From Pine View Farm

Why Is “Liberal” a Dirty Word? 2

E. J. Dionne ventures a theory:

But liberalism has also become associated with elitism, arrogance and disdain for the values of average Americans. Think of the consumer preferences tossed at liberals from the right as epithets: brie, chablis (now updated to merlot), Volvos, lattes, vacations on Martha’s Vineyard. Never mind that it’s conservatives who want to eliminate inheritance taxes on those Vineyard mansions.


But reading Brown is also a reminder of where Hofstadter may have misled the very liberal movement to which he was devoted. There was, first, his emphasis on American populists as embodying a “deeply ingrained provincialism” (Brown’s term) whose revolt was as much a reaction to the rise of the cosmopolitan big city as to economic injustices.


The late Christopher Lasch, one of Hofstadter’s students and an admiring critic, noted that by conducting “political criticism in psychiatric categories,” Hofstadter and his intellectual allies excused themselves “from the difficult work of judgment and argumentation.”

Lasch added archly: “Instead of arguing with opponents, they simply dismissed them on psychiatric grounds.”

I trained as a historian. (It was wonderful prepartion for my current career supporting high-tech enterprise level computer software, but that’s another story.) Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life is one of the best works of history I have ever read.

I also read the works of Daniel Bell and visited Bob Jones U. as part of a research project I did (it was scary).

I think Mr. Dionne has a point–by putting down the opposition, rather than engaging it, U. S. political liberals have done a disservice to themselves, to their country, and to the opposition.

But, know what? I’ve never heard of one of them degenerate Liberals having a peeing statue at a birthday party.



  1. Opie

    August 22, 2006 at 9:12 pm

    “Liberal” isn’t a dirty word everyone, just to conservatives. What I think is more interesting is the impression I get that while “conservative” is a dirty word to liberals, conservatives don’t seem to care. Why is that?

  2. Frank

    August 23, 2006 at 9:35 pm

    Well, I’m not sure I agree entirely.

    Accusing someone of being a liberal seems to be sort of show-stopper.

    I submit that it has been turned into a “dirty word” in terms of political discourse. Consider how few politicians (even those few of integrity) are willing to stand up and say, “I am a liberal.” Consider how many of the same persons will call themselves “Progressives.”

    Yeah, I do think the word has been tarred, if not feathered.

    Damn shame that caring about the well-being of others; thinking that the State has a responsibility for all, not just for the rich; and believing in the commonweal, rather than in just personal wealth has become a term of opprobrium.