David "Semi True" Brooks

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David Brooks, "The Progressive Shift", NYT 3/18/2013:

There is a statue outside the Department of Labor of a powerful, rambunctious horse being reined in by an extremely muscular man. This used to be a metaphor for liberalism. The horse was capitalism. The man was government, which was needed sometimes to restrain capitalism’s excesses.

I recently claimed that

David Brooks has an unparalleled ability to shape an intellectually interesting idea into the rhetorical arc of an 800-word op-ed piece. The trouble is, a central part of his genius is choosing the little factoids that perfectly illustrate his points. No doubt he's happy enough to use a true fact if the right one comes to hand, but whenever I've checked, the details have turned out to be somewhere between mischaracterized and invented.

So I thought I'd put in a few minutes today as Mr. Brooks' metaphor-checker. I'll spare you the full "Ask Radio Yerevan" treatment, but here's the gist: Brooks originally wrote that the statue was outside the Department of Labor, and that the horse was capitalism and the man was government; but in fact the statue is outside the Federal Trade Commission, and according to the sculptor, the horse was trade and the man was, well, man. (Or, in these less gendered times, humanity.)

According to "Lantz", The New Yorker (Talk of the Town), 2/26/1942:

You may have read in the newspapers a couple of weeks ago that a young sculptor named Michael Lantz had been awarded a $45,600 commission to do two groups of statuary for the recently completed Federal Trade Commission Building in Washington. [...]

The figures which Lantz will do for the F.T.C. Building will be in two groups — one at each end of the building. In each group will be a man holding in check a powerful workhorse. "Man controls trade," he explains. "Trade is an enormous thing. But man, by his intelligence, controls the horses."

The Smithsonian's page on the sculpture confirms that it is called "Man Controlling Trade". Also, as Timothy Noah in the New Republic notes, and Bill W reminds us in the comments below, Mr. Brooks originally located the statue outside the Department of Labor rather than the Federal Trade Commission — the NYT correction notice reads

So, as expected, the convenient Brooksian factoid is sort of semi-true.

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48 Comments »

  1. Avinor said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 5:43 am

    Had the peculiar American redefinition of "liberalism" to mean "social democracy" come into use in 1942, or did that happen later?

  2. richardelguru said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 6:05 am

    Interesting '"Semi True"' as a two word agnomen, why not hyphenated or run together? Or is that just me.

  3. Pduggie said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 6:30 am

    I think Brooks got this right considering the context. The statue wasn't placed outside of Wall Street or a tycoons house but outside a government office. So the man doing the controlling would obviously be the members of the FTC

    [(myl) But what is being controlled is "trade", not "capitalism"; and arguably the FTC is seen as just one of the means by which humanity uses intelligence to control trade.]

  4. spherical said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 6:41 am

    Capitalism =/= trade. "Semi true" pretty much hits the nail on the head.

  5. spherical said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 6:42 am

    Ninja'd.

  6. Bill W said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 7:01 am

    Semi-true perhaps, except that the column originally began "There is a statue outside the Labor Department . . . " according to this (may be behind a pay wall):

    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112702/david-brooks-doesnt-remember-1950s-very-well

    [(myl) Yes, I noticed that when I first read the column. Unfortunately I didn't get a screenshot before the mistake was fixed. There's a correction notice at the bottom of the column, though:

    ]

  7. great unknown said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 7:17 am

    I see the untrue part. Which is the true part? The first sentence?

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 7:59 am

    But talking about "man control[ling] trade" illuminates the problem in Lantz's own metaphor. "Trade" is not some alien inhuman force or "enormous thing" that is external to humankind – it's a quintessentially human activity that has no real ontological status distinct from the humans engaged in it. It seems entirely plausible to read Lantz's metaphor in context as conceptualizing some humans (those engaged in trade) as powerful-but-not-fully-tamed subhuman animals and other humans (New Deal technocrats engaged in regulating trade) as those taming and directing them. It certainly seems implausible to view the man as symbolizing a corporate CEO using his intelligence to direct a complex commercial enterprise, with the FTC's regulatory authority over that enterprise left offstage.

    I guess at least it's a better metaphor than that deprecated by Thos. Jefferson (recycling a trope that seems to go back at least to 17th century England) when he asserted "that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them."

  9. CuConnacht said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 9:46 am

    Avinor:

    I remember that Eric Goldman, at the beginning of Rendezvous with Destiny, his 1952 history of populism, progressivism, and the New Deal, talks about the introduction of the word "liberal" as a substitute for the discredited "progressive", but alas I don't remember what date he assigns to it. I don't have the impression it was brand-new at the time of writing, so I would guess it was around by 1942. That might be a place to start in trying to pin down the date, anyway.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 10:19 am

    There is also, btw, a very large implicit minor premise here (that I mention primarily because parallel issues arise in linguistics which may or may not have the same solution) that a work of art is properly considered a "metaphor" for X if and only if the artist consciously so intended and/or so explicitly so stated. That does not strike me as an uncontroversial or uncontestable position. I would say in this particular context that it is at least a defensible position that this statue is a "metaphor" for whatever some substantial number of people passing by it (especially if they are employed by the FTC and/or have business with the FTC) over the last X decades have taken it to suggest. I obviously don't know if the perceived meaning as understood over the decades by some relevant interpretive community is consistent with what Brooks says, but it doesn't seem inherently implausible.

  11. grackle said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 10:52 am

    @ J. W. Brewer- If you google "Banker's Heart" the first item displayed is Masayuki Nagare's sculpture "Transcendence" in the plaza of the (former?) Bank of America headquarters in San Francisco. IIRC, the sculpture was so named by the public almost instantly on the occasion of its installation.

  12. Mr Punch said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 10:53 am

    The American definition of "liberal" makes some sense in historical context, as the conservative position in the 1930s was symbolized by the Smoot-Hawley Act which raised tariffs to record levels. "Progressive," in the US, always implies a negative: it once meant "but don't call us radicals" and now means "but don't call us liberals."

  13. Keith M Ellis said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

    "'Progressive,' in the US, always implies a negative: it once meant 'but don't call us radicals' and now means 'but don't call us liberals.'"

    Yes, but those work in opposite directions. Presently, self-identified "progressive" as a contrast to "liberal" indicates a position to the left of "liberal", not to the right, as in your radical/progressive example.

    It is interesting that while "liberal" has been successfully made pejorative by the right, it's also become pejorative to the left. But I don't think that these changes were concurrent — rather, I think the right's attachment of negative connotations to "liberal" was mostly a 70s/80s project, while the left's attachment of negative connotations to "liberal" was a 90s/00s project. You'd almost expect that the latter couldn't follow from the former, as making "liberal" a pejorative arguably should have protected the term's leftist credibility. But that's not what happened.

    Instead, "liberal" is avoided/disliked by almost everyone, except possibly for those slightly left-of-center and older than, say, 45.

    What's also interesting is that because to the right "liberal" practically means "socialist" now, those on the right who are aware that leftists who prefer "progressive" assume that it must signify … communism or something. To them, if "liberal" is already beyond the pale, then "progressive" must be something truly horrific.

    I'm certain that different ideologies will almost always require different interpretations of the terms which represent those various ideologies. Even so, my own personal sense is that there's been a dramatically widening distance between left/right over my adult lifetime with regard to what these terms mean. Now, it's almost as if different groups have their own private versions of the common language.

  14. Svafa said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

    @Keith M Ellis: I'd always thought of "progressive" as less left than "liberal", but that may be due to my knowing people who identify as "progressive" and only hearing about people who are "liberal". Thus attributing negative connotations to "liberal" but not to "progressive"; or rather, fewer negative connotations to "progressive".

    For comparison, I've always thought "liberal" to be the more extreme, similar in position to "fundamentalist", while "progressive" was the still extreme but less stigmatized, similar in position to "conservative".

  15. Seonachan said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

    I don't know whether 60s folksinger Phil Ochs considered himself a "progressive" or some other label, but here is his definition of liberals:

    "10 degrees to the left of center in good times; 10 degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally."

  16. Keith M Ellis said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

    @Svafa: That surprises me, but I can see how you might think that. However, in all my experience among other American progressives, the term has always been used to signify something to the left of "liberal". More precisely, it's because "liberal" is seen by this crowd to be weak tea and effectively centrist.

  17. Jan Freeman said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

    Also: "Reined in" is a perfectly fine metaphor, but perhaps a bit off kilter when applied to a (statuary) horse that has no reins, indeed no bridle.

  18. Mark Dowson said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

    Interpreting sculpture is always risky, so I have a certain amount of sympathy for Brooks in this case. Outside the HQ of the Trade Union Congress in London is a sculpture which (I believe) is intended to show organized labour raising up the downtrodden worker. But I've never to be able to see it as anything other than than capital (or whatever) with an arm raised to strike the final blow.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jill_bain/3917276790/in/photostream/

  19. Chris C. said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 7:08 pm

    but according to the sculptor, the horse was trade and the man was, well, man. (Or, in these less gendered times, humanity.)

    If I had my prescriptivist druthers, we'd use "man" for the name of the species and revert to good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon to distinguish the sexes. Unfortunately, "wer" is now so closely associated with wolves from the sole context where it's still encountered that it's likely to be taken as meaning lupine instead of male. I guess you could make a compound out of it, as was done with "wif". "Werman" could make a reasonable counterpart to "Woman", even if it does sound uncomfortably close to "vermin".

    It just strikes me as odd that we must now resort to a Latin loanword to name our own species without giving offense, when we've had a perfectly good English word all along.

  20. Steve Morrison said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 7:49 pm

    Also: "Reined in" is a perfectly fine metaphor, but perhaps a bit off kilter when applied to a (statuary) horse that has no reins, indeed no bridle.

    So in this case, is it actually better to say "reigned in"?

  21. maidhc said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 8:29 pm

    What Phil Ochs was talking about, and Martin Luther King made the same point, is that during the Civil Rights era there were a lot of people who called themselves liberals and claimed to be in favor of racial integration, but said that it would be disruptive to implement it right now, but it would be great at some indefinite time in the future. This was a period when it was still possible to talk about liberal Republicans, like Rockefeller or George Romney. Richard Nixon referred to himself as a liberal.

    I guess in those days people who were in favor of immediate desegregation were called progressives. I'm not sure exactly.

  22. Garrett Wollman said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 8:48 pm

    I am given to understand, from a magazine article that I read several years ago (i.e., probably about as trustworthy as a David Brooks op-ed) that the divergence came over the issue of relations with the communists: the "liberals" were anti-communist whereas the "progressives" were more accomodationist, if not outright sympathetic, to them. If true, this would have been percolating in the culture by the late 1930s and must have firmly set by the Eisenhower era. Kennedy was considered a liberal by the standards of the day, not a progressive.

  23. Lunatic said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 11:45 pm

    The linguistic drift of "liberal" to take over what "progressive" had meant was largely the result of the efforts of The New Republic and associated thinkers/politicians in roughly 1914-1930. The term "progressive" would occasionally be revived by people who sought to distinguish themselves as further left than "liberals" like JFK, but never moved into wide adoption until the Clinton Administration.

    Note, treating it as a synonym for "social democrat", while not too far off in current policy positions, will tempt the user into the serious serious error of believing that US politics can be discussed in terms of the European political spectrum without producing utter nonsense.

  24. Alex Blaze said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 12:46 am

    I don't think I know of any other person who would refer to any "genius" as belonging to David Brooks. I haven't even met conservatives who think he's that effective as a propagandist.

    Maybe that's because most people don't see a "semi-true factoid" here. We see an out-and-out lie, with a very specific political agenda (the government wants to destroy capitalism!), that an editor should have caught before publication.

    He's writing in the NY Times, not a high school newspaper. Getting stuff like this right should be the bare minimum. That real journalists at the Times put up with him messing up facts consistently – usually several times per column – just shows how tolerant of sloppiness the profession has become, not how smart Brooks is.

  25. Alex Blaze said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 1:36 am

    Ha, funny that I went to read a few of the econ blogs I like and I found Dean Baker isn't a big fan of this specific column (economists in general don't like David Brooks much because he's constitutionally incapable of understanding even the basics of undergraduate econ, and I think it was PZ Myers several years ago who generalized that to "Scientists don't like David Brooks"):

    http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-press/david-brooks-tackles-progressive-caucus-budget-remedial-logic-to-the-rescue

    Perhaps "semi-true" is a good word to describe Brooks, as in the aphorism "The best lie is half-true."

    I'm an econ grad student, from reading this site there's a remarkable similarity between grammar and economics: people think that they can just make things up, without reviewing the empirical work or the advances in theory over the last century, and that they should be believed because it's just all, like, your opinion, man. Except they think that *their* opinion is solid fact that should be imposed on others, and actual scientists in the field are just spouting off their morally/aesthetically inferior opinions because they have no clue what actual empirical work looks like.

    The only difference is that the people who get economics wrong tend to be propagandists instead of pedants because the stakes are measured in dollars. A few people actually from the profession (not that many in the grand scheme of things, but they tend to get high-profile positions easily) participate in the propaganda.

    Not that Brooks is in any way an economist. He can get econ wrong with no formal training in the field. Genius!

  26. Keith M Ellis said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 4:35 am

    @Garrett Wollman, you wrote:

    … the divergence came over the issue of relations with the communists: the "liberals" were anti-communist whereas the "progressives" were more accommodationist, if not outright sympathetic, to them.

    …plus what maidhc said.

    This all seems correct to me and I should clarify my assertion about "progressivism" and the 90s/00s. It fits with your point because what I think changed during that period is that "liberal" became less attractive to those who self-identified as "liberal" (I include myself in this group, which bears on the reliability of my observation) and they began to switch to "progressive". Not because their politics shifted greatly to the left, but to avoid the connotation that "liberal" is equivalent to "centrist".

    And I think that it's because of the end of the Cold War, where "liberals" no longer felt so defensive about any affiliation to socialism and felt the need to disassociate from it. So I think two things were going on prior to that change: that because both the right and the left attached negative connotations to "liberal", liberals felt uncomfortable with it and retained the self-identification primarily to avoid an identification with socialism. When that impetus faded away, then for most of the left-of-center who feel more strongly about leftism, the switch to "progressive" was natural.

    I, myself, never felt much fear of association with socialism. But I did, by the early nineties, began to feel that "liberal" as a self-identification sent a message that I was centrist, which I wasn't. To be sure, I've also continually moved leftward in my politics through my adulthood, so that complicated things.

    @Alex Blaze, you wrote:

    I'm an econ grad student, from reading this site there's a remarkable similarity between grammar and economics: people think that they can just make things up, without reviewing the empirical work or the advances in theory over the last century, and that they should be believed because it's just all, like, your opinion, man. Except they think that *their* opinion is solid fact that should be imposed on others, and actual scientists in the field are just spouting off their morally/aesthetically inferior opinions because they have no clue what actual empirical work looks like.

    This is sadly very true. I think you're particularly onto something here, because in both cases, a large portion (the majority?) don't believe that these things are anything other than artificial and institutional and the only question is what is decided to be normative. Empiricism is either irrelevant or only secondary — it's secondary in the sense of studying details about what happens under some given artificial structure. Or, perhaps, it's of use only as pragmatics, that once you decide on a structure, then studying what happens afterwards might give you insight into more effectively imposing that structure. The point is that neither language or economics is considered by many to be things that have characteristics that are independent of deliberate human invention.

    Coupled with the fact that everyone has language and everyone participates in economic transactions and structures, then most people believe that the nature of these things, and what should be normative about them, can be understood through little more than intuition and introspection. So in both cases, arguments about them often exist primarily within the normative realm and implicitly are just arguments about values, with different groups asserting the primacy of different values. Empirical fact is dismissed when it contradicts these values and utilized when it doesn't. And those who don't share the view of these things as arbitrary human artifacts are on the other side of an intellectual chasm from those who do.

  27. GeorgeW said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 5:10 am

    It is my impression (with no supporting data) that, today in the U.S., progressive = liberal. 'Progressive' is a self description where 'liberal' is used by conservatives who have made the term pejorative.

  28. GeorgeW said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 5:15 am

    @J.W. Brewer: "I would say in this particular context that it is at least a defensible position that this statue is a "metaphor" for whatever some substantial number of people passing by it . . ."

    Except, Brooks doesn't present this as an interpretation, his or a substantial number of people. He asserts it as a fact, implicitly representing the artist's intent.

  29. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 7:48 am

    On further reflection, Brooks says the statue "used to be a metaphor" for X, suggesting that it no longer is. That makes it, I think, clearer that he is invoking a theory of statue-metaphor that can change over time and is thus necessarily not irrevocably governed by the artist's original intent. So that in turn undercuts GeorgeW's claim that he is making an implicit representation as to that intent, since under his implicit theory that intent is simply not what controls what the statue is a metaphor for at any given subsequent point in time. In any event, I think it would be pretty easy via some corpus work to find instances of people saying without qualification "X is a metaphor for Y" where they clearly mean "X struck me as a metaphor for Y" not "I hereby implicitly represent that I have good grounds for believing that whoever did/said X consciously intended it to be interpreted as a metaphor for Y."

    I feel awkward defending Brooks as a general matter, but it seems that one could probably find a half-dozen less defensible Brooks factoids by skimming a few other recent columns.

  30. Marc said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 7:55 am

    Keith M Ellis: "Now, it's almost as if different groups have their own private versions of the common language."

    It's not just private versions of language. Each side has a private caricatured version of the other side's arguments to spit on when talking among themselves, whence "gay agenda," "war on women," and other chimeras.

  31. Mark P said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 10:56 am

    @JW Brewer – I find it odd to mount even a weak defense of Brooks, but it's possible that his interpretation of the meaning of the statue is based on something he read, or heard, or thought he heard in the past. So his mistake (assuming it is one) may be in relying on faulty memory or someone else's mistake rather than simply making something up. Lance Mannion (http://lancemannion.typepad.com) recently blogged about such dangers.

  32. Bill Hovingh said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

    A useful cautionary tale, not only for newspaper columnists, but even more so for pastors and homilists picking out "illustrations" for their sermons.

  33. D.O. said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

    @J.W. Brewer (7:48 a.m.) I think what Mr. Brooks means by "used to be" is that liberals used to fit this metaphor. They were the people who wanted to tame the horse of capitalism. And now the metaphor does not work, because…read the rest of the column. It's quite different from thinking that sculptural horses an men changed they allegorical meaning (for example, if somebody now thought that they stand for the president taming the congress).

  34. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 22, 2013 @ 10:09 am

    My impression is that the American use of "liberal" may have a lot to do with social reforms of the British Liberal Party under Lloyd George in 1909–1911. Sorry, no evidence.

    Keith M Ellis: Instead, "liberal" is avoided/disliked by almost everyone, except possibly for those slightly left-of-center and older than, say, 45.

    Well, that explains it in my case.

    If I weren't so far out of touch with the media that my opinion is worthless, I'd agree with you that "progressive" is more to the left than "liberal" in America.

  35. davep said,

    March 22, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

    Brooks: "This used to be a metaphor for liberalism. The horse was capitalism. The man was government"

    The implication here is that it was a common metaphor (well-known by the society/culture at some point in the past). Was it or did he just make it up?

    He isn't necessarily imputing that the artist intended that metaphor. He might be obliquely suggesting it (but if that's his meaning, he's being rather noncommital allowing for "plausible deniablity").

  36. the other Mark P said,

    March 22, 2013 @ 6:44 pm

    @JW Brewer – I find it odd to mount even a weak defense of Brooks, but it's possible that his interpretation of the meaning of the statue is based on something he read, or heard, or thought he heard in the past.

    That's not a "weak defence", it's a serious indictment!

    If true – that his anecdote is based on unchecked nonsense he heard somewhere else – then he deserves all the ridicule we can muster. Journalists cannot avoid bias, but they can at least get the basic facts straight, by not relying on second and third hand information.

    I suspect that he makes stuff up, when it suits his purposes. Because he is a propagandist, not a journalist.

  37. Steve Harris said,

    March 22, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

    My understanding has always been that liberal means "accepting of others"–hence, inclined to be supportive, rather than denigrative of the poor, racial minorities, sexual minorities, etc.; while "progressive" means "advocating the use of government for improving the lot of the poor, reshaping society according to ideas considered 'enlightened', and so on".

    I'm moderately left of center, early 60s. I never participated in the denigration of "liberal", never understood how self-respecting left-of-center-ites could imagine it was a term to be avoided. My memory of the periods suggests it was Reaganism that claimed "liberal" to be a pejorative label, but that ought to have been attributable solely to Reagan winning two elections. Somehow, though, it managed to persist; I've never understood that.

  38. JefS said,

    March 22, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

    If struggling to muscularly control "trade" doesn't refer to trying to keep in check the whims of the invisible hand of the market (i.e. unrestrained capitalism) then I don't know what else it would be referring to. And surely "man" refers to "government" given that in a government "of the people, by the people and for the people" — that is, a "democracy" (demos=people) — government is precisely the way that the people band together to control things that are bigger than them (such as market forces). So in this case Brooks's analysis seems spot on, and in fact it's hard to see what other interpretation is even being suggested: how does "man" control "trade" if not via government, and what does "trade" refer to in our society if not capitalism?

    [(myl) Merriam-Webster glosses trade (in the relevant sense) as "the business of buying and selling or bartering commodities"; American Heritage as "The business of buying and selling commodities, products, or services". Trade in this sense exists in nearly all societies, regardless of their economic system. The Mediterranean city-states of 3,000 years ago had trade; the Roman empire had trade; medieval Europe had trade; Stalinist Russia had trade. And all of these societies tried in various ways to control trade, via courts, guilds, bureaucracies, border guards, and so on.

    Merriam-Webster defines capitalism as "an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market"; American Heritage gives "An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development occurs through the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market."

    So, in answer to your first question: How does "man" control "trade" if not through government? Through guilds, trade associations, and ratings agencies; through exchanges and other market organizations; and through policies, laws, and contracts, which may be enforced by non-governmental arbitration as well as by various government-controlled legal systems. It's true and relevant that the Federal Trade Commission is an initiative of the U.S. Federal Government to regulate (certain kinds of) trade -- but the statue clearly means to place this in a more abstract frame.

    And in answer to your second question -- What does "trade" refer to in our society if not capitalism? -- I can only quote the definition of the words, "the business of buying and selling or bartering commodities", as opposed to "an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market".

    The Federal Trade Commission concerns itself specifically with regulation of (certain aspects of) the former, and not at all with other sorts of regulation of the latter.]

  39. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 24, 2013 @ 11:26 pm

    MYL: I agree with your first answer, and I'll add another example: trade can be controlled by custom and peer pressure, as in the infamous "gentlemen's agreements" and "redlining".

    I'm not sure I agree with your second answer. Capitalism is based on a free market, that is, free trade (and a lot of investment is trade of one kind or another). So I'd say controlling capitalism requires controlling trade, and in a capitalist country, controlling trade means controlling capitalism.

    If trade is controlled, is the system still capitalism? That's where M-W's well-advised "mainly" comes in.

    [(myl) But the Federal Trade Commission doesn't get to do what the SEC does, nor what the FAA does, nor what the NLRB does, nor what the various state insurance regulation agencies do, nor what local zoning boards and building inspectors and boards of health do, nor etc. and etc.]

  40. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 25, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

    True, but as far as I can tell (from Wikipedia), it does have some control over everybody's advertising and other customer-relations practices that may be deceptive, and everybody's mergers and other actions that may be anti-competitive. So to the extent that the FTC controls trade (or "commerce", as the FTC Act apparently puts it), I don't see that it controls capitalism to much less of an extent.

    Also, I suspect that the artist was thinking in general terms (as witness "man" rather than "the government") rather than considering the FTC's exact scope. For instance, if Congress had given the FTC the power to regulate insurance and the financial markets while Lantz was working on the sculptures, I don't think he'd have felt a need to change or rename them.

    However, since the sculpture has a name, Brooks still should have used Lantz's word "trade" and explained that it meant free economic activity.

    [(myl) Also keep in mind that the version of the column that first appeared placed the statue in front of the Labor Department rather than the FTC building. My point is not to pick nicks about statuary names or the associated metaphors, but to observe that Brooks' well-chosen and beautifully placed "facts" are often true only in the Ask Radio Yerevan sense.]

  41. Kylopod said,

    March 28, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

    The rise of the term "progressive" on the American left is something I only started noticing in the past 10-15 years. Not long ago I checked Google Books and Google News and found that the evidence supported my intuition: "progressive" as a term for the left wing of the Democratic Party, or more broadly the leftmost portion of the American political spectrum, basically only came into broad usage at the beginning of the 21st century. While it wasn't unheard of before, it had for a long time vied with other definitions: for example, in the mid-1980s the centrist Democratic Leadership Council named its think tank the Progressive Policy Institute. My guess is that the DLC were attempting to evoke something close to the bipartisan, reform-oriented "progressivism" of a figure like Teddy Roosevelt.

    I don't agree that conservatives' use of "liberal" as a term of abuse was separate from liberals' rejection of the term. I think it was entirely connected. Conservatives basically won the semantic battle, rendering "liberal" a pejorative expression among the public at large. The 2000s saw a resurgence of the left that had been suppressed over the previous decade, concurrent with the rise of Clinton and the DLC, and I think the adoption of the term "progressive" by the new activists (many of whom were quite young) was meant to signal a break from the recent past and from the liberal establishment.

  42. Keith M Ellis said,

    March 28, 2013 @ 9:51 pm

    "I don't agree that conservatives' use of "liberal" as a term of abuse was separate from liberals' rejection of the term. I think it was entirely connected."

    I completely agree that it's connected. My argument was that the right and left changes were not concurrent, the negative connotations of liberal were largely a Reagan era thing, while (as you say) the retreat on the left from liberal to progressive has been a Bush/Obama era thing. With the Clinton era straddling the two.

    And I think you're quite right to see something about the Clinton era's centrism as the connecting factor. Even though the right's tarnishing of liberal from the 80s onward did affect how the center and center-left (and perhaps the left in general, less so) understood the word's connotations, I think that had the Democratic Party not moved rightward with Clinton and the DLC, that there would have been a continued fight by the left to defend the word. But your last sentence is spot-on, I think.

  43. Kylopod said,

    March 29, 2013 @ 10:06 am

    I think the real question is how much the change was influenced by the right's attacks and how much by the association of "liberal" with bland centrism. On the surface, those two factors would seem to work against each other, since the right was using "liberal" to suggest extremism, not moderation.

    In any case, my sense is that the pejorative sense of "liberal" was already underway by the time the right took it up. Consider, for example, the following sentence from Roger Ebert's 1972 review of the movie Sounder:

    "It is, I suppose, a "liberal" film, and that has come to be a bad word in these times when liberalism is supposed to stand for compromise–for good intentions but no action."

    In the 1970s, "liberal" was coming to be treated less like a political orientation than like a character type, describing an overzealous do-gooder who may even be a bit of a hypocrite and patronizing snob–someone very much like the character of Meathead from All in the Family. When the right began using the word pejoratively, they were in part seizing on that stereotype. Of course there is a difference between the trait of "good intentions but no action" and the right's more malevolent view of liberals. But the image of the excessive do-gooder–and above all the connotation of weakness–prevailed.

    What seems to have happened in the 2000s was a kind of grassroots (or "netroots") revolt by the left against the Democratic establishment, much of it centered on the establishment's initial support for the Iraq War. I think the new progressives rejected "liberal" in part because they associated it with compromise and moderation, but I also think they wanted to free themselves from the influence of conservative frames.

    Some conservatives have been trying to catch up with this strategy, as in Glenn Beck's attempts to link the new progressives with the evils of TR and Woodrow Wilson. But I doubt they'll be able to turn "progressive" into a dirty word the way they did with "liberal"–partly because they've grown too insulated from the mainstream to reach beyond their narrow audience, and in any case, "progressive" just doesn't have those same connotations to begin with.

  44. Mark Dowson said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

    Pity about "socialist" a good old fashioned term for someone who believes (unlike Margaret Thatcher) that there is something called society, and that it matters more than naked self-interest. But (at least in the US) self-identifying as a socialist seems to have become indistinguishable from advocating satanism.

  45. Kylopod said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

    a good old fashioned term for someone who believes…that there is something called society, and that it matters more than naked self-interest

    Actually, socialism means collective ownership of the means of production. Your definition is not only completely nonstandard, it's so broad it renders the concept meaningless, and indeed would apply to most conservatives in the U.S. or anywhere else. Ironically, you're making the same mistake conservatives who invoke "socialism" as a boogeyman make, only in reverse.

  46. Mark Dowson said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

    Oh dear! Now (according to Kylopod) I'm a collectivist. Of course, I'm aware that there are many varieties of socialism, some more palatable than others. As usual, the OED is helpful:

    Socialism
    1. The theory of social organization under the social contract

    glossing it with:

    Now also: any of various systems of liberal social democracy which retain a commitment to social justice and social reform, or feature some degree of state intervention in the running of the economy.

    I'm all for that – and don't think that I could be mistaken for a (US) conservative thereby.

  47. John Emerson said,

    April 8, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

    Haven't read the entire thread, but my belief is that by including "Freedom from Want" in the Four Freedoms (1941) FDR defined a weak kind of welfare state as liberal. This is not as misleading as it might seem since John Stewart Mill is generally regarded as a liberal, and he had somewhat welfarist views. But most classical liberals tended toward the law of the jungle.

    Whoever said that The New Republic worked to substitute "liberal" for "progressive" was probably right. The original Progressives were distinguished both from party regulars of the two parties and from Populists, but as time went on many became populistic. As far as I can tell Progressivism is a bag of somewhat similar particulars: Teddy Roosevelt Progressives, LaFollette Progressives in Wisconsin (and nationally in 1924), the socalled "prairie Progressives 1920-1940 (many of whom were quite radical, e.g. the MN Farmer Labor Party), the 1948 Progressives (anti-Cold War). In the 1968 McCarthy campaign I met an old Red who used "progressive" as a code for left-liberal / pink.

  48. John Emerson said,

    April 8, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

    "Liberal" has come to mean "passive" or "weak" or "infinitely tolerant". This is partly because of conservative attacks, but also reflects the disappointments of some "liberals" in the weakness of their liberal representatives in politics.

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