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Political Terminology: Clarifying Misunderstood Terms

Expository essays in literature, politics, philosophy, art, & science issues allow space for affirming one's stance on issues, old and new.

George Washington, First President of the USA

George Washington, First President of the USA

Liberal vs 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 in guaranteeing individual freedom and other societal benefits. Such is the case of the United States of America.

Standard Determines Meaning

Labels such as "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 earlier 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 is supposed to govern 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 retains 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, has descended 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."

Historically, socialist governments remain unfeasible and unwieldy. 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 are on a trajectory of destroying the nation's wealth, harmony, and balance.

Government of the People

Democracy vs Republic

In much of today’s political parlance, 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"

Etymologically, the term "democracy" originates 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, especially in large, heavily populated country; 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" designates 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 system called "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 from Important Issues

It is unfortunate that the conflation of the two terms allows obfuscating politicians to deflect from the important issues to engage the definition of the difference between the terms "democracy" and "republic."

One often hears other talking heads focusing on the differences between republic and democracy simply to divert attention 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 of Notables of 1787 in Versailles, engraving by Claude Niquet, late 18th century.

Assembly of Notables of 1787 in Versailles, engraving by Claude Niquet, late 18th century.

Left Wing vs Right Wing

In contemporary American parlance, "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.

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. What these statists seek resembles an oligarchy, rule by a few elitists, rather than a monarchy, rule by a single individual and through heredity.

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 most inclusive term for any of the leftist ideologies is statism, which simply indicates rule by a large central government infused with a huge bureaucracy, overriding individual rights or even local states’ rights.

The Current Democratic and Republican Parties in the USA

"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 and retain power.

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

Proponent of Fascism in Italy

Proponent of Fascism in Italy

Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery."

— Sir Winston Churchill

Adolf Hitler

"Nazi" abbreviation of The National Socialist German Workers Party (German:  Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei.)

"Nazi" abbreviation of The National Socialist German Workers Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei.)

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-wing 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.

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, statist ideology; thus nazis are left-wing not right-wing.

The Democratic Party began labeling their opponents in the Republican Party nazis simply because Hitler’s evil reputation was well-known. The label stuck although it was historically inaccurate—another "big lie" regarding political history promulgated by leftists to smear those right of center:

Germany’s Adolph Hitler created the phrase, “the big lie,” to describe a lie so vast that 'the great masses of the people' will fall for precisely because they can not fathom that it isn’t true.

Also with 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.

Again, the American Democratic Party of leftists made the claim that those right of center were fascists and the label stuck because the perception of fascism was negative; thus, the Democratic Party has continued to prevaricate against its opposition. 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" phenomenon leaves little doubt that bailing out businesses brings the government closer to a fascist run organization. Social security, medicare, and medicaid, plus the welfare programs are definitely socialist programs, ensconced in the US government.

The Democratic Party, which represents contemporary leftist ideology in America, embraces government positions of fascism and nazism, even as they smear their Republican opponents with fascism and nazism slurs.

While fascist principles remain the very opposite of democratic principles, it is the American Democrats who embrace those fascist/nazi principles, while blaming their opponents for the acts they commit and the ideals they hold. Jeff Davidson cogently sums up the position of the Democratic Party in the USA today:

As it happens so often, the Left accuses the Right of committing crimes that the Left themselves have actually committed. In practice, it's a dead giveaway: Anytime they accuse the Right of any crime, that is a crime which the Left has committed over and over. Antifa is a stunning case in point. Antifa, short for "anti-fascist," is actually among the most fascist organizations in the world.

But at least for now, the US government is still basically a republic—not overwhelmingly fascist, nazi, or socialist. The question of retaining that republican form extends all the way back to the day the republic was formed:

There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: "A republic, if you can keep it."

And the sentiment expressed by the phrase, "if you can keep it," still retains today.

Whether the people of the United State of America can keep their freedom depends on what they allow their government officials to do because, as Richard Beeman avers, "democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health."


Is Fascism Left or Right?

The Primacy of Freedom

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes