America is a Liberal Nation, Founded by Liberals: The Meaning of Words




It is common for people to use words without having a comprehensive understanding of the definitions.  This simple clip from the movie Princess Bride, is a humorous example of a character, misusing the word, inconceivable.  In the past, I assumed the word ”liberal” was reserved for those associated with social activism, abortion, gay rights, and big government (whatever that means).   Likewise, I believed that Christians, small business owners, and patriots had a monopoly on the term, “conservative”.  This skewed viewpoint does not embody the core meaning of these words.

I will admit it can be a little confusing.  The meaning of a word can change over time, but if we are going to be competent writers, it is critical that we understand both the original meaning of a word as well as its mutated form.

The lines between these two words are not as distinct as one might think.  This can be evidenced in philosophies presented two hundred and fifty years ago, by political theorist, politician, orator and author, Edmund Burke.  He is a paradox when dealing with the words “liberal” and “conservative.”  Many consider him the father of modern conservativism, but he is also often identified as an icon for classic liberalism.  Burke supported British rebels such as Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Ben Franklin who defied English monarchy/parliament to found the United States of America.  A little research reveals that the founding fathers were strongly committed to change and a liberal philosophy:

  • Limited government involvement in the lives of individuals
  • Freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and free markets
  • Liberty of individuals (other than women, slaves, and Native Americans)
  • Strong support of entrepreneurs (a.k.a. capitalism)

Many consider John Locke the father of classical liberalism.  It is worth doing a little homework if we are going to sound educated when writing about complicated subjects, and this is one of them.  I do not pretend to understand all the nuances surrounding these words, but I clearly recognize that they are misapplied and over-generalized all too often.

In essence, those that politically identify themselves with words like “left” or “right,” need to clarify, left of what?  True “liberals” have always embraced progression, as did the insurgent Europeans who founded the U.S. government.  True “conservatives” would therefore adopt tradition as a focal point.  Had the founding fathers truly been”conservative,” they would never have supported the mutinous move against the British crown and parliament.  This flawed understanding extends into many areas where we misuse the “conservative” stamp.    Protestants, business owners and even Christ all fall into the category “liberal,” they had change in mind.

The English poet and writer, Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”  Though an ancient concept, this adage focuses on the power of words to change the world.  Reading and writing allow us to learn not only how others view the world, but more importantly how we perceive reality.

Click here for more information on “modern AMERICAN conservatism.”

What is your definition?