‘limousine liberal’: meaning and early occurrences

Aided by the alliteration in li-, the derogatory U.S. phrase limousine liberal denotes a person who espouses socialist ideals while enjoying a wealthy lifestyle.—Cf. champagne socialist and parlour socialist.

The noun limousine denotes a luxury motor car with a compartment for the passengers and a separate compartment for the driver.

These are the earliest occurrences of the phrase limousine liberal that I have found, in chronological order:

1-: From the following article, published in the New York Tribune (New York City, New York) of Monday 5th May 1919—this text also contains the synonymous phrases parlor socialist, boudoir Bolshevik and basement Bolshevik:

Basement, Parlor and Boudoir

The traditional phrase “parlor socialist” has an honorable past and will have a useful future. But we rise to suggest that times have changed and that new occasions require new definitions and fresh terminology.
When the parlor division of socialist formed in line it was exactly what the phrase connoted. It was bourgeois and college settlementish, with a Burne-Jones on the wall and “The Evening Post” at the supper table. It was intensely respectable and quite utterly ordinary by “Vanity Fair” standards.
Since Lenine and Trotzky burned up Russia to roast their pig, an entirely new spirit has entered our radical circles. Or if the spirit is not new it has certainly eaten its way into strange and unexpected quarters. It has burrowed downward; and it has, emerging from its chrysalis, flown upward. In Greenwich Village it has occupied basements; displaying its gay colors debonairly to the higher regions, it has perched in more boudoirs than there are editors of radical magazines—which is a very high percentage. Perhaps boudoirs is not the current word; or, perhaps, even, boudoirs no longer exist. But the boudoir Bolshevik is a marked and settled type, none the less, and those who would be realistic had best remember that truth is not a thing of fashions or of fact, but of ancient and historic tradition.
The history of the basement Bolshevik is simple and obvious. All of Greenwich Village spends its entire time looking for such nonsense to sip. Only just so many triangles can be described weekly, and between episodes one must drag out the hours with something. Naturally, the soviet first hung up its hat at Sheridan Square. But that was nothing to brag of, and the eager young adventurer soon sought more exclusive worlds to conquer. It found them. Perfectly attractive homes in the East Fifties and Sixties, and so on up, subscribed to the radical weeklies and began to attend luncheons dedicated to the Trotzkyfication of mankind and the general sovietment of us all.
The motive here is not at all clear. Perhaps Professor Freud, in his more genial moods, could explain. Why should a prosperous aristocrat enjoy contemplating, nay advocating, the casting of her rope of pearls before the proletariat? Of course, she is not called upon actually to cast anything clear away—beyond her subscription to her radical weeklies and the endowment of sundry peace societies. The carnage and revolution are all in her eye. But they are there, and she toys with them and is remotely satisfied by their touch. She has an editor or so in to luncheon, and lives with them through positively earth shaking days. After which she sends them home in her motor.
“Limousine liberals” is another phrase that has been attached to these comfortable nibblers at anarchy. But it seems to us too bourgeois. It may do as a subdivision of our higher priced Bolsheviki. It is too ephemeral and extensive to demark accurately those blood-red boudoir revolutionaries who will try anything that does not interfere with breakfast in bed.

2-: From South Resents Interference With Negroes, published in The Dallas Express (Dallas, Texas) of Saturday 24th May 1919—this text also contains the synonymous phrase parlor Bolshevik:

By L. T. Leech in Dallas Dispatch.
Washington, May 16.—Many southern Democrats are beginning to voice displeasure here at administration intermeddling with the negro question. These offenders are mainly understrappers of the Labor Department or the recently disbanded Creel bureau, and all these persons are of the lunatic fringe which the Democratic party has attached to itself throughout the North or placed in office in the effort to coddle and conciliate the “radical” element.
The number of limousine liberals and parlor Bolsheviki now holding office at Washington is very large and very irritating to the southern wing of the party, which has to bear all the odium of its supposed domination and at the same time stand for the radical stunts of its northern faction—to the disgust of its southern constituency.

3-: From the following letter, published in the Nashville Banner (Nashville, Tennessee) of Wednesday 14th October 1953:


To the Editor of The Banner:
For a number of years I have heard or read that this or that person in our country is an outstanding Internationalist. What the – – – – is an Internationalist?
I have put this question to a number of Pseudo-Intellectuals and Limousine Liberals. They look baffled, confused, and shoot out a few pathetic platitudes, having little or no meaning. Why is it our country seems to have a corner on international Globats? We produce them at the drop of a hat (silk hat).
Have you ever heard of a Frenchman or Britisher referred to as an outstanding Internationalist? Not on your life. Far from it. They are Nationalists. Make no mistake.
The British Empire has produced the greatest Nationalist of our time. I have great admiration for him. His name: Winston Churchill. He is for the Empire first, last and always. Let us hope that in our country we can produce his counterpart in the near future. We know what a Nationalist is. The $64 question: WHAT IS AN INTERNATIONALIST? Let’s have it.
Pendleton Turner
Washington, D. C.

4-: From a letter published in the Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) of Saturday 12th December 1953—the phrase did not occur in the editorial of Sunday 6th December 1953:

Chicago, Dec. 7—Your editorial of Dec. 6, “Look Who’s Talking,” describes most accurately the mentality of the professional do-gooders and limousine liberals who prattle and whine about tolerance and understanding while bashing out the brains of those who disagree with them.

5-: From a letter published in The San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas) of Monday 12th July 1954—its author, Pendleton Turner, had already written the above-quoted letter published in the Nashville Banner (Nashville, Tennessee) of Wednesday 14th October 1953:

Editor, The Light:
For the past 20 years in our country, we have produced a strange type of people. For a better name, I call them “Limousine Liberals.” Our city streets are rolling with them; they predominate at gatherings and riots described in the Sunday editions as “cocktail parties.”
At the present time they are in a state of anguish. They gather in groups holding forth in regard to the cruel treatment meted out to their friends, Willie and Percy, by those disgusting committees of congress investigating infiltration of Communists into our government.
It seems that Willie and Percy, while holding high positions in our government, played footsie with the Commies, joined a number of front organizations, became known as outstanding liberal intellectuals, attended little study groups and intimate dinner parties, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., and gave themselves one h— of a big time. Now someone in congress has stepped on one of their pink toes, wants to know how come, and a howl goes up from the “Limousine Liberals.”
Now Willie and Percy are not dumb clucks. They tell you this when they hang out their sign: That Phi Beta Kappa dangling on their bellies. They undoubtedly figured come the revolution they would ride into Washington as commissars while I remain one of the proletariat. Nuts!! A gift from me to you: You can have them—all of them. Take over!


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