How to decode the US political terminology

Every time I have to argue politics with people coming from the US I have to internally cringe at the way most political concepts and movements have been distorted and twisted by their fear of Communism. It only becomes worse when people will ask me “but isn’t libertarian socialism an oxymoron?” or automatically conflate Anarchists with simple anti-statists. I end up having to mentally decode what an US American would say and what they really mean in the political language of everyone else. It’s as if their whole political spectrum has taken as a whole a turn to the right, to avoid mentioning (Oh Horror of horrors) “Socialism”.

And since I notice that there’s others encountering the same issues. I decided to make a handy table to make it easy for non-Americans to understand what the US are talking about.

Name of political theory or newspeak as used in the USA.

What everyone else calls it.

Liberal. Social Democrat.
Conservative. Imperialist.
Libertarian. Liberal.
Fiscal Conservative. Corporate Cronyist.
Anarchism. Anti-Statism.
Socialism when used by Liberals (see above). Social Democracy.
Socialism when used by Conservatives (see above). Totalitarian Dictatorship.
Democracy. US American proxy government.
Free Market. Mixed economy with hefty tax cuts and subsidies for the rich.
Fascism. Mixed economy with benefits for the poor.
Terrorist. Anyone who opposes US policy.
Nazi Communist Hippie Liberal Obama
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25 thoughts on “How to decode the US political terminology

  1. An American Libertarian is not a liberal to the rest of the world; it's someone who wants to abolish government entirely so that the rich can be unimpeded by taxes or regulations, or who is stupid enough to think that some minor freedoms resulting from such abolition would be worth letting the rich run roughshod over the majority of the population. (And the difference between an American Libertarian and the mainstream Republican party is that the Republicans don't want to abolish all government, just the parts which provide positive services to the citizenry. They're perfectly happy with funding law enforcement, armed forces, and spies. It's just pesky things like education, health care, and workplace safety that they want to get rid of.)

    An American Libertarian is a sort of right-wing anarchist (with a lower-case "a"), who thinks that if we prevent people from forming societal groups to protect mutual interests — and yes, Libertarian theory denies that such a thing as "society" exists — people with lots of money and power will refrain from screwing everyone else, for reasons which vary. (Ayn Rand — who is the inspiration for many of these screwheads — basically said that the rich would play nice because a bad reputation would prevent rich people from doing business, and that in any case anyone capable of becoming rich must be so brilliant and worthy that there's no chance of anything going wrong. How anyone can believe that despite the daily evidence to the contrary provided by the real world, I don't know. Objectivism — a.k.a. the Cult of Rand — is just as much a religion as any branch of Christianity or Islam, with all that that implies in terms of ignoring the real world.)

    I don't remember EVER seeing a non-American liberal espousing that sort of craziness, or anyone alleging that the Libertarian party was leftish.

    (And, again, other than in the shpiels of right-wing talking heads, who hardly represent the whole of America, nobody seriously uses "fascism" as a name for an economic model; it's kind of obviously a governmental model.)

    1. RE: Liberal and Libertarian. Actually in Europe liberal are exactly like this. If you see the liberal parties in many countries, they have a very similar schedule. True, the classical liberals like Adam Smith were bright enough to figure out the abuses of economic power but they still were preaching for economic freedom but this was because they were living under feudalism, compared to which such a liberty looked far better.

      In short, while I agree with your denounciation of US Libertardianism, it's not as different from the Liberal concept as you think.

    2. (And, again, other than in the shpiels of right-wing talking heads, who hardly represent the whole of America, nobody seriously uses "fascism" as a name for an economic model; it's kind of obviously a governmental model.)

      Eh, my later entries were more or less for comedic effect 🙂

  2. I agree with The Vicar's analysis. U.S. Libertarians combine fascistic economic policies with anti-statism (hence the "market anarchists" as they call themselves, or "minarchists"). Unfortunately, some actually intelligent people follow this ideology, most ironically enough, many of them go to state funded schools (which, in a libertarian world, would not exist). They also stand on sidewalks (paid for by whom, again?) holding signs about how taxes suck.

    Well, whatever. My honest opinion is that libertarianism is going to catch on like wild fire in the coming years, and the U.S. will take a sharp right-turn economically (but left turn in some social aspects). And when that fails…here we are.

    1. Say what you will about libertarians, they're not fascist. Fascism had a mixed economy. Fascism being used as a general insult is stupid.

  3. Anyone can take an ideology to it's extreme for the sake of bashing. It's annoying, ignorant, and typical of shallow people.

  4. isn't "Libertarian." supposed to be neoliberal not plain-old "liberal" ?

  5. This is terrific.

    I am getting to the point where I am longing to become a Canadian more and more each day.

    I don't think the current political insanity would have ever been possible without Faux News.

  6. This is a fantastic list, though, I have to say here in the US, official libertarians are pretty much the teabaggers. They represent the Ayn Rand mentality to a fanatical degree. We call them "Republicans who do drugs".

    Aside from that, I laughed my butt off at your spot on translations! This is a keeper.

  7. This exercise is nothing but tit-for-tat propaganda. Seems to me that political science has devolved to nothing more than hate management. Drawing false distinctions and creating division and controversy with wordplay only serves entrenched interests. All this talk of factions avoids discussion of the principles and procedures necessary for our common advancement. For those of you with incurious minds, go ahead with a label for yourself and others. It's mental shorthand so you can get back to your game show.

    1. So your name is Jim? Are you male? What nationality are you? Ethnicity? Species? What is it you type on? We all use labels, that is how humans communicate with each other. I am female, I see myself as female and tell others that I am female, yet others will make assumptions about me based on my being female that may not be true. What is important is to try to understand the underlying meanings of labels, instead of thumbing your nose at anybody who is "incurious" enough to use them. Have fun in your abstract imaginary world where words don't exist.

  8. People within the US may consider liberals social democrats, but "liberal" is a large term that encompasses yesterday's Republicans all the way to "progressives," which may be more like social democrats. As for true social democrats, they are called evil fascist socialists in the US.

  9. Read "Liberalism, the Classical Tradition," by Ludwig von Mises. A "libertarian" in the US is put into the same vein as what the classical liberals would be called by the rest of the world. They even self-identify as liberal, but with the actions and mindsets of US Libertarians.

  10. American conservative is a synonym for imperialist? Really? I'm about as antiwar as you can get, and even I think that's an unfair generalization. If nothing else, you need to at least define their positions on fiscal and social issues. Even if you think those are imperialist too, that won't be particularly useful to most people (that I've met, anyway) because they're used to thinking of imperialism strictly as a position along the foreign policy axis.

    1. American conservative is a synonym for imperialist?

      For everyone watching the majority of "conservative" views of foreign policy, yes. Your conservatives are quite gun-ho about achieving US interests (i.e. securing Oil)

  11. Torchiest, believe me I do a dig on "Liberals" as well. It's just that the US conservatives have a far bigger comedic value.

    Problem is, you might not consider the definition of the free market as accurate (and neither do I) but unfortunately that is what most US Americans mean when they say it. Therefore it needs "deconding" 😉

  12. I think the real definition of free market economy in this country, is enslavement of the working class

  13. While you are correct in that some Americans do misunderstand political terms, I take issue with the fact that the article seems to imply that all or even most Americans understand politics this way. Yes, some hard-right Americans are so irrationally afraid of communism that they think any political program or opinion that doesn't jive with theirs must be communism (A remnant of the McCarthy and Cold War era, I'm afraid). But what is being described here are voices on the fringe who seem to dominate our political scene, especially when viewed from the perspective of an outside observer. Most Americans are more moderate than this (and are frankly disgusted with politics in general, so the majority is a silent one), but struggle with the dilemma of only being able to choose between our two bitterly opposed political parties .

    And as for the Terrorism bit–The American understanding of terrorism isn't correct (Though there is no official definition of terrorism), but isn't inaccurate in the way you describe. Americans see a terrorist as a non-state actor (important) who resorts to violence to advocate a political cause. State terrorism isn't as much of a realized concept here; I doubt many Americans think Hu Jintao or Ron Paul are terrorists, even though their views disagree with current U.S. foreign policy.

    There are definitely good points to make about the political fallacies present in the minds of many Americans, but it's counter productive and a frankly little insulting to make huge generalizations about what Americans believe and actually want out of their government.

    1. I think you're putting too much serious throught into an article that's supposed to be humorous.

  14. And the difference between an American libertarian party and republican traditional view is that the Republicans do not want to erase the entire state, only the parts that provide good services to merchants.

  15. Today, Northrhine-Westphalia is often considered to be western Germany in geographical terms. When distinguishing between former West Germany and former East Germany as parts of present-day unified Germany, it has become most common to refer to the Alte Bundesländer (old states) and the Neue Bundesländer (new states), although Westdeutschland and Ostdeutschland are still heard as well.

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