In his collection of essays, Classical Liberalism and the Austrian School, Ralph Raico writes:
Understandably enough, the current disfavor in which socialism has fallen has spurred what Raimondo Cubeddu (1997:138) refers to as "the frenzy to proclaim oneself a liberal." Many writers today have recourse to the stratagem of "inventing for oneself a 'liberalism' according to one's own tastes" and passing it off as an "evolution" from past ideas. "The superabundance of liberalisms," Cubedda warns, "like that of money, ends up by debasing everything and emptying everything of meaning."
In truth, a survey of the literature on liberalism reveals a condition of conceptual mayhem. One root cause of this is the frequent attempt to accomodate all important political groups that have called themselves "liberal." This is an approach favored by some British scholars in particular, in whose conception of liberalism the doings and sayings of the Bristish Liberal Party of the twentieth century weigh mightily (e.g. Eccleshall 1986: Vincent 1988).
There is no doubt that after around 1900 the Liberal Party in Britain veered increasingly in a statist direction. In the United States a similar transformation took place within the Democratic Party---once "the party of Jefferson and Jackson"--at a somewhat later date. But the shifts, evident also in Continental parties that kept the liberal name, are easily explained by the dynamics of democratic electoral politics.
Faced with the competition of collectivist ideas, liberal parties produced a new breed of "political entrepreneurs," men skilled at mobilizing "rent-seeking" constituencies, i.e., those who use the state to enhance their economic position. In order to gain power, these leaders revised the liberal program to the point where it was "practically indistinguishable from the democratic and social-reformist ideas, ending up by accepting the notion of the state as an instrument for redesigning society to produce particular ends." (Cubedda 1997:26)
This "liberal" transformation is my basic concern. The Democratic Party has been particularly successful in building a coalition of "rent-seeking constituencies" to the point that now around half the nation has developed an unhealthy dependency on interventionist government in a concerted effort to empower, increasingly, the State. As the statists seek to redesign society to produce particular ends, we must ask what ends and whether this is what we have in mind for American governance. I propose that this transformation of the Democratic Party is illiberal and antithetical to liberal principles.
Most modern liberals bristle at the mention of principles, but this is the problem. When modern liberals are confronted, like a chameleon they change colors and hide behind a concocted rationalization that's part of the nuanced pragmatism so popular among the statists who call themselves liberals. Liberalism can't mean whatever the liberal finds convenient at the moment -- this renders liberalism meaningless.