Political Terminology: Clarifying Often Misunderstood Terms

Updated on September 5, 2019
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Expository essay writing in history, philosophy, politics, and spirituality keeps the mind sharp and satisfies its thirst for knowledge.

George Washington, First President of the USA
George Washington, First President of the USA | Source

Liberal and Conservative

Terms such as "liberal" and "conservative" may change over time. Historically, reasons for such changes have not included what would be a bizarre act of political parties switching positions on issues such as race, but that the relationship to the prevailing governing forms no longer support the needs of the nation's citizens. Citizens who wish to change the prevailing government are considered liberals, if the new form does, in fact, focus on more freedom for individuals. Over time, those liberals may become the conservatives, if their new form of government has succeeded for many decades or even centuries.

Liberal vs Conservative

Labels, including "conservative" and "liberal," have meaning only in relation to a standard. And that standard can and often does change over time. If a country is governed by a king as England was easier in its history, but the citizens seek to overthrow that monarchy and instead institute a more citizen-centered government such a "democratic-republican" form of government, the citizens supporting and struggling for the change are rightly called "liberal," while those in favor of retaining the monarchy would be "conservative." The Latin term "conservare" means to preserve or retain; thus the practical definition of conservative is to keep what is already in place. As the term "liberal" has originated from the Latin term "liber" meaning "free," those citizens in favor of change that frees them from the constraints of the monarchy are rightly designated as "liberal."

If the monarchy is successfully transformed to a democratic, people-centered government, the "liberals" will have gained success. However, if a generation or more later, the citizens begin leaning toward a more government-centered authority, that is, a socialist government, then the new movement would be pushed by "liberals" because those who continued to favor the democratic-republican government would be struggling to conserve their favored form of government. Regardless of the type of government that exists in any nation, those who wish to change it are the "liberal" and those who wish to keep it are the "conservatives." That is not to conclude that all changes are, in fact, truly "liberal" in nature. There is little of a "liberal" nature in most of the policies currently espoused by the modern American "Democratic Party."

American Liberals and Conservatives

The American Founding Fathers who struggled for independence from England and who wrote the U.S. Constitution were the "liberals" of that period of history. They struggled to change their government from the English monarchy to an American democratic-republic. After their ultimate success, the United States of America became independent of the British monarchy and became a democratic-republic.

Currently, those American citizens who wish to preserve and conserve the government instituted by those liberal founding fathers are the "conservatives," while the modern "liberals" continue to work to change the Constitution to make the nation more socialistic, even communistic. Those "liberals" are the members of the current "Democratic Party," whose standards are anything but "democratic" because they lead to a bigger, more powerful government, instituting policies that would control every aspect of every citizen's life. Still the term "liberal" is applied to that group primarily to distinguish it from those who favor the classically liberal form of government, who have now become the "conservatives."

Candidate Obama, "We are five days away..."

Modern American Liberals

Today's American "liberals" are working to transform the democratic-republic established by the Founding Fathers. Remember the recent Democratic president's words: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” This president began this transformation as he legislated by executive order instead of allowing legislation to be created by the congress as is required in the Constitution that supposedly governs the nation: he threatened Congress with his "pen and phone." Most of the current liberals do not use the term "socialist"—a notable exception is failed presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who calls his brand of socialism by the oxymoron "democratic socialism"—because that term still has a negative connotation attached to it.

The Marxist theory is that from capitalism socialism would evolve into communism and all workers would own and manage the "means of production." This unwieldy system has never worked as it in all cases descends into dictatorships that in order to retain power must kill vast numbers of its nation's citizens. China's Mao, Soviet Union's Stalin, Germany's Hitler, Cuba's Fidel Castro—all murdering dictators, whose iron grip on their nations, not only left millions dead, but left the rest of the citizenry in poverty and desperation, many trying defiantly to leave their "socialist paradises."

This fact has quite often been exemplified that a socialist government is utterly impossible; it is unwieldy and unfeasible. Yet turning a blind eye to historical facts, many low-information thinkers fall for the lies told them about that system. The statement that today's liberals are tomorrow's conservatives is true only if the liberal cause was one worth fighting for at the outset. Those who wish to institute a government that over-taxes and over-regulates its citizens thus destroying the nation's wealth, harmony, and balance are extraordinarily ignorant and need to become informed about the history of ideas.

Government of the People

Source

Democracy and Republic

The two terms "democracy" and "republic" are often used interchangeably, but they, in fact, refer to very different forms of government.

Origin of the Term "Democracy"

The term "democracy" comes from the Greek “demokratia” with “demos-” meaning “people,” and “-kratia” meaning “rule.” Political terms are highly charged and often volatile because they change over time; they may change drastically as events change. Because the United States was born out of a monarchy, the terminology related to politics and government is gauged against the forms inherent in and against the monarchical form of government.

Practical Application of the Term "Democracy"

In a monarchy, all power is vested with the ruling family, particularly the king. The king rules the nation’s citizens, who are his subjects, and he does not share power, unless he chooses to do so. The king rules; the subjects obey. Contrary to a “monarchy” is a “democracy” wherein the citizens rule themselves. Therefore, a pure democracy would mean that each citizen of a nation would share equal power with all other citizens, and they would come together to vote on procedures that require cooperation.

Such an unwieldy situation is obviously impossible; therefore, no true pure democracy has ever existed for any extended period of time in any nation with a large population. An explanation that clearly demonstrates the unworkability of a pure democracy is the claim that 51% of the people could vote to kill the other 49%. Where democracy has been attempted, it has quickly turns into a “republic,” if the citizens are truly seeking a system with the greatest freedom for each individual citizen.

Origin of the Term "Republic"

The term "republic" is traditionally considered to originate from the Latin, often explained as "res" meaning thing or affair plus "publica" meaning people. Therefore a republic is a people's business. However, because the term indicates a reflexive action, that is, the laws refer or revert back to the public from a representative government, it is likely that the meaning of "republic" may also be traced back to the Latin "re" meaning "again" plus "publica" meaning "people."

Whichever origin one chooses, it is likely that the term comes into the English language through the French, "république." But again, because the term lacks the "s" in "res," it seems more likely that the French use of the term would indicate a combination of the "re" and "publica" rather than "res" and "publica."

Practical Application of the Term "Republic"

Under a pure democracy, all citizens would be constantly voting on issues. They would have time for little else, and therefore the idea arises to choose individuals to represent a group of voters. Thus arises the “republic.” Instead of constantly taking time out for traveling and discussing the issues to vote about, the citizens vote locally for a “representative” to vote in their place. The United States government functions as a republic, but why is it also called a democracy?

Remembering the fluidity of political terminology, we understand that the term “democracy” is a general term meaning that “the people rule”—not a king, not a dictator, thus, not a totalitarian tyrant, but the people. In order to facilitate the will of the people, they make a slight adjustment to a representative form of government. The people are still ruling because the people elect their representatives; the representatives are not chosen by a totalitarian leader or appointed by a king. Therefore, a republic is a democratic form of government because the citizens of the nation are the ones who elect their leaders.

Deflection Through Difference

It is unfortunate that the conflation of the two terms allows nitpickers and busybodies to deflect from the important issues to engage the definition of the difference between the terms "democracy" and "republic." One often hears smart alecks focus on the differences between republic and democracy simply to divert the focus from an important issue. But that is the sad state of affairs regarding political engagement in late 20th and early 21st century America.

Why America Is a Republic, Not a Democracy

Assembly at Versailles 1787
Assembly at Versailles 1787 | Source

Left Wing and Right Wing

"Left wing" is associated with "liberal" ideology and "right wing" with "conservative, and like those latter terms, time and temperament have transformed their original positions.

Introduction: The French Revolution

Legend has it that the terms “Left Wing” and “Right Wing” originated during the French Revolution. The purpose of the revolution was to change the French government from a monarchy to a republic. In the assembly of rulers, those who supported the monarch sat to his right, and those who opposed him sat to his left. Thus came about the idea that those who favor change of any government are leftists (liberals), and those who wish to keep their current government became rightists (conservatives).

It is important to keep in mind that "left-wing" and "right-wing" are likely the most wobbly of political designations. The interaction of economic and social issues makes it difficult to distinguish each group distinctively. Any given politician may hold both left and right wing policy stances, but generally one wing will predominate.

A Reversal of Ideologies

As with the terms, liberal and conservative, positions may change over time. In contemporary American politics, the left wing is called the liberal wing, and the right wing is the conservative, a reversal of the situation at the beginning of the United States.

In the United States’ early history, the revolutionaries who ultimately became the Founding Fathers were left-wing and liberal, while those who wished to remain British subjects were the right-wing and conservative. After the goals of the American Revolution were achieved and the country became an independent republic, the terms conservative, liberal, left-wing, and right-wing began a change.

Yesterday vs Today

Today’s right-wing includes those who wish to keep the republic that the original left-wing liberal Founding Fathers created with the U. S. Constitution. The left-wing seeks to change the government from its Constitutional foundation to a different form, which is moving toward the totalitarian forms, even if a monarchy is not the end goal. The left-wing interprets the Constitution as a “living” document, claiming that it may be re-interpreted to include whatever policy the left-wing sees as necessary in achieving its goals.

Some left-wing ideologists, for example, that of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and virtually all other members of the Democratic Party, go so far as to hint at the U.S. Constitution's total inadequacy—a stance completely anathema to most thinking Americans. Generally, today’s left-wing ideologies include statism, liberalism, progressivism, fascism, nazism, socialism, and communism. Conversely, right-wing ideologies include classical liberalism, constitutionalism, capitalism, republicanism, and individualism.

The Current Democratic and Republican Parties

As we have a seen, "democratic" means people-centered, but because of subtle changes in political speechifying and a gradual usurpation of power, the current Democratic Party is the party of totalitarianism, statism, not the party of individualism and limited centralized power. The Republican Party more nearly represents the original founding fathers' conception of people-centered freedom, on which the United States of America is based.

The Democratic Party in the United States uses dependency of the poor and minorities to achieve power. Thus, that party has a vested interest in keeping a large number of people poor and dependent on government in order to acquire votes. Since Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” Democrats have consistently pandered to the poor and underprivileged to achieve power and then effected policies that guarantee that populace of dependents grows.

The original definition of left wing vs right wing remains in force, while the actual policies of parties have moved the parties to almost opposite wings of the spectrum. The Republican Party, once considered “radical" now represents the original ideals of freedom and individual responsibility, while the Democratic Party represents a return to centralized rule, similar to that of a monarchy.

Overview of Left and Right Wing Ideology

Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini | Source

Fascism and Nazism

Both fascism and nazism have come to signify evil. The American left-wing continues to brow beat and slur the right with these terms.

Virtually Identical Philosophies

The terms fascism and nazism are virtually identical in definition. Fascism is a system under which the government and private sector business interests are so closely aligned that the division virtually disappears, with government using force to run the businesses through extensive regulation. A similar state of affairs exists with nazism.

Both fascism and nazism have come to signify evil and degradation. Just ask any left-winger about the policies of the right, and they will gladly inform you that their opponents are nazis and fascists.

Mussolini Fascism, Hitler Nazism

Fascism is associated with Benito Mussolini and nazism with Adolf Hitler. Both ideologies are left-wing because of the fact that government controls the means of production just as in the left-wing ideology of socialism. The right upholds less government, lower taxation in order to achieve both less government, capitalism, and individualism. The fact that fascism and nazism are now considered right-wing is widespread, mostly among low-information voters. During the 1960s, the American left-wing, in order to garner votes and power, began to use those terms to smear their right-wing opponents. It had become common knowledge that Mussolini and Hitler were bad actors on the stage of history. Left-wingers simply started claiming that the policies of Mussolini and Hitler were right-wing.

In the case of Hitler, the absurdity is easily refuted by the actual name of his party, The National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. "Socialist" is left-wing, liberal ideology, which no one can refute. The left has relied on the fact that low-information citizens will not bother to find out the basic facts about these historical definitions and transactions. But in Mussolini’s fascism, the emphasis was the power of the state not the individual. It opposed classical liberalism whose principles align with modern conservatism and the right-wing. Leftists made the claim and it stuck because the perception of fascism was negative. As Jonathan Swift once quipped, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”

American Fascism/Nazism

In Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism, the author explains that despite the flabby definition of fascism, many on the left seem to know exactly what it means when it comes to battling the right:

And yet even though scholars admit that the nature of fascism is vague, complicated, and open to wildly divergent interpretations, many modern liberal and leftists act as if they know exactly what fascism is. What’s more, they see it everywhere—except when they look in the mirror. Indeed, the left wields that term like a cudgel to beat opponents from the public square like seditious pamphleteers. After all, no one has to take a fascist seriously.

The American experience with fascism and nazism is mixed. The US government has moved decidedly toward leftish ideological positions beginning with the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The elements of fascism/nazism exist in the US government, which now has a too close relationship with business interests. The “too big to fail” syndrome leaves little doubt that bailing out businesses brings the government closer to a fascist run outfit. Social security, medicare, and medicaid, plus the welfare programs are definitely socialist programs, ensconced in the US government.

But at least for now, the US government is still basically a republic—not generally fascist, nazi, or socialist. It is, of course, the members of the Democratic Party, however, that embrace government positions of fascism and nazism, even as they name-call their Republican opponents with fascism and nazism slurs.

Adolf Hitler

Source

Is Fascism Left or Right?

The Primacy of Freedom

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

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  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    2 weeks ago from U.S.A.

    Yes, and to the low information voter must be added the fake information voter--folks who listening to the ilk of Rachel Maddow still think the Trump administration is being handled from Moscow. The Democrat(ic) Party has engaged the media in a cabal of lies and corruption, all in the pursuit of power. The Democrat-Media Complex has only one goal and that is the pursuit of power. Individual freedom in a safe and prosperous nation for all citizens is not on their agenda.

    Thank you, Will, for adding your pearls of wisdom to the conversation. Let's hope that with groups such as the #WalkAwayCampaign the political environment will evolve into something akin to the views of the Founding Fathers.

  • wba108@yahoo.com profile image

    wba108@yahoo.com 

    2 weeks ago from upstate, NY

    I have no arguments to all you say, it's all true! There is very little true liberalism in the modern Democrat Party. Leftist describes most Democrats and the left empowers government elitism over a government of the people.

    The left has to continually hide who they are, so they control the language used to misidentify themselves and their opponents. For instance, calling conservatives Fascists when fascism has always been on the left and has nothing to do with small government conservatism.The Democrats largest constituency is the low information voter as you mentioned, so they're easy to fool!

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    2 weeks ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, James, for your additional information that is so useful. Such clarifying explanation re-enforces the claims offered in my article.

    The hijacking of the concept of liberalism is one of the greatest catastrophes for education as well as politics. Just as there is nothing “democratic” about the current American “Democratic Party,” today’s public schools and universities fail to impart the original liberal values that guarantee freedom.

    I have hope that the trends will soon be bending back toward freedom and individual responsibility, love of truth and justice.

  • James A Watkins profile image

    James A Watkins 

    2 weeks ago from Chicago

    Thank you for this absolutely brilliant article! I love it. Finally someone who sees through the dross and perceives reality as it is. Refreshing, I tell you. And needful.

    What historian Jacques Barzun calls the GREAT SWITCH is the hijacking of the term ‘liberal’ since the 1930s. Its meaning has been reversed. Liberal originally meant Individualism - that individuals should be liberated from government interference to do as they please (as long as what they pleased to do was not evil). Liberalism meant ‘the best government is that which governs the least’—the exact opposite of what American Liberals push today: massive regulation, enormous entitlements, gigantic confiscation of wealth, colossal social welfare programs, and a Totalitarian State sticking its nose into every nook and cranny of American life—policing every act done, every word spoken, every thought thunk.

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