Can you be Liberal without being on The Left? Can you be on The Left without being Liberal?
The Left: In America, it’s usually affiliated with The Democratic Party, liberals, and progressives. The Left is distinguished from those on The Right, where both flank, respectively, on what is considered to be The Middle. But if you know your history, The Left, The Right, and The Middle are amorphous and change over time. Example: The Democratic Party used to be the pro-slavery party until the first half of the 20th Century when people like FDR, The Kennedy’s, and African-American and Jewish-American activists, among so many others that that have enriched social equality movements, changed the dynamic where The Democratic Party became more, and not less, the party for racial justice. The Democratic Party lost the Southern white vote where they have dominated for decades largely due to the party’s own support for Civil Rights and in doing so, sidestepped or leapfrogged the Republican Party in attempting to progress racial inequities in America.
The Liberals: In America, are supporters of policies and attitudes that “progress,” among other things, minority rights. Minorities being racial, religious, sexual including sexual orientation and gendered…and so forth. Basically, people who lack power as a distinct group and are typically being oppressed political and socially. As a legal and philosophical extension, liberal ideas on protecting racial, religious, and sexual minorities is couched in neutrality, where majority-minority relationships are sought to be equalized and not flipped for obvious reasons. In other words, my right to marry a person of the same sex does not require the act to negate an opposite sex marriage. The act is to equalize same-sex marriage by elevating it to the status of opposite-sex marriage, but not to flip hierarchies between the two. Liberals, who are sometimes called but not always considered progressives, are contrasted to conservatives, people who promote traditional social institutions.
Being liberal oftentimes gets murky more so than being On The Left. It carries a protean quality like The Left, where it changes over time. But being strictly liberal can also carry more confusion and even stigma. Being liberal in Europe is more akin to being libertarian in America, socially progressive but an acolyte in traditional free-market thinking…or non-thinking depending on your persuasion. Some view many Democrats in the same view no matter the label. But then you can find social progressives who are also economic progressives. Some call them socialists or communists, even though they are not the same thing as they are often considered to be. I find it common when people stand by a good number of liberal and socialist policies and attitudes: gay marriage, increased public and commercial accommodation for people with all sorts of mental and physical disabilities, a sound and reasonable safety net, public schools, and so on. But they would never consider themselves liberal. It’s as if a closet has formed the same way a closet has formed around being socialist, even though policies like social security and laws against polluting drinking water are by definition socialist. Search liberal both in it’s lower and upper case form and who would disagree with it’s fundamental tenants? Not many, except if you are a socialist.
In acting opposition to The Republican Party, to conservatives, and in general to anyone who wants to take society back to the 1930s (not the 1950s like so many say because that era, it seems to me, is where liberal counter-culture was in full-swing), many people may identify as leftist in some fashion or form because of negative experience. But being in opposition doesn’t necessarily mean being actively pro-something either. I can find disgust in a politician actively courting white supremacists but it doesn’t mean I’m deeply aware and supportive of racial justice. Same can be said for a supporter of racial justice who consciously doesn’t support trans* justice.
So, it’s my belief that true liberals hold firm, or try, to the basic tenants of social justice by their own accord. Meaning, they don’t need a political clique or party to feed them the next set of beliefs. If the bandwagon (everyone needs a ride somewhere sometimes) goes somewhere it shouldn’t go, there are people who know better while some never question it. It’s learning when to get off the bandwagon that counts. So, I personally have met quite a few leftists who think nothing wrong with being biased against people solely on religion, race, and gender if they are Christian, “white,” and male. But that’s not liberal is it? If being liberal should give one more substance in judging character beyond association, then thinking liberal goes beyond superficial litmus tests. Bernie Sanders is two out of the three identities mentioned. Being Christian wouldn’t disqualify him from AOC’s support, as it’s apparent that she doesn’t mind him being “white” and male either.
The Left differs from liberals “by virtue” of not being on The Right. It seems it’s more of a categorical clique than an understood set of liberal and progressive commitments. Ask Bernie supporters if Hillary is progressive enough and ask Hillary supporters what it means being progressive and I think you will catch this dynamic rollercoaster. Maybe not. But overall, it’s one thing to form your identity and world view around a general set of beliefs. It’s another thing to think a bit more into the why of what you stand by.