Eleanor Roosevelt Liberal

Posted in Library of Congress, The English Language, Undogegorized by chamblee54 on April 15, 2021

Eleanor Roosevelt has become the focus of a facebook meme. A flattering portrait illustrates a quote about “liberal.” Here is the text: “Long ago, there was a noble word, liberal, which derives from the word free. Now a strange thing happened to that word. A man named Hitler made it a term of abuse, a matter of suspicion, because those who were not with him were against him, and liberals had no use for Hitler. And then another man named McCarthy cast the same opprobrium on the word … We must cherish and honor the word free or it will cease to apply to us.”

“Did Eleanor Roosevelt Say This About the Word ‘Liberal’?” Apparently, she did. The text appears in Tomorrow Is Now. The book is the last word of Mrs. Roosevelt, who died November 7, 1962. Tomorrow Is Now was published in 1963.

The l-word has had a wild time in the last 58 years. In the sixties, it essentially meant someone who supported civil rights. Liberal came to be a favored insult of many conservatives, a role that continues to this day. As with many english words, liberal continues to evolve. Today a popular phrase is “classical liberal,” which means something to people who say it. It is safe to assume that Mrs. Roosevelt had a different concept of what liberal means, than many people today.

Merriam-Webster has several definitions for liberal, some of which are not related to political ideology. The etymology: “Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin liberalis suitable for a freeman, generous, from liber free; perhaps akin to Old English lēodan to grow, Greek eleutheros free.” This compares to the etymology for liberty: “Middle English, from Anglo-French liberté, from Latin libertat-, libertas, from liber free — more at liberal.” As for Mrs. Roosevelt’s claim that liberal is the same as free … she appears to be taking *liberties* in her use of language.

A red flag is dragging Adolph Hitler into the quarrel. Hitler comparisons are an easy gimmick for cheap rhetoric. Mr. Hitler spoke in German. Der Liberale probably has different implications than the American term liberal. A google search for “did Hitler say liberal” did not yield helpful results.

Wikiquotes did have 2 direct quotes of Hitler using the l-word. “… We might have called ourselves the Liberal Party. We chose to call ourselves the National Socialists. … ” Interview with George Sylvester Viereck, 1923 … “The main plank in the National Socialist program is to abolish the liberalistic concept of the individual and the Marxist concept of humanity and to substitute therefore the folk community.” Speech in the German Reichstag (January 30, 1937). Neither of these quotes is the type of Republican rhetoric so familiar to modern Americans.

Citing Joe McCarthy is ironic in 2021 America. Today, one danger to freedom is social justice jihad. An insistence on ideological purity is ever present in the “woke” landscape. Radical anti-racism is plausibly considered to be the new McCarthyism. A “classical liberal” is open to a discussion of ideas, rather that condemning people for having incorrect opinions. One wonders if Eleanor Roosevelt would be considered liberal today.

Pictures today are from The Library of Congress. The men pictured are Confederate soldiers, from The War Between the States.

One Response

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  1. Move Out Of Georgia | Chamblee54 said, on April 19, 2021 at 7:36 am

    […] documents that explain what happened ~ Eleanor Roosevelt stars in a facebook meme about the word liberal. The l-word is not the same today as it was in 1962, when the quote was written. ~ @chamblee54 […]

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