Belief and Terminology

One of the things I amusing is the way words get mangled between Britain and America. So Americans can write insane things like “Nick Clegg seems to be a centrist, but actually has some good progressive policies…”

The mainstream American left is divided between moderates and progressives (aka liberals). However, the mainstream British left is divided between progressives and socialists (aka Old Labour). Yet British progressives and American progressives have basically the same outlook – i.e. internationalism, environmentalism, moderate wealth redistribution, the rhetoric of positive human rights, technocratic rule, etc etc. In America, this is one end of the political spectrum, but in Britain this is the middle ground. Interestingly, I suspect Blue Dog Democrats would be happier with Old Labour. What determines the political spectrum is not just policy preferences, but policy priorities.

British and American progressives are so similar because the humanities faculties of the world’s major universities are international in outlook. British progressives occupy the centre-ground because they control so much television and radio output, and almost all TV and radio news, via the BBC. This gives them huge power. But interestingly, where there is a free market in news, the progressive newspaper, the Guardian, finds itself on the far left of the spectrum. The middle-ground newspaper is probably the Mail.

Of course, the other word that gets lost in the mid-Atlantic is socialism. I have absolutely no idea what Americans mean by socialism. In fact, I think the word has lost all meaning. Certainly it bears no relation to the policy positions espoused by those who actually call themselves socialists. What makes it particularly funny is that many socialist viewpoints are mainstream in American political discourse, e.g. the closed shop, collective bargaining, etc.

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