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When did the American meaning of “liberal” arrive on these shores? Many of my Facebook friends—admittedly not a cross-section of the British population—define themselves as “liberal,” meaning, I suppose, that they hold the approved views on abortion, gay marriage etc, feel bad about being rich, and do not wave the flag during World Cups. Their use of the L-word does not indicate any suspicion of state power or passion for personal liberty, let alone allegiance to the theories of Friedrich Hayek.

“Liberal” is the most fissiparous of political labels, its meaning varying across both nations and disciplines. An American…

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