Rise of the Reformists


Let it be known that from this day forward, the scribe whose words you are at this moment reading will rechristen himself – drum roll please – “reformist”.

As a former editor who takes the meanings of words seriously and often literally, I’ve always had a problem with the terms liberal and conservative. Yes, I know that even many liberals think liberal is a dirty word, which is why they rechristened themselves the woefully inaccurate term “progressive,” as if imitating the pre-crisis public policies of Greece is “progress.”

But as a former liberal myself (up through around grad school), I never regarded it as a dirty word for the most part, except in the sense of overdoing something like “spend liberally”. It’s also supposed to mean well-rounded and open-minded, although many “liberals” are some of the most closed-minded people I know. It has a positive connotation in the sense of “liberal arts education,” or “classical liberal” – i.e. the Adam Smith sense of free markets and free trade.

Conservative” isn’t a dirty word except perhaps among lefties. Righties are proud to describe themselves as conservative and use the term all the time.

Even so, conservative – and liberal – mean different things at different times, and in different places. In China and Russia, a conservative is someone who wants to revert to the far-left policies of old, and a liberal is someone who wants to enact free-market reforms. In the United States, by contrast, the situation is reversed.

Conservative can mean keeping things as they are – which is just how it should be for many of our age-old institutions. But for other phenomena, such as decades-old, ossified government programs that are bankrupting the country and that are in serious need of reform, would it not be “conservative” to keep the programs as they are?

There you have some of the problems surrounding the use of the terms “conservative” and “liberal.” Again, as a former editor I take the meanings of words seriously. So a much more accurate description of where I stand politically is “reformist”.

Reform means changing something for the better. And there are lots of programs and institutions in this country that need to undergo such overhauls. (Note that some things erroneously get labeled as “reform” even though they’re change for the worse, like Obamacare.)

So I hereby declare that henceforth I shall describe myself as a reformist. And if you, reader, are of a like-minded persuasion, then you should rechristen yourself reformist as well.


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