The art of showing disrespect is integral to modern politics. Much of ideological cross-talk is made up of slights and innuendo. It is not a one-way street, by any means. Nearly everyone is guilty, and each side (there are more than two sides) has prominent members who engage in disrespect as modus operandi.

That being said, I am only going to concentrate on only one characteristic showing of disrespect, that of liberal-progressives to libertarians.

It’s in the name. Liberal-progressives (or “progressive-liberals,” or just liberals or just progressives) routinely refuse to grant libertarians their name. That is, they only with reluctance call libertarians “libertarians,” but prefer, instead, to call them “conservatives” or “right wingers” or, as in the New York Times the other day, “ultraconservatives.”

I have noticed this in private communications. While conservatives seem to have no problem addressing me as a libertarian, or a classical liberal, or an individualist — or even by my jocose favored term, “Loco-Foco” — nearly every progressive I have debated has preferred, at some point, to characterize my ideas as “conservative” or one of  its variants, or as (worse in my mind) “far right.”

This is one of the major reasons I have lost respect for the left in general. Folks on the left tend to be nasty, disrespectful, and also remarkably ignorant about the history of their preferred euphemisms and dysphemisms. In America, most of my interlocutors cannot seem to remember that my opinions were once routinely called “liberal” and their opinions were called, casually and with the accuracy of a new trend, “socialist.”

My theory has long been that this habitual mischaracterization of libertarian opinion as simply “conservative” and even “ultraconservative” is an act of positioning, an attempt to suppress in common debate the great change that occurred in the ideological climate between 1880 and 1933. During this time, those who leaned towards socialism — and by that I mean rejected the individualism of the liberal period, focusing instead on collective action over market action, and favoring an unconstrained state over constitutional government — adopted a variety of new terms for themselves. In America, these were “progressive” and “liberal.” In Europe, they were

  • Fabian
  • Social Democrat
  • Fascist

with plenty of disagreement amongst the groups. Since Fascism proved so militant and ugly, leftists have moved mountains of history and vocabulary to deny their intimate connection with this compromise group. Indeed, in America, the new “liberals” took Marxist arguments to characterize fascists as “far right” . . . which is odd, since they also placed the old liberals who believed in constrained government and private property and free trade as “far right.”

It is upon this historical lie, and ideological theft, that much of progressivism rests. Modern progressives are very much in the position of the heirs of major criminals or slaveholders: in a position hardly tenable, but you make do with what you have.

And denial is one way to handle inconvenient truths. Another is negotiation.

We shouldn’t expect acceptance any time soon.

At Mediaite, Andrew Kirell takes on the current instance:

In an otherwise innocuous Sunday profile of a Chinese dissident, New York Times higher education reporter Tamar Lewin used an age-old couching trick to brand the Cato Institute as “ultraconservative.”

What reality is this?

While describing the story of how Chinese professor and dissident Xia Yeliang was dismissed from his Pekinv University job and has taken up residency at Cato, Lewin let slip a hefty dose of ideological confusion:

The political labels of Professor Xia and the Cato Institute, in Washington, are strikingly different. Professor Xia got into trouble in China for being too liberal, while the institute is known as libertarian or — less to its liking — ultraconservative. But the professor and Cato officials say they have the same focus.

Before we get to the “ultraconservative” part, it’s also obvious that Lewin misunderstands the well-known concept that, outside the U.S., the word “liberal” is used in the classical sense; and not as the U.S. version that has become synonymous with the expansion of government.

Liberalization around the world means the advocacy for a relaxation of government restrictions on speech, business, etc. And so the views of someone who advocates “liberalization” in a country like China are most certainly not “strikingly different” from the American libertarians at Cato. Lewin missing that natural ideological fit is perhaps telling of her own biases.

But Lewin’s attempt to sneak the “ultraconservative” phrase at Cato comes off as a cheap shot, or, “an attempt to create tension where there is none,” as Tim Carney wrote of it.

No one in their right mind would consider Cato “ultraconservative,” especially when a cursory glance at their policy recommendations shows support for same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, reduced military spending, non-interventionist foreign policy, and relaxed immigration restrictions.

The point, though, is that the Times folks cannot give an accurate designation of libertarian ideas because that would cast light on their own ideological thefts, against the left’s long history of three-card nomenclature.

But I feel his pain:

Take it from this libertarian who’s been called everything from a “fascist with a bong” to a “pinko commie Obama shill,” libertarians can be touchy about ideological labeling and misrepresentation of their views. But that really doesn’t excuse such hilarious confusion from a newspaper that dedicates itself to living in the nuance.

I would like to laugh at the left’s habitual confusion as “hilarious,” but really, it is unseemly. And anyone who engages in it doesn’t strike me so much as a fool. The proper word, as used by Lysander Spooner, is “knave.”