"O LIBERTY, WHAT CRIMES--"
In a recent speech, Nicholas Murray Butler referred to the misleading meaning of the terms "liberal" and "conservative". He declared that the former at present is almost synonymous with "destructive" and the latter "constructive", pointing to the devastating wake of "liberalism" in Russia as evidence to prove his case.
Aside from the incessant changes in meaning which words in any living language are constantly undergoing, Dr. Butler's point is significant. It is almost self-evident today that any man who can call himself a "reformer", exhibit "liberal" ideas and evoke a "progressive" platform inevitably finds plenty of people to listen to him. An avowed "conservative" usually commands an audience of himself and row upon row of empty chairs. As a result, people become so afraid of being thought conservative in any way, that they lean backward in an effort to stand straight as out-and-out liberals. In consequence, they resort to every extreme to show themselves in full sympathy with the latest popular movement in every field. Under these circumstances, liberalism tends to become radicalism, reflected in every "latest fad,"--in post-impressionistic renderings of the "Nude Falling Downstairs" or enamelled legs to supplant hosiery. Convention, tradition, anything intellectually respectable or time-tried becomes "old-fashioned" and accordingly hopelessly damned. Every engaged couple do not insist upon having their marriage ceremony performed in the New Jersey surf in non-sinkable diving suits; or even in radio-ized airplanes over New York City where the nuptial kiss may be heard in Niagara Falls. But that anyone should want to do so indicates how far the craze for "liberalism" in its newest sense extends.
In all of this the college man is more prone than anyone else to go to extremes. Feeling that a university education must be essentially broad, and hence liberal, he is inclined,--in his eagerness to be what he considers broadminded,--to glorify any ideas new and different because they vary from the established order of things. Some men frankly admit that they do not want to accept conclusions from the accumulated philosophy and religion of centuries, not because they have found them to be wrong, but purely and simply because they are afraid that such conclusions will make them like everybody else.
For such liberalism as this, in college or out, it is only necessary to emphasize the need of mental balance. Liberalism, Samson-like, in destroying the "shams" of the old conservatism is now destroying itself.