A couple of weeks ago, I mused that I ought to write a post outlining the difference between Liberals and Leftists, at least as I use the terms. I'm not sure when I began separating the two in my mind, but somewhere along the line, I started. The "nutshell definition" is that "leftists" are the hard-core statists amongst liberals, and that is true, I think, as far as it goes, but I thought I'd try to draw the difference a little more starkly.
First, it might be helpful for you to read my definition of liberal. And please bear in mind that I'm not proposing these as universal definitions, this is simply how I think of things in my own writing.
Now, the difference...
It's not their positions, per se. Often a liberal and a leftist look alike in terms of their positions, and often, even in their argumentation. The people I refer to as "liberals," I think, generally mean well. I may find their thinking frequently confused, occasionally idiotic, and often annoying. I may find their overall attitude and sense of condescending superiority aggravating. I may find their stubborn refusal to come to grips with certain elements of reality almost maddening. But I am convinced that, at bottom, where the rubber meets the road, if I can grab one by the ears and make him look at the real-world results of what he so blithely tosses off the top of his head as potential policy, he just might back off of it. He just might, for example, after watching Kim Jong Il's people peel the bark off trees in order to have something to eat, be prepared to say that there is something wrong with statism--at least that much statism.
I run into people like this. People who--just for example--really, honestly, back abortion rights because they really, honestly believe that at some stages of development, that fetus isn't really human. For purposes of this discussion, it really doesn't matter that I think they're wrong. What matters is that that really is what they think. When you take a person like that and butt him up against the reality of partial-birth abortion, he gets this really funny look on his face, a look that clearly says, "I never really expected it to go this far." He may not immediately act on his realization that something's gone hideously wrong. He may file it away in the part of his brain that houses the things he'd rather not think about, or he may want to chew it over for a while to see if he's missed something, but you can tell you've rattled him. There's something there to rattle.
Leftists aren't like this. Each may have a different reason for being the way he is--one may have a never-ending thirst for something as banal as telling other people what to do, one may be acting out some sort of grudge against people of whom he's jealous, one--say, you remember The Dark Knight? Remember Alfred telling Bruce Wayne this?
Some leftists are like that. But whatever the reason, leftists don't have that "stopping point" that liberals do. There is no boundary they won't exceed, nothing they won't, given the opportunity, do. They are the Robespierres and Stalins on the left side of the political spectrum, not guilty of mass murder only because the political scene hasn't yet reached the point where it is expedient. These are the people who, thirty years ago, screamed about the coming ice age and now, with equal facility, scream about anthropogenic global warming, screaming not because they genuinely want to save the planet, but because the whole concept of catastrophic climate change is simply a political weapon, something to use against their enemies in their never-ending quest. I am convinced that often, the leftist knows perfectly well that what he's proposing won't have the effect he ostensibly wants it to have, and he just doesn't give a flying Mongolian etcetera-and-so-forth. He just doesn't want you to know that it won't work.
Leftists cloak themselves in the good intentions of liberalism, but they have a much darker vision, sometimes, perhaps, not even quite understood by themselves. They will, bit by bit, completely destroy a society, look upon the rubble, and say, "I find it good."
What scares me is how many of these people there are, and how they so clearly seem to be driving the train for the Democratic Party.