How did liberalism die in America? It’s actually pretty simple. It happened when the word “liberal” changed from an adjective to a noun.
Liberal used to be an adjective connected primarily—in my experience—to the word “arts”. People who studied the arts and sciences in academia became liberal-minded people, open to accepting different perspectives and cultural ideas. They then engaged in some kind of art or worked in the sciences combining divergent perspectives and ideas into a “work” that got people thinking and looking at themselves and the world in new ways. Having fun with the arts and sciences made people smile and become more tolerant of differences.
Of course, whenever someone is smiling and having fun while making progress, there are other people who feel left out or left behind. It seems these people can’t quite catch the grove or they can’t trust in others who have gifts of insight, so they start regulating the free thinking and burdening others who are having fun, making them feel worthless because they aren’t toiling their lives away making profit for some land-owner.
How did liberal-minded, creative people counter this?
As luck would have it, every now and again a child is born that understands all the concepts of the liberal arts, but they can’t dance the dance. They become known as a “wonk”, and the artists send this wonk away to fight the people who want to kill the liberal arts. So the adjective liberal gets attached to the word “politician”.
In America, the word ‘liberal’ got dislodged from the arts, got attached to the word politician, then a shortcut got created and it became a noun. A static, non-changing person so deeply entrenched in political maneuvering that they no longer do anything related to the arts. And politics—while it may occasionally change people’s minds—it rarely changes people’s hearts.
This happened to the word conservative too, but much, much longer ago.
Imagine a world where one group of people conserved what was good and working while another group of people liberally experimented with new ideas and ways to do things. Wouldn’t that be great?