One of the most striking features of cultural discourse today is the inversion of terminology among self-identified "liberals" and "conservatives." It is not just that the vocabulary of our leading "conservatives" is peppered with the grand abstractions ("freedom," "democracy," "progress," "evil"�) always preferred by power-obsessed revolutionaries and ideological zealots. That has been widely noted for some time now. Rather, it is that the terminology historically associated with the conservative impulse has not simply been forgotten or ignored but has been taken up by others--including those who consider themselves progressives or liberals. "Preserve," "save," "conserve," "sustain," "protect" "heritage," "tradition," "community," "place," "decentralized," "permanence," "beauty," "humane"--these former keywords of conservatism have largely migrated to other political quarters.
So that's how the two big lumps are subdivided. Mostly libertarian Republicans preside over a populist-conservative base on the Right, while on the Left, mostly libertarian Democrats preside over a motley crew--everyone from Luddite socialist Greens to what Europeans would call "right-wing social democrats," a teeming mass united by little except, paradoxically, anti-libertarianism.
Modern American conservatism did not take to heart the insights of its most perceptive minds. Those who came to set the tone in the movement as a whole, William F. Buckley Jr. prominent among them, were political intellectuals. It seemed to them that dealing with the moral-spiritual and cultural foundations of civilization was not the most exciting and pressing need. The political intellectuals drew attention and respect away from efforts whose relevance to politics was not immediately obvious. That advanced philosophy and artistic imagination might over time do more than politics to change society did not even occur to most of them. Other than politics, what most interested them was economics. Some paid lip service to philosophy and to what Russell Kirk, following Edmund Burke and Irving Babbitt, called "the moral imagination," but the humanities seemed worthy of little more than a polite nod.
The growing importance of upper middle class professionals, including professors, as a voting bloc means that the terms Left and Right are likely to become even more confused. Today's Left is located not in the economic aspirations of the working class, which is generally culturally conservative, but in what might be described as the New Class of people who make a living by telling others what to think or do. Hostile to middle America, they don't want the proles interfering with their idea of the good life, which now includes the multicultural right to employ a low-cost Latino service/servant class regardless of the larger impact.