Seeing the words socialism, liberals and fascists in letters to the editor irritates me. They irritate me because the way they are used is incorrect in their historic context.
Labeling people by using these terms puts individuals into boxes and diminishes their humanity—making them something less than human. Labeling someone by using these terms turns the object of these attacks into two-dimensional caricatures, rather than the complex humans we all are.
As a high school social studies teacher I often had to deal with this labeling issue when I taught the political spectrum to my students; the political spectrum refers to a range of political ideas from different parties. I’d like to explain these three terms from a social science perspective.
All societies have to deal with balancing competing values: what’s good for the individual versus what’s good for society, i.e. socialism. Healthy societies are those that allow for both individualism and socialism.
Unions were formed to fight the abuses of big business. The legalization of unions eventually evened the playing field. Unions helped to raise wages for all workers, creating a large, stable, middle class.
Because of socialistic laws we now have state and federal highways, public schools, police and fire departments, Social Security and Medicare. For most Americans, these “socialistic” programs are popular and accepted because they give to society what individuals cannot do for themselves.
On the negative side, unions can be selfish and grasping, driving some companies out of business and raising costs. Communism—a more extreme form of socialism—controlled society too much in the Soviet Union and took away freedom and incentives to produce, eventually causing the collapse of the nation in 1991.
Liberals are those who want to bring improvement for the masses – to lift them from their oppression by the wealthy. In that sense Jesus Christ was a liberal, as were Republican presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft, and Democratic presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. Modern usage of the word has twisted its meaning into slur.
That’s why those who are liberals now call themselves progressives, reminding people of the good they did the nation in the early 20th century when industrial monopolies like Standard Oil and the railroad trusts were controlling the nation’s economy and government. It was a time where workers slaved 70 to 80 hours a week in hazardous working conditions for pennies per hour. It was an era when children as young as 5 worked in factories and mines. Progressive newspaper journalists—“muckrakers,” as Teddy Roosevelt called them—revealed these evils to the public, causing laws to be passed that ended or limited these abuses.
Liberal policies also stifle business and encourage people to rely upon the government rather than themselves, creating higher taxes and excessive government controls on freedom.
This term came out of Italy in the 1920s and Germany and Japan in the 1930s. It is a system of government where right wing dictators like Hitler, Mussolini or Tojo ruled with the support of the big industrialists in capitalistic states. This system of government was very aggressive and bullying and brought about World War II. Calling someone a fascist means that person supports a right wing military dictatorship supported by big business.
In conclusion, using these emotional words in letters to the editor is a misunderstanding and misuse of the true meaning of the words. They are being used as shorthand for evil, where, historically speaking, their meanings are entirely different. My response to such words is to figure that people who use them as epithets really do not understand their origins or their true meanings.