No, the "liberalism" that replaced that in the usurpation of the word was the late 18th century notion of liberalism which was a mere freeing from restraints, morality among those, which was supposed to release some natural force which would set things aright. But that was always a daffy notion. It resulted in anything but the equality that the older liberalism founded on verses in the First and Second testament but, rather, in laissez faire economics and other boons to the rich freed of government oversight, Social Darwinisn and eugenics for the poor.
I have come, in the past dozen or so years, to see the failure to make that distinction as one of the crucial aspects of the failure of liberal politics in the past fifty years, most easily seen in the last years of the life of The Reverend Martin Luther King jr and in the period after his death when his goals of the Blessed Community abandoned for something that had more sciency veneer on it. What had been built up by those who promoted the earlier, egalitarian liberalism was burdened with the second thing called liberalism but which it had little in common with.*
It was, though, a problem for a lot longer than that. Yesterday's go round on whether or not "Shakespeare in Love" was a "bio-pic" reminded me of a post I did on one of the most remarkable cases of liberal confusion that hinged exactly on that point, which I'm posting here, today. That was the identification of Oliver Wendell Holmes jr. as a liberal icon when he was a particularly brutal and savage Social Darwinist, the author of one of the worst legal decisions violating the most basic rights of people on the basis of science and social economics. The part Broadway and Hollywood played in creating that confusion is, to an extent, unknowable but I would guess the idiotic "bio-pic" The Magnificant Yankee might have played in that is a lot greater than any familiarity with his actual thinking was. I would guess many more thousands of college degree holding liberals saw that than ever read the Buck v Bell decision and his other thoughts impinging on actual liberal law, social policy and understood its effect in the real world. Here is what I said on that matter in the post form several years back.
Compared to the "right" of private businesses to do things that could have enormously effects, good or bad, on countless people, including deaths, Holmes saw the danger of individual people asserted to be "imbeciles" having a child as more deserving of the most extreme state intervention, even into their bodies with surgery, on the mere prediction that any child they had was of an increased potential to be intellectually or physically deficient.
Yet Holmes is seen as some kind of great progressive force in the law, primarily, I'd guess, due to his free speech dissents and his usefulness to Franklin Roosevelt at the very end of his life. There was the movie of the play "The Magnificent Yankee" which only adds weight to the case that historical fiction in the hands of the theater and Hollywood, is best considered to be fiction. Liberals seem to be suckers for that kind of "history".
As compared to the silly movie that used a few names from late Elizabethan and Jacobean England to spin a totally fictitious yarn the misunderstanding of Holmes as a liberal hero is really dangerous in political and so real terms. So the triumph of the conventional thinking that can grow out of that mistaking of fiction for reality, to be passed on as a de rigueur attitude to be held to be a good liberal, is damaging to the very identity of liberals as those who fight for the poor, the destitute, the oppressed the other among us, the least among us. I understood in my early years of college, when I'd never read a single word of Holmes that I was to think of him as some kind of liberal hero, just as I was to hold any number of other mere attitudes based on nothing but assertions and even the merest implications of what other people said about people and ideas. In a way the past dozen years has been about finally getting past that junk as so much more of the primary source material that I should have read, that we all should have read has become available for free in its entirety.
In these years of blogging on how the left went wrong, lost its ability to elect people to office who would change the law to improve the real lives of real people whose lives, physically and spiritually, depended on those changes, I've come to see that in a lot of cases the problem lay entirely on those attitudes and seldom on the facts. One of the most damning was, in fact, one that had been identified a long time ago by our political opponents, that was the charge of snobbery, of believing that the college educated liberal elite loved to believe it was superior to people who had not been to college and who had not absorbed the requisite attitudes of that class of people. I think that snobbery has been the sword that liberalism fell on, something anyone who was there for the political campaign of 1968 was stupid to not see. Nixon used the resentment against that trait of so many of the conventional liberals, magnifying it and hanging it around the necks of even the most egalitarian of real liberals. It took reading the unedited thinking of many thousands of those who considered themselves liberals online to make me see that in that case, we gave them the rope to do that with. As I've also pointed out, the response of heaping more of that kind of ridicule on those who had supported Nixon in the form of Archie Bunker notably didn't prevent Nixon winning a second term or Reagan and two Bushes interspersed with conservative, laissez-faire style Democrats instead of someone who would revive and extend The New Deal or The Great Society.
It would seem to me that the first thing liberals need to understand to turn that around is what the difference between a real, traditional American liberal is and the laissez-faire substitute is. The first is butter, the second is trans-fat margarine. But liberals also need to understand the motives of those who led us down that path, those in the media whose interests always lay more in being able to lie for their profit than to promote a decent, egalitarian society, paying the merest lip-service to that as required in their social milieu of writers who like to be called liberal. As the conservatives learned, all they needed to do was to give up the purity campaigners to get the media to drop the pretenses. And in allowing the porn industry - whose practices are and always have been an expression of laissez faire economics - the freedom it wanted it gained a lot more than it lost. Rupert Murdoch, who previously may have been excluded as a soft-core pornographer being allowed to take out American citizenship and to buy a major American media company is the real life proof of what taking that "liberal" position benefited the worst of the far right enormously. And try pointing out that "liberals" consuming his coarse, degrading, and even fascistic junk are enriching him online to see how discerning a bunch they are. I've run that experiment on Eschaton, on Hullaballoo on other blogs, including a couple of blogs I discontinued earlier this year.
I have certainly been guilty of most of what I'm talking about here. The laziness and self-congratulations that led the left astray are easy and seductive, especially when sold with the full range of PR tactics and appeals to the lowest in us that are characteristic of a successful con job. It certainly isn't pleasant to realize you have been had and it's your own fault. But it's necessary for the future success of the program of real liberalism that those things be faced, including the defrocking and defenestration of some of our plaster saints. A lot more than the altered, phonied up bust of Shakespeare will have to go, a lot more. The great "authorship question" is only really important as a model of how a required conventional attitude can triumph over the factual content of available evidence, the question of whether or not you really believe all people are created equal and endowed by their creator with equal rights and the right to sustenance and respect, that's the real thing.
* I'm coming to wonder if it isn't possible to analyze all of American history to be a struggle between those two "liberalisms" the second one being, actually, a mere variation on conservatism, what I've come to see as more accurately called "liberalish libertarianism". The 18th century "liberals" who wrote the Constitution set up the necessity of the anti-slavery struggle, the struggle for women's rights and for the rights of workers as opposed to their employers, and universal justice. We, today, struggle with those who want to reimpose that 18th century liberalism on us through their occult divination of the "original intent" of those liberals and, as I've also pointed out many times, even real liberals are suckers for it when they intone the phrase, "The First Amendment".