The word “liberal” as in “you liberal(s)” has become a way to belittle and defame individuals with what are called “liberal views.” By contrast, being called a “conservative” does not hold as much weight as a disparaging word. “Left wing” may be equally disparaging and “right wing” is equally disparaging from my point of view. Because of these pejoratives, people have looked for other words to describe their political position such as libertarian – “…a belief in liberty (positions on the issues are not “left” or “right” or a combination of the two)” and “…true conservatives tend to be libertarian on economic issues, and true liberals tend to be libertarian on social issues,” (libertarianism.com). Another label used to describe a political position is “moderate” – not excessive or extreme on any issue. In England back in the first half of the 19th century aside from whether you were a Tory or a Whig, “materialist” was the pejorative of the day. A “materialist” was/is used to describe an individual who believes that “physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.” If you openly espoused this blasphemic view you could have been thrown in jail because Anglican Christianity was the law of the land and to speak against it would lead to ruin if you were a member of the gentry.
I’m not sure how I became a “liberal.” This is not to say that I don’t value some conservative positions. Being a geneticist of some sort, I have often wondered if there is a genetic basis governing my liberalism or perhaps my libertarianism… and the same for right-wing conservatives. I doubt that these characteristics are determined by our liver which secretes bile and regulates stasis in our blood … or our musculoskeleton for that matter. Predisposition for either view must be a secretion of the brain and these thoughts seem to be passed down from generation to generation accept when there is intermarriage between two with opposing philosophies. But obviously, acquiring these views may also be epigenetic and developed in early childhood as we learn the views of our parents.
During the final years of their lives I filled in some detail on my parents early life that shows a pattern consistent with my own outlook. My mother and father often talked fondly about Margaret DeSilver and her partner, Carlo, who became close friends when my parents lived in Greenwich Village in the early 1940s. My father, unbeknownst to others, had aspired to be a writer and my mother throughout her life was a talented artist. While travelling through life my parents rubbed shoulders by chance with noteable lumenaries like Margaret DeSilver and Carlo Tresca (I have MD’s letters to my mother), architect Frank Lloyd Wright while he was building the Guggenheim (I have FLW’s notes to my father), Rowayton friend Andy Rooney (gave one of his signed books to Sarah Froehlich) and his colleagues at CBS, Dick Bissell (Pajama Game), Stefan Schnabel (son of Artur, Plain and Fancy, Three Penny Opera, many movies including Eastwood’s Firefox), and numerous artists and writers including those that failed to produce the great American novel like my father and Rowaytonite Boyce Eakin. Even here in Woodstock my parents became good friends with Diane and Rodney Whitaker. I have several letters from Diane after my parents’ passed and I sent her one of my mother’s floral watercolors for safe keeping. Few in Woodstock knew that Rodney was the successful author, whose pen name was Trevanian (Eiger Sanction). Dad would stumble over successful artists here and there like the time he took a taxi in Manhatten and found Margaret Mead’s notebook (corrected) in the back seat .
From Andy Leavitt – The story is this: Dad found a 3 ring spiral notebook. Now what is the most remarkable thing about this is that there were no identifying names or addresses on the notebook, just what that person had written in the notebook. How many of the 8 million New Yorkers would open the notebook and instantly be able to redirect the cab to the New York Museum of Natural History. This is where Margaret Mead had her office. Dad went to the office and they were overjoyed because this notebook contained one of the last chapters of her autobiography (and Mead was not in good health at this time and the book was at the publishers)! They said to Dad, “You know there is a reward for this!!!” and Dad said, “Yes I would like these two books signed by Miss Mead please” (he bought them in the museum bookstore on the way up to her office). The person again said, “Yes but You know there is a reward for this!!!”and Dad was able to make them understand that her signing of the books would be his reward.
Getting back to Margaret and Carlo, Margaret’s former husband Albert DeSilver was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 (you won’t find this in the ACLU page at Wikipedia ; see ACLU.org). In some circles the “ACLU” is a pejorative term. He and Margaret’s wealth funded the early years of the ACLU but Albert was killed by a train in 1925 at the age of 36. So Margaret continued the tradition well into the 1940s and maybe the 50s. By the 60s the ACLU had 80,000 members and now has about 500,000 members according to their website.
In 1925, the ACLU helped fund Clarence Darrow’s defense of Scopes in the “Monkey Trial.” The picture (below) shows Carlo and Margaret in the late 1930s. Carlo was an Italian leftist noted for his opposition to Mussolini. One morning as Dad walked to work at 39th Street from 18th Street, he came upon a curbside crime scene that turned out to be where my parents’ friend, Carlo, had just been assassinated. It is thought that the fascist Italian leadership conspired with the American Mafia to eliminate Carlo Tresca. After that, my parents moved to Rowayton and continued to correspond with Margaret.
Enter the 1950s and life in Rowayton CT, the 6th district of Norwalk. Dad had been elected to the Norwalk Board of Education and then was elected Norwalk City councilman representing the 6th district. He also became Chairman of the Independent Party which elected the mayor of Norwalk for two four-year terms. In the midst of all of this, during the McCarthy hearings, the FBI contacted Dad and asked him to attend the Communist Party meetings held in the neighboring district of Harbor View in South Norwalk. He begrudgingly agreed to attend these meetings. But in fairness, during the first meeting after recognizing some of his constituency, he let it be known how his attendence came about . I am told that he was warmly received and won some votes that night. I filled in some gaps over that last two decades but I was always aware of my parents political views. The Kennedy election was the first presidential election I can remember. Before that I only remember the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in our country of origin, England. I can still remember the poster board on the wall listing the states as we waited for the the electoral votes to come during our excitement about the prospect of a Kennedy presidency. Thus, I was baptized a Democrat.