Along with its intellectual legacy, the Progressive Era had a political legacy that corresponds to the liberalism of these millions of Democrats. They think that an activist federal government is a force for good, approve of the growing welfare state and hate the idea of publicly agreeing with a Republican about anything. But they also don’t like the idea of shouting down anyone who disagrees with them.
They gave money to the ACLU in 1978 when the organizations absolutism on free speech led it to defend the right of neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill. They still believe that the individual should not be sacrificed to the collective and that people who achieve honest success should be celebrated for what they have built. I’m not happy that they like the idea of a ‘Living Constitution’—one that can be subjected to interpretations according to changing times—but they still believe in the separation of powers, checks and balances, and the president’s duty to execute the laws faithfully.
These Democrats should get exclusive possession of the word ‘liberal.’
As a libertarian, I am reluctant to give up the word ‘liberal.’ It used to refer to laissez-faire economics and limited government. But since libertarians aren’t ever going to be able to retrieve its original meaning, we should start using ‘liberal’ to designate the good guys on the left, reserving ‘progressive’ for those who are enthusiastic about an unrestrained regulatory state, who think it’s just fine to subordinate the interests of individuals to large social projects, who cheer the president’s abuse of executive power and who have no problem rationalizing the stifling of dissent.