From Boomers to Millennials: A Modern US History Podcast

Episode 13A - Special: Defining Liberalism

April 01, 2021 Logan Rogers Season 2
Episode 13A - Special: Defining Liberalism
From Boomers to Millennials: A Modern US History Podcast
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From Boomers to Millennials: A Modern US History Podcast
Episode 13A - Special: Defining Liberalism
Apr 01, 2021 Season 2
Logan Rogers

After spending our last episode discussing the rise of Cold War Liberalism, we take time out from our historical narrative during this special supplemental episode to explain the origins of the "liberal" political label, to identify why it became widely popular during the mid-20th-Century US, & to track how the term became so stigmatized by the American Right (& also the Far Left) that it has declined in popularity by the 21st Century. This episode briefly takes us back to the American & French Revolutions of the 18th Century, which were inspired by Enlightenment ideals proposing individual rights as a check upon the power of absolute monarchs. We then describe how middle-class liberals & working-class socialists sometimes cooperated but often clashed in 19th Century Europe. However, because there was no powerful Socialist movement in the United States, a Left-Liberal movement was able to emerge out of the 20th Century Progressive reform era that kept middle-class professionals & working-class laborers within the same Democratic Party coalition. That "New Deal" coalition of left-liberalism remained intact until the economic problems & culture wars of the late 20th Century weakened the coalition & allowed American conservatives to successfully turn "liberal" into a dirty word. In the 21st Century, the word "liberal" is still more favored by the American center-left's enemies than its advocates, but liberal philosophies have still left a major lasting impact on the modern United States.

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Show Notes Transcript

After spending our last episode discussing the rise of Cold War Liberalism, we take time out from our historical narrative during this special supplemental episode to explain the origins of the "liberal" political label, to identify why it became widely popular during the mid-20th-Century US, & to track how the term became so stigmatized by the American Right (& also the Far Left) that it has declined in popularity by the 21st Century. This episode briefly takes us back to the American & French Revolutions of the 18th Century, which were inspired by Enlightenment ideals proposing individual rights as a check upon the power of absolute monarchs. We then describe how middle-class liberals & working-class socialists sometimes cooperated but often clashed in 19th Century Europe. However, because there was no powerful Socialist movement in the United States, a Left-Liberal movement was able to emerge out of the 20th Century Progressive reform era that kept middle-class professionals & working-class laborers within the same Democratic Party coalition. That "New Deal" coalition of left-liberalism remained intact until the economic problems & culture wars of the late 20th Century weakened the coalition & allowed American conservatives to successfully turn "liberal" into a dirty word. In the 21st Century, the word "liberal" is still more favored by the American center-left's enemies than its advocates, but liberal philosophies have still left a major lasting impact on the modern United States.

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            “From Boomers to Millennials” is a modern US history podcast, providing a fresh look at every year since the birth of the Baby Boom generation. Welcome to Episode 13A, a special supplemental podcast entitled “Defining Liberalism.” In our most recent full-length episode, we discussed the Rise of Cold War Liberalism in the United States during the late 1950s. Today’s program attempts to clarify what we mean by the sometimes-contentious political term known as “liberalism.” The word has different implications depending on the context in which it is used, & its meanings have changed over time. “Liberalism” also has somewhat different meanings outside of the USA. For example, in some countries it is defined as a center-left ideology, & in other countries it is defined as a center-right ideology. Defining liberalism will require us to bump up against ideological alternatives to liberalism, such as conservatism & socialism, but this episode will focus upon Liberalism & will avoid going into detailed definitions of its various rival political philosophies. 


We will trace the roots of Liberalism back to 18th & 19th Century Europe, & we’ll then explain the evolution of the term in the context of our 20th-Century-US historical era.  Please note that this episode is a broad overview, for which I relied upon textbooks, reference books, reliable internet sources, & my own general knowledge to a greater degree than I generally do. Since the episodes have been coming somewhat slow lately, hopefully you’ll forgive the smaller amount of in-depth research; cutting back a bit allows me to provide you with new content sooner. Of course, I still fully fact-checked this episode & can vouch for its accuracy. Please note: some characterizations provided here are reflective of my own historical interpretation of the facts. Different historians emphasize different factors in the rise of Liberalism.


But before we excavate the origins of liberalism, here’s a brief podcast update. We have by now been downloaded in all 50 American states & in over 60 countries around the world. Based upon the statistics provided by our host site Buzzsprout, our current top 10 US states for downloads are: #10) Illinois; #9) New Jersey; #8) Utah; #7) Ohio; #6) Michigan; #5) Massachusetts; #4) Florida; #3) Texas; #2) New York; & #1) California. Thanks so much to our great listeners all around the US & around the globe. Our podcast recommendation for this episode goes to the New Books in History podcast, which is part of the New Books network that hosts various podcasts that interview the authors of scholarly books about specific academic subjects. The New Books in History Podcast is where we discovered Professor Helena Rosenblatt’s book about the history of liberalism, which became a helpful source we relied upon in writing this episode. You can check out the episode that interviews Prof. Rosenblatt, along with countless others, at:, or find the show on any other major podcast platform.


            It’s worthwhile to explore the history of liberalism, because it has become a controversial term, particularly within recent political discourse in the United States. I grew up in a Red State where the term “liberalism” was used as a negative label for ideas & values that supposedly threatened our conservative, small-town community. To this day in America, depending on whom you ask, the term “liberalism” evokes emotional reactions, with some people viewing it as the embodiment of all that is humane & liberating in the world, & others associating the term with decadence, decline, & even enslavement. I leave it up to the listener to determine the merits of liberal ideologies. However, no set of ideas can be judged until they are first properly understood. Above all, this episode seeks to put the term Liberalism under a microscope to explain what it really means & where it came from. Within the pages of her book The Lost History of Liberalism, Professor Helena Rosenblatt suggests that agreeing upon a definition for the word presents a challenge. She notes that (quote) “People use the term in all sorts of different ways, often unwittingly, sometimes intentionally. They talk past each other, precluding any possibility of reasonable debate” (close quote). Furthermore, what “liberalism” meant in the United States during the 1950s is slightly different from what the term signifies in today’s America. Although there is a core nucleus of ideas that are generally classified as liberal in most parts of the world, the term has definitely come to mean somewhat different things across time & place.


            The concept of Liberalism first emerged during the 18th Century European Enlightenment, which was a groundbreaking intellectual movement with scientists & philosophers exploring new ideas. Many Enlightenment thinkers came to favor reforms to the predominant system of European government. They proposed greater checks upon the power of the monarchy & nobility, & they advocated that State authorities be more tolerant of new ideas. Enlightenment philosophers urged the Church to stop persecuting people with unorthodox beliefs as heretics, & they favored a liberalized economy free from heavy-handed government intervention. The writings of Enlightenment thinkers such as Baron de Montesquieu & John Locke influenced the US Founding Fathers’ conclusion that a republic would be preferable to a monarchy for a newly-independent American nation. According to the historians Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, & Frank M. Turner, it was during the French Revolution that Enlightenment-based Liberalism truly came into its own. Liberals in revolutionary France sought (quote) “to establish a legal framework of limited monarchial power, [to] secure citizen rights, & [to] make possible relatively free economic activity” (close quote). Yet the revolution’s reputation was tarnished when French radicals took power for a time & engaged in harsh reprisals against the nobility & clergy; some were even summarily executed. Such actions violated liberal ideals of individual rights & due process of law. In the years that followed, political debates in Europe would often pit Liberals, who were inspired by the French Revolution at its best, against Conservatives, who were horrified by the revolution’s worst excesses. The United States provided a more moderate model of a relatively liberal government than that of Revolutionary France. While the American Constitution was limited in the scope of its Liberalism (for example, it specifically tolerated the illiberal or non-liberal practice of slavery), it did espouse liberal ideals, especially in its Bill of Rights, which guaranteed greater freedom of speech & religion than was the norm in Europe.


            Professor Rosenblatt notes that the term “liberalism” was coined to describe the aforementioned Enlightenment-based ideas about government, & the concept soon spread to other parts of 19th Century Europe. However, Kagan, Ozment, & Turner note in their text that (quote) “For 20th Century Americans the word liberal [carried] with it meanings & connotations that have little or nothing to do with [the term’s] significance to 19th Century Europeans” (close quote). There are some connotations of liberalism that have remained relatively consistent, however. For example, Kagan & his co-authors noted that 19th Century European Liberals (quote) “sought to establish a political framework of legal equality, religious toleration, & freedom of the press,” which are ideas that most modern Americans of all political stripes (but especially liberals) at least claim to be supportive of. These principles focused upon protecting individual citizens from arbitrary State power, & upon making certain that the government relies upon the consent of, & receives consistent input from, the governed. Kagan, Ozment, & Turner note that (quote) “Liberals sought to achieve these political arrangements through the device of written constitutions” (close quote), which provided a kind of contract between the Government & the People. Such Liberal ideas are, of course, the very bedrock of American democracy. However, they were opposed by 19th Century European Conservatives, who often argued that the king had been divinely appointed with the power & duty to rule on behalf of his subjects. Many European religious conservatives feared that freedom of religion would allow citizens to choose the wrong faith & then lose their immortal souls. Conservatives across the board feared that a loosening of the centralized power of Church & State through greater liberalization could put Europe on a perilous path toward political instability & cultural immorality.


            Beneath the surface of the fight between European liberals & conservatives, there was a strong element of status rivalry between social groups. Most European liberals were members of learned professions, including doctors, lawyers, scientists, & academics. Others were upwardly-mobile merchants or skilled craftsmen. They believed that people of talent & intellect, like themselves, were every bit as well-suited to have a say in government as were hereditary monarchs & noblemen. Conservatives, on the other hand, tended to hold positions as feudal aristocrats, royal court officials, or high-ranking members of the clergy. Kagan, Ozment, & Turner note that most European Liberals (quote) “wanted to extend [political] representation to the propertied classes. [However,] second only to their hostility to the privileged aristocracies was their general contempt for lower, unpropertied classes. Liberals transformed the 18th Century concept of aristocratic liberty [which focused upon nobles’ freedom from domination by the king] into a new concept of privilege based on wealth & property rather than [upon status at] birth” (close quote).


            Of course, matters were slightly different in the United States of America. Although the US government had initially only allowed white male citizens who owned property to vote, by the 1830s, American state governments had expanded suffrage to even unpropertied white men. The US governmental structure was mapped out by a Constitution that had been inspired by Enlightenment ideals (which were “liberal” under the 19th Century definition of the word). In the USA, there was no “divinely-established” King, hereditary Nobility, or government-supported Church to provide a base of support for the kind of anti-democratic conservatism that existed in Europe. This is not to say that conservative tendencies were absent in the 19th Century USA, but American Conservatism would always be defined slightly differently than European Conservatism, especially back when most European countries were monarchies rather than representative democracies. During the mid-19th Century, the Democratic & Republican parties became the 2 main organizations competing for control of the American political system. However, these parties did not define themselves along the lines of an ideological battle between liberal & conservative views as they would during the 20th Century. Instead, both parties were complicated coalitions consisting of different regional interests & ethnic groups. Late 19th Century political battles centered upon issues such as agricultural tariffs & the gold standard, which didn’t usually map neatly onto our 20th Century concepts of liberalism & conservatism. Indeed, Rosenblatt finds that the terms “liberal” & “conservative” were not commonly used to describe rival political ideologies in the US until the 20th Century.


However, by 21st Century standards, the 19th Century United States was a conservative country. Modern American Conservatism is often defined as favoring a weak central government that does not interfere much with corporations & other businesses. Judging by that standard, American economic policies during the 1800s were often staunchly conservative. There were few legal protections for common laborers, & large capitalist enterprises were on the rise, leading to the emergence of a few dominant companies (or “trusts”) & of a fabulously wealthy group of industrialists who were labelled by their critics as “robber-barons.” The confusing thing for modern Americans is that this type of economy was accepted by Liberalism as it was defined prior to the 20th Century; after all, most self-proclaimed Liberals in both Europe & the United States during the 19th Century generally favored free trade & free markets. They associated government intervention in the economy with the old, discredited, & illiberal economic systems of feudalism & mercantilism.


            Kagan, Ozment, & Turner argue that in 19th Century Europe, (quote) “economic liberals opposed the old paternalistic legislation that established wages & labor practices by government regulation or by guild privileges.” Such Liberals (quote) “saw labor as simply 1 more commodity to be bought & sold freely” (close quote). For this reason, middle-class liberals often did not see eye-to-eye with working-class laborers. Europe’s workers established their own separate social organizations, such as trade unions that let them negotiate as a unified front with management. Common laborers also formed worker’s political parties, which over time trended toward various forms of Socialism, which favored greater worker control over the economy & the government. On this podcast, we first discussed Socialism & Marxism way back in Episode 2 when describing the origins of the Cold War. We will not go into detail about those ideas here, other than to differentiate them from Liberalism. In the early 19th Century, bourgeois liberals occasionally worked together with common laborers in opposition to the old monarchies. This alliance was attempted in multiple countries during the famous wave of European revolutions during 1848. However, most of those revolutions failed, in part due to tensions between those middle-class & working-class factions. In many European countries, Socialism & Liberalism remained rival political movements that sometimes clashed with each other. This fact had important implications for 20th Century European politics, & it explains why there are separate liberal & socialist parties in many European countries up to this day.


            The United States developed its own labor union movement, but Socialism did not catch on with American workers as much as it did with European workers. In 1906, a German sociologist named Werner Sombart wrote a treatise with a title that posed the question: Why is There No Socialism in the United States? Sombart argued that most American workers viewed the economic & political status quo more favorably than European workers did, in part because American laborers had the right to vote & had obtained some power through existing partisan political machines. Perhaps the fact that Democratic & Republican Parties were already competing for workers’ votes, whereas in Europe most workers were championed only by Socialist parties, helps to explain why no mass American socialist movement emerged. In this sense, it was the USA’s Liberal political institutions, in the 19th Century sense of the word, that helped protect it from Socialist challenges. Sombart also claimed that there were more alternative opportunities for unhappy industrial laborers in the USA. The Americans’ possessed vast acres of relatively empty land after displacing the Native American population & gaining territory from Mexico. Many 19th Century families acquired cheap land on the American Great Plains & tried their luck at farming. Other scholars have theories that differ from Sombart about why American radicalism failed to gain ground, & many of them point to pressures upon & divisions within the late 19th Century workforce. Labor’s attempts at unionization were often crushed by hostile corporate & government authorities. The American labor movement was also frustrated by the fact that the toiling masses were often divided among different, & often mutually suspicious, religious, racial, & ethnic groups.


Whatever the reason, Socialism in the USA never was as “respectable” as it became in some parts of Europe. The term “socialist” would always carry with it a slightly ominous whiff of extremism & fanaticism to most 20th Century Americans. By the time of the Baby Boomers’ childhoods, there were authoritarian Communist regimes in Europe & Asia that had junked any individualistic Liberal political values in the name of imposing their hard-line version of a centralized Socialist economy by any means necessary. These geopolitical developments during the Cold War further discredited the concept of Socialism among the population of the modern United States. “Liberalism,” however, remained largely untarnished as a political label & ideological concept to the American people. In our next section, we will explain how the term Liberalism emerged as the most successful & commonplace “brand name” for center-left political ideas in North America during the 20th Century.


            By the dawn of the 20th Century, many middle-class Liberals in Great Britain & the US were coming to the conclusion that the small-government approach they had previously favored was not resulting in the widespread individual freedom & human flourishing that they had expected. Many came to believe that greater government oversight over giant corporations needed to be provided, for the good of the general public. Some also felt that blue-collar workers should be given the freedom to unionize & to strike. Rosenblatt describes how this shift in thinking took place among many English-speaking liberals. (Quote) “a new liberalism, [more] friendly to [progressive &] socialist ideas, was conceived toward the end of the 19th Century . . . A great battle took place over which . . . the new or the old – was the ‘true’ Liberalism” (close quote). In the United Kingdom during the late 1800s, the labor movement often allied with factions of the British Liberal Party. However, there was a split amid the chaotic aftermath of World War I, & the working-class Left departed the Liberal coalition to embrace its own political organization, the Labour Party, which espoused a moderate version of democratic socialism. Labour’s membership grew very quickly, & the Liberal Party was left with a much smaller, mostly middle-class electorate. There have been 3 main parties in the UK ever since: The Conservatives (or Tories), the Labour Party, & the Liberals (who now call their party the Liberal Democrats). The Liberal Democrats have been squeezed out of power by the two larger parties for most of the past century. 


In the USA, on the other hand, no separate political party emerged for labor. Instead, an alliance between working class laborers & economically-interventionist middle-class Liberals held together. For the 1st two decades of the 20th Century, blue-collar workers & middle-class professionals cooperated (albeit sometimes uneasily) in the reform movements of the Progressive Era. The traumas of World War I, followed by the rising political conservatism of the 1920s, stalled the momentum of that partnership. However, the authors of the text Liberty, Equality, Power contend that out of progressivism’s ashes, (quote) “a new Liberal movement [emerged] that was committed to taking up the work that the Progressives had left unfinished” (close quote). By the time of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the term “liberalism” had become synonymous with left-leaning reforms in the USA. In North America, the definition of the word “Liberal” had changed, & it became something further to the Left than was meant by that term in Europe. American Liberalism in the mid-20th Century fell somewhere to the Left of European Liberalism & somewhere to the Right of European Social Democracy.


            As a result, in North America, liberalism became synonymous with the center-left. In modern Canada (our neglected neighbor to the north) the main center-left political party has long been the Liberal Party. The currently-ruling Canadian Liberal Party’s 2 largest rivals are a conservative party to its Right & a social-democratic party to its Left. Of course, in the United States, the label “liberal” is still the most commonly used term for the left wing of American politics (although that might be starting to change - more on that later). On other continents, parties that carry the label “liberal” have carried different connotations. In Germany, the party that pundits usually describe as “liberal” is the Free Democrats, who are centrist to center-right. This European use of the world “liberal” harkens back to the 19th Century classical liberal tradition favoring free markets & the protection of private property. In the UK, the Liberal Democrats remain centrists, positioned in between the conservative Tories & the left-leaning Labour Party. Most confusingly of all for Americans, way down under in Australia, the main conservative or right-leaning political party is known as the Liberal Party. The main center-left party that opposes the Australian Liberals is called the Labor Party. The fact that “liberalism” outside of the North American context does not necessarily indicate being left-wing is why I sometimes refer to the American liberal Democratic politicians of the mid-20th Century, such as Adlai Stevenson & John F. Kennedy, as “left-liberals.” Putting the word “left” in front of the word “liberal” clarifies where these figures stood on the American political spectrum for any potentially confused international listeners.


It's important to acknowledge that there also are several depoliticized uses of the term liberal. You sometimes hear “small-c” conservatism distinguished from political conservatism. The former simply refers to a personality tendency favoring cautiousness & the preservation of current arrangements. A conservative coach in sports is a cautious coach; likewise, a conservative investor is usually one who avoids taking major risks. The word “liberal” can also be used to describe personality traits that aren’t necessarily political. For example, an individual described as having a liberal spirit is generally thought of as generous or open-minded. A quote-unquote “liberal democracy” is often considered to be any government, regardless of its location on the political spectrum, that favors individual rights, protection of property, & due process of law. So-called “liberal arts colleges” are sometimes accused of being left-wing indoctrination schools by American conservatives. Whatever the merits of that argument, the term “liberal arts” was not intended to refer to a political faction or ideology; rather it simply describes subjects that are neither hard sciences nor fine arts, such as psychology, philosophy, history, languages, & the social sciences.


With that tangent out of the way, let’s pick up the story of Cold War Liberalism from Episode 13. American liberals faced a serious PR challenge during the Cold War. They were politically left-of-center & allied with organized labor, & the Communist enemy also identified itself as being the vanguard of laborers & the political Left. American conservatives, on the other hand, advocated mostly unrestrained capitalism & promoted an absolutist view of private property rights. Many Americans therefore thought that only the Right Wing could be trusted to discredit & defeat the Communist threat. Cold War Conservatism became politically popular by the early 1950s, in part because they were willing to take an almost zero-tolerance approach to combatting Leftist groups in order to eliminate the threat of espionage & disloyalty. If a few liberals got swept up in the process of a cleansing Red Scare purge of subversives, many conservatives thought it was acceptable collateral damage. The red-baiting tactics of the likes of Joe McCarthy were discredited by the mid-50s, but there were still many conservative advocates of a hard-line approach to the Cold War throughout the mid-century period, including Senator Barry Goldwater & FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.


However, American conservatives had some challenges of their own in persuading the US public that they should lead the government’s Cold War efforts. During the 1920s & 30s, most conservative Republicans had been small-government isolationists. But opposing the Soviet colossus required a big-government effort that spent large amounts of public money on soldiers, weapons, equipment, & infrastructure designed to contribute to the national defense. The Cold War also required diplomatic & military entanglement with the outside world, & American liberals were often more intuitively comfortable with participation in international organizations & alliances. But perhaps the most powerful argument liberals had for being the true Cold Warriors involved their emphasis on individual rights, which stood in stark contrast with authoritarian Communist regimes. While American conservatives sometimes espoused nativism, heavy-handed law enforcement, censorship of subversive ideas, & maintenance of the existing social order, in contrast, American liberals generally favored greater international diplomacy, multiculturalism, unfettered free speech, & above all the expansion of individual rights (including support for controversial new rights movements among women & minorities during the 60s & 70s). According to Prof. Rosenblatt, “individual rights” were just 1 component of 19th Century European liberalism, which balanced such rights against individual duties to the broader community. She argues that it was 20th Century American liberals who made ‘individual rights’ into the dominant component of their liberal ideology. This emphasis upon individual freedoms gave Cold War Liberals a claim to be the actual philosophical opposites of the collectivist & authoritarian Communists. On the other hand, conservatives would argue that the American Right’s love of markets, tradition, faith, & entrepreneurship made them the true polar opposites of the Communists. American conservatives also claimed to stand for individual rights, but thought such rights had to be balanced against other concerns, such as national security & traditional morality.


            Cold War Liberalism remained a force in American life from the Forties to the Eighties. In the late 20th Century, however, the term “liberalism” started to fall out of favor in the United States. By this time, hot-button cultural debates over crime, gun control, affirmative action, & abortion access (among other topics) had polarized the electorate & particularly mobilized conservatives. The Democratic Party (which was the home of most US liberals) lost three straight presidential elections during the 1980s. The party became concerned that “liberalism” as a political worldview had fallen outside of the American mainstream due to the country’s rightward shift over the course of the Seventies, Eighties, & Nineties. The post-Cold-War presidency of Bill Clinton during the 1990s embodied a shift away from left-liberalism by the Democrats, who were rebranding themselves as socially moderate, pro-business centrists. The party still contained many public officials who stayed true to the liberal creed, & Clinton himself sometimes rhetorically supported liberal positions & views. However, the party in general had definitely moved to the center in its policies & rhetoric. 


Many Democrats began avoiding the “liberal” label because a newly militant conservative movement had transformed “liberalism” from a philosophy most Americans viewed as well-intentioned, if sometimes wrongheaded, into a word that voters associated with dangerous radicalism. As the authors of the text Liberty, Equality, Power put it: (quote) “Liberalism no longer connoted a set of government programs to stimulate the economy, promote fairness, & build prosperity for all. Instead, Republicans made ‘liberal’ a code word for wasteful social programs . . . that gouged hardworking people & squandered their dollars” (close quote). This process of demonizing liberalism began in large part with the rise of right-wing talk radio, which was pioneered by the late Rush Limbaugh, among others. When our podcast goes into depth about the 1990s further down the road, we will discuss some of the changes to media regulations that made the rise of conservative opinion broadcasting possible. The rise of Fox News in the 21st Century turned “liberal” into an even more toxic label within culturally conservative & rural areas of the country. During the George W. Bush years, right-wing pundits portrayed liberals as not just soft on crime, but also soft on terrorism.


Politicians from the Democratic Party during the 21st Century began seeking alternatives to the term liberal, because the label seemed more popular among the party’s enemies than its adherents at this point. Moderate Democrats in Congress eschewed the liberal tag by joining groups such as the New Democrat Coalition (which called itself ‘centrist’) & the Blue Dog Caucus (which included many self-proclaimed “Conservative Democrats”). Meanwhile, the left wing of the party began to revive the term “progressive” as a fresher label for their ideas, one that carried less baggage than the word “liberal” by this time. During the 2010s, a growing left-wing movement emerged among the party’s base (especially with Millennials & Gen-Z) that consciously labelled itself “leftist,” “democratic socialist,” or “social-democratic” rather than “liberal.” Indeed, in the world of podcasting & social media, some edgy young leftists now mock “liberals” (whom they associate with a discredited pro-corporate mainstream of the Democratic Party). Such leftists consider these “libs” as almost as bad as the “conservatives.” 


Meanwhile, both traditional conservatives & members of the trollish online “alt-right” movement continue to use the term “liberal” with great derision & condemnation when describing their ideological opponents. Some of the more offensive of these commentators gleefully mock liberals as quote-unquote “libtards.” Over the past 5 years, some high-ranking Republican politicians seem to take actions for the sole purpose of upsetting the political opponents of the American Right; this became known as quote-unquote “owning the libs.” It remains to be seen if the “liberal” label will ever regain popularity amid the current barrage of attacks on the term & those associated with it from both the Far Left & the Conservative Right. 


Nevertheless, the ideas associated with the word “liberal” have shaped American history, stretching from the Enlightenment ideals that helped to birth the American revolution, to the mass suffrage & open immigration of the 19th Century, all the way up to the left-liberal economic experiments of the New Deal & Great Society. While some American conservative propagandists continue to use the label “liberalism” in mostly inaccurate ways that make it sound ideologically indistinguishable from radical socialism or even communism, in reality, most educated people around the world properly understand the term “liberal” (whether it refers to the center-left or the center-right) as being associated with a free press, relatively open trade, & legal protection for individual rights & freedoms. Today’s world has been greatly influenced by these philosophies of political liberalism. The United States of America is an extremely individualistic country, perhaps sometimes to a fault, & for this reason, many ideas associated with the term liberalism remain very much a part of America’s DNA, regardless of whether the word “liberal” survives as a common political label. We will continue to explore such influential political ideas in coming episodes of our podcast. In such future episodes, we will explore how American liberals experienced a brief golden age in the mid-1960s, only to see their movement battered & blindsided by both the radical Left & a resurgent conservative Right.



The "From Boomers to Millennials” podcast is co-produced by Erin Rogers & Logan Rogers. Logo design by Camie Schaefer & Erin Rogers. Written and narrated by Logan Rogers. Please subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast platform. Give us a follow on Instagram & Twitter. Check out our Source Lists on our Patreon page, & while you’re there, please take an opportunity to support our podcast. Did you enjoy this episode about political philosophy, or do you prefer us sticking to more concrete historical events? We would love to hear feedback about this episode or the show in general from our listeners, so we encourage you to write an email to Finally, while we at the “From Boomers to Millennials” podcast always strive to be cautious & conservative in terms of fact-checking our research, we always aspire to be liberal with our appreciation for our listeners! So, thanks a whole bunch for listening.