Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Liberal or progressive?

It's asserted with some frequency that using "liberal" as a political label carries with it too much baggage, and consequently those on the left have increasingly opted to self describe as "progressive" instead. In his syndicated column, Pat Buchanan recently made reference to this.

Living in the center of the country, thousands of miles away from the trend-setters on the coasts, I realize that I may as well be living in a time machine, but I have never noticed much in the way of execution of that label switching in my own personal experiences.

Via Google's Ngram viewer, take a look at the frequency of the terms "liberals" and "progressives" (used instead of "liberal" and "progressive" to avoid errant counting of non-political occurrences of the two words) in books published in the US over the last century:


"Liberal" enjoyed rapid ascension during the thirties and then again in the sixties, but the Carter Presidency and Reagan Republicanism put it back in its pre-hippie place. Since then, it's been steady as she goes. "Progressive", meanwhile, like "liberal", became a familiar enough term during the Great Depression and the FDR presidency. It has remained steadily so since then, but over the course of the last 100 years has never come close to supplanting "liberal" as the term of choice to describe those somewhere on the left end of the American political spectrum.


3 comments:

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

I wonder if the term "traditionalist" has made any headway as a synonym for "conservative"?

Audacious Epigone said...

Posted the Ngrams graph here.

Anonymous said...

The term “Progressive” is deeply rooted in a time when it was thought that technical advancements would solve every human problem. The forces of science, democracy, and labor would overcome religion, family, and capital. The earth’s down trodden and poor would rise up and take their rightful place as the masters of the new “progressive” world. Man would produce more and more products, goods, and services. New laws would make everything fair. Every man would be a king.

But as they say, trees don’t grow to the sky. The culture has produced so much excess that we are now in full bloat. What happens when there are too many single mommies, too many people, too many calories, and too many people living off of too few? How much more progress can we survive?