NeoLibs Munge on
Each side has drawn tremendous energy from opposing this idea of liberalism. At the same time, the space occupied by liberalism itself has shrunk to the point where it’s difficult to locate. Different strands of it now live on under different names. Conservatives have styled themselves as the new defenders of free speech. Democrats have sidestepped ‘‘liberal’’ and embraced ‘‘progressive,’’ a word with its own confusing history, to evoke the good-government, welfare-state inclinations of the New Deal. Some of the strongest defenses of liberalism’s achievements come from people who identify as ‘‘socialists.’’ And free-trade advocates, with no more positive term to shelter under, are now tagged, often derisively, as ‘‘neoliberal.’’ The various ideas to which ‘‘liberal’’ has referred persist, in one form or another, among different constituencies. Liberalism may continue. But it may well end up doing so without any actual liberals behind it.
-- Nikil Saval is an editor at n+1. He last wrote for the magazine about the trend of turning abandoned railways lines into urban parks.