Academic definitions of progressives, liberals, capital-L Liberals, and leftists?
By - BricksAllTheWayDown
The big divide in liberalism happens to be along the distinction between classical liberalism and social liberalism and their relation to social concerns and economic concerns.
Classical liberalism is rooted in individual freedom and economic laissez-faire attitude towards trade and world economy. It is not without sensible economic regulations like child labor laws but largely opposed governmental regulation. Contemporary ideas that follow this model are libertarians and before Trump conservatives. It is a theory not without its contributions to progressive ideas like abortion rights and women’s rights.
Progressives and liberals follow the more constrained view that governmental regulation and intervention is necessary to promote social and economic reform to business in order to aid/protect minority and socially disadvantaged classes. One of the government functions is not just military defense but the social and economic welfare of all citizens. These reforms are proposed largely through the levers of existing systems and power structures.
Leftists come at the same progressive concerns with a more radical framework of socialism or communism to enact a systemic change that supports the socially liberal or progressive goals. Generally speaking leftists while also promoting socially liberal political stances are more inclined to be critical of the capitalistic system and the unseen social class of American society.
Most more traditional Democrats are social liberals or progressives who support incremental change within the capitalist system. You have a smattering of Democratic socialists like Bernie or AOC who are much more inclined to additionally focus and engage on the shortcomings with capitalism. Lots of traditional Republicans and libertarians are Classical liberals, leading them to reject socially progressive laws and governmental regulation in favor of individual freedom and unregulated economy. The outliers that exist right now are extreme leftists who reject capitalism and far right extremists who are socially conservative to the point of totalitarian viewpoints.
Now mostly this is just an interpretation of the divisions on an academic basis. It depends on who you read and follow according to their definitions and insights, nothing in post modern writing is an absolute and I suspect most peoples political stances are much more mixed but whatever label they want to slap on it is kinda up to them.
The problem with all this is that politically everyone uses labels as pejoratives to tar everyone without defining what those labels actually mean. Politicians have mastered tarring all their political opponents with this undefined labeling in order to exact in the mind of their supporters whatever will help them win elections. So you call your opponent a progressive and in the mind of your audience they imagine a godless communist bent on destroying America. There is no interest in what that political label actually may mean or historical stances because the goal isn’t understanding of exactly what the opposition thinks, it is to generate fear and hate of the opposition.
that last paragraph is so fucking accurate, especially with the new red scare happening with republicans. they call anyone to the left of them socialists just to garner support and fear from their voters, not to accurately label them in order to challenge their viewpoints.
that can also happen the opposite way too when extreme leftists call biden "fascist" and other things like that, but i think the right has the tendency to misinterpret their opponents political stances way more than the left
It is true that the left throws out fascist in a fairly indiscriminate meaning for it to be used in the same way that the right uses liberal. The problem is that people agree what it means to be a fascist and have in their minds images of hitler and know the general political ideology of nazis. So it is ineffective to call Tucker Carlson a fascist because the audience can take a look at him and say oh well he isn’t Hitler. It also doesn’t necessarily cause fear because nazis have been reduced to a sort of cartoonish bogeyman due to the extreme leftish tendency to define many things as nazi or fascist that clearly are not. The beauty of calling someone a liberal or a socialist is that it is a blank slate for projection. Communist is less effective but still effective as there are communist countries who are still an active threat.
This is not to say that there aren’t fascists and the ones who are fascists are conscious enough to draw clear distinctions between themselves and the image we have of nazis. Hence the polo shirt and khakis being the furthest thing from a steel helmeted jackbooted soldier.
Progressives I would argue are people who support new social science focused ideas and philosophy, with an emphasis on things like democratization and minority rights.
Liberals believe in a philosophy of individualism, so things like the right to free speech, marriage equality, democratic systems, and almost always capitalism (aka an individualized version of mercantilism, aka "every man is his own king")
American Capital-L Liberals are a mix of progressivism and capitalist liberalism, so they are progressive as far as you can be in a capitalist society. When they run up against the boundaries of capitalism is when you see Libs being stupid as shit, things like tone policing and unironic fed posting, stuff that is performative at best because their "analytical frameworks" (if they have one at all) begin to break down when capitalism becomes the target. They hold the views that society is comprised of individuals who make individual rational decisions (at best), and (at worst) will outright do apologia for police violence and systemic violence on the basis of arbitrary "personal choice" rhetoric.
There are many liberals who are VERY conservative, because they are hardline capitalist, aka Classical Liberals (used to refer to liberalism as an ideology and not capital L liberals.)
A leftist in the recent sense is a person (not neccesarily a progressive) whose analytical methodology moves beyond liberalism. This includes social anarchists and marxists (and both). Altho non marxist anarchists are hard to find.
Edit: neoliberalism is classical liberalism except taken to an economic extreme, where the neoliberal frames the entirety of an individuals interactions as economic in nature. Thus the individual becomes a purely economically motivated subject who is divorced from all other needs. The neoliberal utilizes the state to devolve function back to the private sector as a way of opening new markets up, this is austerity and usually ends badly because those state functions are there for a reason. Hence, a neoliberal government is simultaneously too weak, and too powerful. It is unable to regulate industry or care for citizens, and serves the only role of overpolicing private property and maintaining market value for currency and inequality through power projection overseas. Its anarcho-imperialism basically.
>non marxist anarchists are hard to find.
Most anarchists are anarcho-communists à la Kropotkin, and utterly reject marxist ideas of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the labor theory of exploitation. Communism and marxism are not synonymous. Much like all other social theorists, anarchists are influenced by Marx, but to call an anarchist a marxist is wrong.
I would say you are still looking to achieve communism in the end, which according to Marx should be inherently anarchist. (Stateless classless yadda yadda)
But to achieve an anarchist society without the goals of communism or via marxism is what I would describe as a ""non-Marxist anarchist"
Communism was not invented by Karl Marx. Communism (a classless, stateless, moneyless society) had been theorized already in the 18th century, expressed in 1780 as communism. Etymologically it drawns on the medieval commune. Both anarchism and communism precede Marx. Should we declare those living decades before Marx, marxists?
A kind of marxist dominion of leftist thought is often assumed today. This is particularly an 20th century understanding. Should you call Marx the founder of communism in the 1800s nobody would have taken you seriously. Indeed, in the first international, Marx was far from the most influential or well known thinker.
Anarcho-communism drawns on Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin. Marx hardly theorized about what he called late-stage communism at all. To prescribe some kind of marxist inclination to the writers which marx wrote in opposition to is absurd.
I'm an anarchist myself, but I would still (kind of) call myself a Marxist if we are talking about the use of analytical lenses
Idk where I would be because I believe people should be able to make their own living and start a business. But I also think that no one owes you labor and if you can’t afford a living wage then you have to do the work yourself.
Socially, I’ve always been very progressive. Economically, I believe in the regulation of business so that it serves the workers.
You are a liberal then, maybe a social democrat (socdem)
That’s how I usually refer to myself, but I feel liberal is becoming synonymous with democrat lately lol
Lowercase democrat is someone who believes in democracy. A social democrat wants a liberal democracy with regulation to favor public interest. They aren't Capital-D Democrats, who are whatever tf they are. The same goes for liberals. Dont use the herd mentality definitions of these ideas and positions. Who cares what their opinions are, engage in more literal and accurate descriptions of the world, not whatever connotations people tie onto words based on what they hear on Fox and Friends.
I thought a capital or big "L" liberal was a member of a "Liberal" party. There is no mainstream "Liberal" party in the United States, but there are "Liberal" parties in many countries. At least, that's how the term "capital/big 'L' liberal" was used when I lived in Canada. I'm not familiar with the use of "capital 'L' liberal" in the United States.
That is also true, my comment may have been a bit confusing in that specific regard. It's been a long day
Good description. The hardline capitalist liberals are also known as neoliberals. Think of corporate sponsorships at Pride by corporations which don't have a good track record on equality.
Not so fast friend. Neo liberals and classical liberals arent the same thing, though neo liberals try to rebrand themselves as such.
Neoliberals are liberals who try to utilize the state to devour itself. To divest the state of its social functions as a means of creating new markets, that's classic austerity.
"Smaller government" tacitly implies that the private sector will need to take up the slack, because the service is inelastic, and so makes for a lucrative market.
Not all classical liberals agree with that position, some are of the mind that a balanced government and private sector can maintain individual freedom. Its neoliberals who maintain that the primary form of an individuals freedom comes through economic choice and liberty.
Neat! so by economic choice we get to decide which Bank's float to GoGo on top of at Pride. Yasss. Werk!
Yass queen! My McRoad subscription ended due to lack of payment and my car was impounded by the McPolice! Glory to the Big Red Line!
Neoliberal doesn’t mean anything anymore, it’s just whoever the left doesn’t like.
Gogo boy on the Chase Bank float,
>the larger internet being the hellmouth
Loads of people have answered your actual question so.... you wanna talk about Buffy?
I was only a polisci minor in my undergrad, but the way I understand it, “progressive is a broader term than the others. Like, you can be a leftist, but not progressive (like Stalin or Saddam), or a liberal as well as progressive (like most centre-left parties, and myself). Idk, maybe other people have different takes, but I think progressive is more of a social axis, whereas left-right is more economic.
Saddam was not a leftist, he explicitly rejected class analysis in favor of intense nationalism.
He wasn’t a Marxist-Leninist, of course, but the Baathist party was left-wing insofar as they (in theory) supported an extensive welfare state and the nationalization of important resources and industries (maybe this is just state capitalism, but it’s still a far cry from regimes like that of Pinochet, for example). The nationalism aspect is a good point, but in many formerly colonized countries nationalisms are explicitly anti-imperial, and so it’s not a 1:1 comparison with western nationalism (though this doesn’t necessarily mean that anti-imperial governments are leftist per se).
I wouldn't call Ba'athism a leftist ideology since it is in favor of private property in general and rejects dialectical materialism as an organizing theory. And then Saddam put even less emphasis on the arab socialism side of Ba'athism and even more on the nationalism side. If the support of a welfare state and limited nationalization made a political entity leftist, then uh based elizabeth warren I guess. Yes, I know that's not at all a fair comparison.
Leftist movements existed before Marx and marxism is a v western-centric way to see ALL of the left
The political compass (or any other axes) is academically unsound. It is a mischaracterisation of political philosophy, and assumes you can arbitrarily combine any adjective to describe political thought. Resulting in things like this;
>you can be a leftist, but not progressive (like Stalin or Saddam)
which is obviously self-contradictory. A conservative revolutionary? Perhaps Stalin revolted against the Tsar to preserve feudalism?
Fascists are a kind of conservative revolutionary. They want to upend the current social order with the goal of recreating a real or imagined social order of the past when things were better. That's definitely not Stalin though lol
I mean there's a metric asston of people who could tell you that Stalin was certainly no ally of progressive causes, referring to Jews as "rootless cosmopolitans", subjugating his wife for thinking being a leftist meant she could do shit other than house wife for him, treating esperantists as a bourgeois conspiracy for speaking a freaking language, and basically everything he ever did regarding the Queer community, like how is the idea that he was a conservative any sort of surprise? The guy's background was as a minister in training for the Orthodox church in Georgia, and if you've read the news, they are still far behind what one would call progressive stances on Queer rights.
Forst year Pol major so take everything I say with a massive grain of salt:
Liberalism is seperate in the field from what most people associate with the left side of the political spectrum, and largely focuses on individual liberty and state cooperation on a global level. It’s not very critical of the current global/political structure unlike other theories such as Marxism or Feminism.
But in the states liberal seems to be used by conservatives to just categorise anyone left of the republican party so who knows how that evolved.
In Europe "liberalism" is simply any non-leftist element. That is, the ideology of (non-fascist) capitalism. In my country, for example, the liberal party (Liberaalipuolue) is far-right. The association between "liberalism" and the left-wing is exclusive to US politics.
“Liberal” is a super general term which, in theory, refers to people who believe in individual freedoms, civil rights, and democracy, but it has become a meaningless term. There is a concept of a “classical liberal” which, broadly, encompasses both the center-left and center-right but no one uses “liberal” like that anymore, they just use it to mean someone they don’t agree with politically. The right uses it for the left, the left uses it for the right, the center left uses it for the far left, the far left uses it for the center left, etc. “Neoliberal” once referred to Reagan/Thatcher era economic deregulation but has similarly degraded into “whatever the far left doesn’t like.”
Contemporary political “progressives” refer to people who believe that the current political system promotes social oppression and believe that it is the government’s job to fix inequalities and inequities. So, for example, they believe it is the governments job to fix economic inequality by, say, taxing the rich more.
“Leftist” is also a finicky term but it can be broadly said to mean “someone who thinks that we should replace most or all of the capitalist system.” The difference between progressivism and leftism is, in general, that progressives seek reform *within the capitalist system* whereas leftists seek to reform the capitalist system itself.
Countries with strong social services like Norway are progressive, but not leftist.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders are progressives who are inspired by some leftist ideas but are not strictly speaking leftists.
Liberalism is the political philosophy that arose during the capitalist revolutions in which the non inherited gained the right to rule and own productive property same as the lords, it's sometimes used as an interchange with capitalism. In a technical sense this is an umbrella term which basically incorporates most political forces in the west which are not fascist or monarchist, what republicans stateside try to insist is the average voter of their party would be considered a Liberal Conservative, Biden could be called a standard Liberal, and the classic Teddy Roosevelt Style progressive would maybe be considered a Reform Liberal. Social Democracy is about as far to the left of the liberal spectrum as you can get if you consider Social Democracy a liberal philosophy and not a leftist one.
liberals in the US are the guys everyone hates for having politics they disagree with regardless of what politics the "stupid lib" actually holds, most frequently used to bash the center to center left though.
Leftists are folks trying to begin a similar revolutionary period that the capitalists pulled off in the name of abolishing the separation of the democratic decision making of the people and the economy, under this are a wide variety of ideas such as anarchism, minarchism, socialism, communism, syndicalism, democratic socialism, debateably social democracy, and radical democracy.
I don't know of any academic definitions, they may be out there I'm just unaware of them.
The way I see it liberal and progressive can more or less be used interchangeably (I prefer to use progressive to not be confused with Liberal but w/e), they tend to be in favor of things like LGBTQ+ rights, climate action, ending the drug war, rehabilitative incarceration, providing public housing, increasing welfare, some sort of gun control, increased funding for public schools including state colleges, support unionization and greater access to healthcare. As with everything, individuals will have issues they're more passionate about, some they know next to nothing about, and some they go against the grain on.
The definition I use for Liberal is to introduce the market to all individuals, and to some extent make it more fair or equitable but without restructuring anything at a fundamental level and provide individual solutions to systemic issues. There's as many variations as there are Liberals but they generally agree with all the progressive reforms - they like the gays, they hate "assault weapons," they praise education and credentialism, agree with legalizing cannabis, climate change is bad, and so on. The major differentiating factor is that there is a market-based solution for everything, they're pro-regulation so long as institutions remain intact.
Leftists are about as far from a monolith as you can be but as a general rule they want an entirely different economic system, one where human needs take priority over profit. ***IN MY OPINION*** the most rational leftists will pull from historical examples of proto-socialist societies, *learn from their mistakes* and work towards an international, labor-focused movement to undo the damages caused by the commodification of every aspect of modern life, dismantle the ownership class' ability to exploit working people and creating the circumstances for the greatest possibilty of individual human prosperity by lifting the barriers to living in the modern age.
Liberals generally believe that personal freedom and individual opportunity should be paramount, they just disagree about how to go about that. Classical liberals are your libertarian types that want the government to do impose as few restrictions as possible on individuals. More modern / progressive liberals think that the government needs to impose restrictions on individuals sometimes, but it's always framed with the same goal of allowing people more real individual opportunity. For example, hate crime legislation or the outlawing of segregation would be seen as necessary to allow minorities to actually access that freedom, even if the act itself is the government restricting some freedoms (the freedom to discriminate). When you listen to a liberal advocate for social programs, you'll generally hear language like "everyone should be given a chance to succeed" or "all people deserve access to healthcare". When they talk about rights they generally mean the ability to control/make decisions about all aspects of ones life. When we consider what is to be done with a given resource (both physical resources and more nebulous like ip or a store/factory or simply a company as a legal entity) a liberal's answer is that it's up to the owner of said resource.
Leftists, on the other hand, view the material conditions as most important. They don't view private property ownership as an important freedom to preserve, but rather the source of hardship and disparities among the non-property-owning class. Unlike liberals when they speak about rights they generally are speaking about the rights to something, also sometimes called economic rights, such as the right to basic necessities like food and water, housing as a human right, healthcare as a human right. Unlike liberals who want "access to affordable housing" or "access to healthcare" meaning essentially the option to reasonably pay for these things, leftists want housing for all or healthcare for all full stop.
A liberal looks at a homeless person and sees someone who was given opportunities to succeed and did not take them so they are to blame, or at best someone who should have been given those opportunities- if only we had enough support programs and addiction centers and accessible mental health treatment then they would be able to find that success. A leftist looks at a homeless person and says that society is to blame- it is our collective responsibility to make sure that everyone has a home no matter who they are or what choices they make. Addiction centers and mental health treatment are still a good idea, but they are a good idea in a vacuum not as a solution to homelessness, because people being without homes is still fundamentally the fault of whatever structure we have that distributes homes (under captailism, a housing market),
not the actions (influenced in whatever way) of the people who should be homed.
Most of these labels in an academic sense do not have recognised meanings. Leftist from my experience has only been used in classes where we are habing open discussions. Most of the time you'll use liberal in a historical context.
If we are actually writing about political identities for a paper, usually you'll use some academic's definitions to describe what exactly they mean. There was one time I had to write an essay on the history of liberalism, and spent like 2 pages just going over all the different forms which have manifested over the years.
But from experience, IDPOl is usually used in its historical context. EI. if we are talking about the french revolution, liberal has a very different meaning to what it would mean if we were talking about the rise of liberalism in the 1980s
Can I just say, I'm so tired of terms in general being thrown around like this. Say there's a political debate about KFC. Someone asks you your opinion on KFC. I'm like, "you mean based off my definition of KFC, an extremist definition of KFC, the media definition of KFC, twitter's definition of KFC or my racist aunt's definition of KFC??”
Glancing through the replies to your question I think highlights the fundamental problem... people have very different ideas about what these terms means, or at least where the emphasis lies. I describe myself as "left" but by that I just mean on the political "left/right" spectrum (which is silly to begin with) I mostly lean to one side rather than the other.
It reminds me very much of when I was younger and people would argue about what musical category a certain artist was (thrash metal, speed metal, death metal, black metal etc. etc.) and some would get really upset if you categorized things in a way they didn't agree with. There's so much diversity of thought within any social paradigm, the harder you try to pin something down with labels the more it escapes you, and you need to start creating an ever expanding list of sub-categories. It's like philosophical quantum mechanics and Heisenberg Uncertainty principle.
All that to say, I try to avoid using labels as much as possible, it tends to result in people disagreeing about the label itself, rather that focusing on the ideas the label was trying to summarize in the first place. It seems more productive to simply say, "I believe X" than say "I am Y".
Why not start with Wikipedia and follow the references?
Teach a person to fish and all that.
Words still have meaning even if people misuse them. Biden isn't a leftist no matter how often conservatives call him one.