Norman Thomas, American socialist leader
The word "Liberal" was hijacked a long time ago and taken away from its original meaning and has now wound up signifying its polar opposite in many cases. This process must have been complete in America by 1953, when Joseph S. Clark, Jr, mayor of Philadelphia, said:
"To lay a ghost at the outset and to dismiss semantics, a liberal is here defined as one who believes in utilizing the full force of government for the advancement of social, political, and economic justice at the municipal, state, national, and international levels."
Clearly, the axiomatic principles of individual liberty, limited government and the Rule of Law have been stripped out and replaced by an adherence to Big Government, the 'solution to everything'.
The question of whether to attempt a rescue of the word has puzzled liberals of the older tradition for a long time. It's like if somebody steals your best suit, rips it up, wears it out, soils themself in it. It is yours, but do you want it back now? F.A. Hayek ponders this question in his essay "Why I am not a conservative", coming to the conclusion that it's not really worth it, but failing to come up with a satisfactory alternative for the philosophy of liberty that he champions.
The answer to the question seems to have become 'libertarian', which, although abused as all political terms invariably are, does represent in the discourse of today the key tenets of liberty as Hayek understood it. Notwithstanding the straw man versions of this political philosophy, which issue forth from ignorant, spiteful leftists from one position and reactionary authoritarians from another - eternally oblivious, it seems, to their essential similarities - libertarianism, with its championing of the individual's ability to take positive action on his own behalf, to raise himself up, rather than sit in his own filth waiting in vain for the government to save him, and with its reverence for common sense rather than theoretical wankery, will always endure.
Still, that old piss-stained suit of ours, 'liberalism', even if we can't wear it again, why should we let those socialist thieves enjoy it? Let us always remind them of where it came from, why they stole it and how it reveals the hypocrisy in everything they espouse.