporations, if pushed to that brink, have the very real option of re-incorporating elsewhere, continuing to produce in cheap labor countries and leaving only a sales/marketing subsidiary on our soil. What they will not do, cannot do, is return industrial jobs to the United States where labor costs will price them out of the competitive market created by value driven consumer demand.

Just as the French reactionaries failed to recognize the progression from an agrarian to an industrial economic base, today’s liberals fail to recognize the movement of the American economic base. It is a natural progression that industrialization has given way to our current state and that our affluent society should acquire goods for our consumption from less affluent societies. Whatever you may think of the moral implications, it is simply a fact that exists and will not be reversed by the outdated democratic-socialist ideals of governmental intervention or union organizing.

There are dozens of similar examples where the liberal mindset is stuck in assumptions that were valid half a century ago but no longer hold true. To insist that yesterday’s truths are today’s truths is to spit into the wind of progress. It is the equivalent of listening to an oldies radio station and thinking that it represents current musical trends. Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger were great – in their time.

Liberals by now must be saying “No, it’s the conservatives who are reactionary.” So what’s your point? Conservatives are supposed to incorporate a reactionary element. Liberals are supposed to be the force driving a society forward. That’s the push-pull of progress. One force pushes forward, while another force pulls back and says not-so-fast. The result is cautious progress, something we Americans experienced through much of our history.

When a society has only two major forces, both of which are dominated by reactionary elements, there is no push to the push-pull of progress. We now face the extraordinary dynamic of one major force pulling us back and to the right and the other major force pulling us back and to the left. There is no progressive force pressing us forward.

[Author’s Note: Don’t fear. “Why Conservatives Make Me Crazy” is under construction. Stay tuned.]
ELIJAH SWEETE
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jdwincu
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jdwincu
5 years 3 months ago
I consider myself a liberal. You’re certainly correct that we can get a bit holier-than-thou about things. This is a good reminder that my goal is to be a liberal as in open minded not a liberal as in PC policeman longing for the good old days of the 60’s. I do still believe liberal progressives need to keep the push on to keep moving forward. The conservatives have been more effective in recent years at their reactionary positions and push in that direction than we have been at moving forward in a positive way. It stings a little, but… Read more »
slamfu
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slamfu
5 years 3 months ago
The type of liberal you describe is annoying, however I find conservatives tend to think of anyone left of them as not just liberal, but that type of liberal you just mentioned. The reality is, the far lefty PC gestapo with a lecture ever ready that you described barely exists because they annoy everyone. Sure you have certain enclaves of them, but its not like they wield any real power. Name a powerful political version of what you described please. I can name several on the right that no only represent far right nut jobs, but they ALSO have massive… Read more »
DLS
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DLS
5 years 3 months ago

They cracked up in the 1970s (and their counterparts in the UK, for example, managed to crack things up even more badly then) and they were repudiated in 1980, and they’ve been (rightly) on the defensive ever since. Now add to that the bogus moral high ground they invent and their extreme intolerance of dissent, and it’s now.

ShannonLeee
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ShannonLeee
5 years 3 months ago

Great great piece :)

Intolerant liberals are quite annoying.

DLS
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DLS
5 years 3 months ago
Elijah Sweete wrote: Liberals by now must be saying “No, it’s the conservatives who are reactionary.” It’s no surprise they’d be wrong or dishonest about this, too. Since Reagan was elected, and even before, it has been the Left that has been reactionary (including how PC is implemented), regressive (they often believe a return to pre-1974 ought to happen at any time), retrograde (Sixties viewpoint or even mentality as well as political goals), and frequently revanchist (they’ve been seething for multiple decades now about Reagan and the rise of the modern Right that they, the Left, incubated, and have tried… Read more »
DLS
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DLS
5 years 3 months ago

Slamfu: Actually, some of those liberal havens can be nice places to live as well as visit. At least, so long as they’re not truly crazy, as we are starting to see in the news in San Francisco, the most glaring example. And, of course, so long as the rest of our tax money isn’t being wasted (misused — misappropriated) on such nonsense.

adelinesdad
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adelinesdad
5 years 3 months ago
Well said, and I look forward to your post on conservatives. Regarding liberals bemoaning off-shoring by greedy corporations, I have also been pondering this for a while now. It seems to me that a true progressive, being a global thinker as well as mindful of the plight of the poor, would want those in most need to have access to jobs. Of course, this is exactly what a free, global labor market accomplishes as companies seek the cut labor costs by moving to poorer counties. Now, it’s true that companies may get away with abuses in those other countries that… Read more »
JSpencer
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JSpencer
5 years 3 months ago

Methinks somebody has too much time on their hands. 😉

DaGoat
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DaGoat
5 years 3 months ago

Great piece and I too look forward to why conservatives make you crazy.

I was listening to the radio last week (to Sirius POTUS I think) and someone made the comment that using the traditional definition of conservatism as “resistance to change” liberals are often actually conservative depending on the issue (social security and medicare as examples). As traditional liberal goals are achieved liberals act very conservatively towards them. Maybe progressivism is a better word for whatever it is that liberals have become, although I don’t think that term is particularly descriptive.

JSpencer
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JSpencer
5 years 3 months ago

Btw Elijah, your point about the limitations of labels (liberal, conservative, etc.) is well taken. I just look at the issues and the positions taken on the issues and decide who is part of the solution and who is part of the problem – then I label the various players according to my own insight. Some of those labels aren’t repeatable in respectable company however, which is why I won’t use them here.

casualobserver
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casualobserver
5 years 3 months ago

Gosh, I sure hope the Mrs wasn’t looking over your shoulder as you typed out the title bar…..as I recall, you said she was very much the liberal.

On topic, liberals have no ability to annoy me. One of the advantages of being libertarian is that we don’t need the participation or permission of any other political group to go about conducting our lives.

Life is blissful when you can simply ignore the utterances of others.

ProfElwood
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

“Am I allowed to say “Good God” or is reference to the almighty verboten?”
Relax, mainstream religion isn’t a protected group ;-).

Indefatigably
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Indefatigably
5 years 3 months ago

Yes, but mentioning God is offensive to many “protected groups”! :)

DLS
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DLS
5 years 3 months ago
Don’t you suspect that EJS would find many conservatives uninspiring and unremarkable, particularly when it’s their nature to be defensive and “reactionary” (if that behavior hadn’t been swiped by the intolerant Left)? On a higher note for liberals, when it comes to government, at least (not necessarily to wise government, economic, or social policy), the descriptions of optimists versus pessimists by Martin Seligman (the “Learned Pessimism,” from so many years ago, psychologist, whose career includes teaching “Learned Optimism”) as a stellar example. Liberals are optimists. “We should do it!” (often ignoring the facts) Conservatives, pessimists: “Do you realize what could… Read more »
Hemmann
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Hemmann
5 years 3 months ago
tidbits i too await your conservative piece, but I do find your reactionary label for liberals who hearken all the way back to the 1930s rather ironic. This criticism comes from the right who tout the Federalist papers, an economic sales job, as the only legitimate way to view our constitution. You do see that irony, don’t you? I often find conservatives buy into their own rhetoric to the degree where self-analysis is lacking. It’s true for some whack-jobs on the left too, but the general malaise of non-self-examination seems to be more ubiquitous on the right. If one must… Read more »
JSpencer
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JSpencer
5 years 3 months ago

“but the general malaise of non-self-examination seems to be more ubiquitous on the right”

It’s almost better to imagine it’s “non-self-examination” then the alternative – which would be examination… and satisfaction.

Zzzzz
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Zzzzz
5 years 3 months ago
You need a damn book on what you can and can’t say without drawing that “you jerk” look. Ever had a conversation with a Conservative, who starts talking about ‘those’ kind of people, without realizing you are one of them or are very close to one of them? You know, when they start saying stuff about how black people can’t be trusted because a lot of them are criminals, gays are all out to convert people and your children aren’t safe, or how they should’t hire that woman because, well you know how women are and she’s gonna wanna quit… Read more »
Hemmann
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Hemmann
5 years 3 months ago

tidbits

thanks kind sir for your reply.

one parting comment and then I’ll wait.

if the conservative function is to be that of a boat anchor, how do they plan to make progress, any kind of progress?

thanks

davidpsummers
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davidpsummers
5 years 3 months ago
When a society has only two major forces, both of which are dominated by reactionary elements, there is no push to the push-pull of progress. We now face the extraordinary dynamic of one major force pulling us back and to the right and the other major force pulling us back and to the left. There is no progressive force pressing us forward. IMO, this comment skirts why it is in the interest of more than just the center to break out of the two party system. Conventional wisdom is that the opponents of the two party system are centrists who… Read more »
SteveinCH
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SteveinCH
5 years 3 months ago
E.S. Good column. I look forward to the conservative version as well. Having said that, allow me to take issue with your progressive versus conservative approach. I’m wondering why you think the Federal government is the right instrument of “progress” and why you implicitly seems to think that “progress” is good. Some is and some isn’t and most contains elements of good and bad. FWIW, my struggle with strong partisans of both stripes is an unwillingness to look at facts or to dismiss facts that fail to fit their world view as biased or cooked in some sense. I also… Read more »
SteveinCH
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SteveinCH
5 years 3 months ago
Thanks for the clarification ES. It was helpful. I guess I don’t think of progress and action as synonyms. I guess, in my view, you’ve simply invented your own definition of progressive (concerned with trying to make things better). I think that’s a totally acceptable definition but not one in common usage. I think one can also believe that a return to a previous policy (or time in your formulation) would be progress (in the sense you are using the word) relative to the current state or the trend line. I also think your definition may get hung up in… Read more »
Barky
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5 years 3 months ago
This article is mostly, but not entirely, pointless. “You need a damn book on what you can and can’t say without drawing that “you jerk” look.” This is a statement designed to inflame for no reason, and pointless without examples. As far as I know, the author is a major league a**hole who deserves those looks. “Contemporary political liberals are among the most reactionary of thinkers.” I will give you this (although I don’t think “reactionary” is the proper term). Liberals do so very often harken back to JFK/FDR and that is frustrating. There is factual evidence pointing out that… Read more »
Dr. J
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Dr. J
5 years 3 months ago
Contemporary political liberals are among the most reactionary of thinkers. A great post, Elijah. You’ve definitely nailed the animating premise of a certain set of liberals–the notion that restoring, say, the tax rates of the 70s or the union clout of the 50s would not only work but would transform society. Don Quixote is the local poster boy for this belief. But they don’t all say that. Roro will give us the tax rates of the 70s not because they worked back then, but simply because she has a long list of programs she wants to fund. JSpencer, HemmD, and… Read more »
roro80
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roro80
5 years 3 months ago

Bah. tidbits, I’m disapointed. Oh well.

The only “book” you really need to tell you whether or not you’re being a jerk is the one that says “hey, don’t be a jerk, and if you are, don’t be surprised if someone notices and thinks less of you for it”. It always amazes me how difficult that is for some. Again, oh well.

Don Quijote
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Don Quijote
5 years 3 months ago
A great post, Elijah. You’ve definitely nailed the animating premise of a certain set of liberals–the notion that restoring, say, the tax rates of the 70s or the union clout of the 50s would not only work but would transform society. Don Quixote is the local poster boy for this belief. Most manufacturing jobs payed crap and were extremely dangerous prior to Unionization, after they paid decent wages, offered benefits and were substantially safer… This is what created the middle-class… If Walmart, Target and the other large chains were unionized, wages and working conditions would improve for millions of Americans…… Read more »
Don Quijote
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Don Quijote
5 years 3 months ago
Life expectancy of U.S. women slips in some regions Women in large swaths of the U.S. are dying younger than they were a generation ago, reversing nearly a century of progress in public health and underscoring the rising toll of smoking and record obesity. Nationwide, life expectancy for American men and women has risen over the last two decades, and some U.S. communities still boast life expectancies as long as any in the world, according to newly released data. But over the last decade, the nation has experienced a widening gap between the most and least healthy places to live.… Read more »
Don Quijote
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Don Quijote
5 years 3 months ago

Mr Sweete,

Would racist crap like this have a little something to do with the PCness of most liberals?

Give us your cash, B–ch!

JSpencer
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JSpencer
5 years 3 months ago
“If we have the will to understand the reality and the global progress that will occur without intervention, then we have the opportunity to intervene to shape what the future holds to our benefit. Or, by not acting, we can accept being the natural victims of global progress that leaves us behind. The world will progress whether we like it or not. The question is whether we will shape it or whether it will be shaped by others and imposed upon us.” ~ Elijah Well said. Allowing the downward status quo to continue coasting is in fact progress, but it… Read more »
Hemmann
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Hemmann
5 years 3 months ago
As my name was invoked in an above comment about what I represent or think, let me be clear about my perspective concerning the US government’s role in our nation’s well-being. Any discussion of the gov’s role must be examined objectively and historically because the process of change as to it’s role has become a competing mythic interpretation by BOTH sides. Memes of what the Constitution “meant” are demonstrated in both the Federalist’s papers and the Bill of Rights. The difference here is simple. One meme was a sales pitch while the other was incorporated into the legal document. Quoting… Read more »
adelinesdad
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adelinesdad
5 years 3 months ago
Although I agree in general with the OP, as I said in my first comment, but in light of subsequent discussion I do want to suggest a slightly different way of looking at the difference between liberals and conservatives, if you will excuse a rather long comment. I think it’s a bit of a simplification to say that conservatives look to the past and liberals (should) look to the future. No one really is opposed to progress in the literal sense. Progress is, by definition, good. No one is opposed to improved standards of living or improved healthcare or better… Read more »
davidpsummers
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davidpsummers
5 years 3 months ago
I did not take the position that there should be a centrist breakout from the two party system. That may be the conventional wisdom, as you put it, but it’s not part of my thesis. My thesis is that we need a truly progressive force to counterbalance the reactionary forces of conventional conservatives and conventional liberals. Could that progressive force come from centrist pragmatists? Yes, but that is not the only answer as your comment makes clear. I actually find myself in agreement with you, except that, in my view, you conflated my thesis with the “conventional wisdom.” Yes, aware… Read more »
SteveinCH
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SteveinCH
5 years 3 months ago
E.S. FWIW, I wasn’t offended. Action can create progress or regress in my view. It is often better to take stock than to “do something.” A wise man once said to me. “If you have 10 problems and you wait, 8 or 9 of them will go away but 1 or 2 will become serious issues.” The corrollary for me is that if you act to solve all 10, you will solve the one or two but create even more problems from the 8 or 9 that would have gone away on their own. Determining which is the better outcome… Read more »
SteveinCH
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SteveinCH
5 years 3 months ago

ES

Thanks for posting. I think the definition of progress as opposed to change is still the sticking point.

Indefatigably
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Indefatigably
5 years 3 months ago

All,

I just wanted to say that this comment thread IMO demonstrates the intellectual strength and personal insight of TMV’s commenters.

Thanks to everyone who has participated or will participate going forward.

ES

And I would like to add that we get much better discussions when even potentially contentious issues are positioned evenhandedly by the OP, rather than with guaranteed flame-war rhetoric.

Thank you very much for that, and the same evenhanded approach in your ‘Why Conservatives Make Me Crazy’ post.

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