Being a Good Liberal

In his classic work, The Framework of a Christian State, the Reverend E. Cahill, S. J. identifies three meanings of the term “liberal.”

Most properly, the term is “derived from the Latin word liber (free),” referring to “such personal qualities or style of acting and thinking as may be thought worthy of a freeman.”

In this sense, dear reader, I pray that God may make each of the best of liberals, and keep us that way until the dawn of a better day.

In a more derivative, but hardly trivial sense, “Liberalism may also denote a political system or tendency that is opposed to centralization and absolutism.”

Here again, it is our solemn duty to strive every moment of every day not only to think liberal thoughts, but also to act upon them as prudently and vigorously as befits our God given capacities and opportunities.

Finally, and regretfully, there is another sense of the term, weightier for its undue influence on lighter minds than for any gravitas of its own.

With this usage the reader is alas all too familiar. “Since the end of the 18th century,” Cahill observes, “the word Liberalism has been generally applied . . . to denote those tendencies and principles in intellectual, religious, political and economic life, which imply a partial or total emancipation of man from the obligations of the supernatural order and even from the authority of God.”

Readers of this blog will not be shocked to find my attitude to this linguistic variant somewhat less enthusiastic than to its esteemed forebears.

On one point, however, I would dare to quibble with the good reverend. Before proceeding justly to dismantle the unearned veneration in which this last liberalism has come to be held, Cahill warns that “the champions of unchristian Liberalism frequently utilize these [praiseworthy] meanings of the term to confuse issues and obscure the real character of their policy.”

True enough. But more to the point, in the long run, is a principle I would insist is indispensable if we are to reclaim this wayward world for the cause of sanity.

Namely: the imperative of never surrendering good words to bad people, or their evil causes.

In brief, our response to the perversion of a good and vital thing—human freedom and the quest for heavenly glory it makes possible—must be to reject the perversion, and embrace the good it distorts.

Let us therefore resolve to be liberals, in every good sense of the term. And proud thereof, in the benign and ennobling sense of that term—whose defense in these ethereal pages will have to await another day.

4 thoughts on “Being a Good Liberal

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