Barack Obama calls himself a “progressive” or “liberal,” and we should take him at his word. He had the distinction of being the most liberal member of the United States Senate when he ran for President in 2008. The title had been conferred by National Journal, an inside-the-Beltway watchdog that annually assigns Senators (and Congressmen) an ideological rank based on their votes on economic, social, and foreign policy issues.

But what does it mean anymore to be a liberal?

Charles R. Kesler reveals the answer in his latest First Principles Essay, “Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism.”

Modern liberalism, he argues, spread across the country in three powerful waves, interrupted by wars and by rather haphazard reactions to its excesses. Each wave of liberalism featured a different aspect of it—call them, for short, political liberalism, economic liberalism, and cultural liberalism—and each deposited on our shores a distinctive type of politics—the politics of progress, the politics of entitlements, and the poli­tics of meaning.

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