Can somebody explain to me why American conservatives use the word "liberal" as a derogatory term for a left-wing person? I look up the word, and none of the definitions fit, it seems it means somebody who is for individual rights. Which is neither left nor right, so far as I know.
TTL helps out:
I hear you. The word "liberalism" has very nearly opposite meanings in Europe and America.
What Europeans call "social democracy" is called "liberalism" in America. And what Europeans call "liberalism" is nowadays called "libertarianism" in America.
Europeans use the word in its original meaning. There is also the expression "classic liberalism" to emphasize that you are talking about liberalism in its original meaning.
It is really confusing since it is the traditional values of the American conservatives/republicans that represent classic liberalism (small government, individual rights, Laissez-faire capitalism), not the left-wingers.
Why did they swap the meaning of the word? I'm not sure. But I understand that modern American liberalism (the left-wingers) really think that their philosophy is some form of refined version of classical liberalism, giving you more liberty, not less. Something like: "Laissez-faire capitalism doesn't work by itself, but if you throw to the mix the right amount of socialism, you get a perfect form of 'liberty'."
And, after the word "liberalism" had been hijacked and perverted this way, the true liberals in American had to come up with a new word for themselves. So they started to call themselves libertarians.
(This post came about because in the Mike post Aniko and I have a discusssion, and we were speaking past each other because we had different definitions of "liberalism".)
Update: here's a video which touches on some of these issues. [only near the end though.] It's also one of the most partisan things I've ever seen. The speakers says that literally everything the (leftist) liberal believes is wrong, because the heart of liberalism is the attempt to abolish discrimination of right and wrong. He has a lot of good examples, but he sees everything in black and white. America is Good by definition, so if you're against America going to war, you're against America and against Good.
I wonder if he'd feel the same way about America if he'd been born in France, Sweden, Uganda, or Borneo. Can you imagine somebody grown up and living in any other country being that fiercely pro-American, pro-everything-American? Of course not, never happens. Which proves that such black/white viewpoints are a product of viewpoint and upbringing. (You'll notice I'm not arguing against America or even conservatism, only against blind partisanism. It's not very bright either to consider America the "Great Satan".)