What Is Liberalism?


Liberalism, or Liberal theory, is an umbrella term that refers to the doctrines of multiple political ideologies. It holds liberty as its core principle. These include classical liberalism, economic liberalism, and social liberalism. However, different schools of thought use the term differently. It has come to describe both left-wing politics and right-wing politics at once. Thus, it’s important to understand exactly what each of these ideologies means before you can properly identify yourself as either a liberal or a conservative.

Define Liberalism:

Despite numerous attempts by politicians and scholars to define liberalism, no universally accepted definition exists. We use terms in both political and academic contexts, with different meanings. In a political context, most liberal parties and politicians around the world describe themselves as being liberal.

However, liberal political parties do not necessarily subscribe to all of the policies associated with liberals in an academic context. For example, many socially conservative politicians will refer to themselves as liberals due to their support for some socially liberal policies. Such as abortion rights or same-sex marriage.

Example of liberalism:

Examples of liberalism include social liberalism, civil liberties, government intervention in private matters, promotion of individual and civil rights, and religious freedom. Liberals generally support a person’s right to choose how they live their life. As long as it does not infringe upon another individual’s rights. They often support same-sex marriage and abortion rights or gun control. Some liberals are also pacifists who believe we should use war for self-defense. And that force should never be used to settle differences between nations.

History of liberalism:

The first use of liberal to mean tending to favor freedom from restraint and change is in 18th-century France. It was applied to supporters of expanded civil liberties and political rights for Catholics. But it was only in 19th-century Germany that a group calling itself liberal opposed anti-democratic elements of that nation’s post-Napoleonic constitution. During his campaign for Parliament in 1830, Whig leader Lord John Russell stated that he advocated enlightened liberalism. He states without this there can be no real progress. About a decade later, Sir Robert Peel established one of Britain’s first modern parties. He named his Conservative Party after those same Whigs and their principles of individual liberty.

The Basics

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as the political orientation of those who favor a political philosophy of civil rights and limited government; individual liberty and equality before the law, but some more specific terms might be helpful here.

Classical liberalism (or liberal humanism) believes in religious freedom, individual liberty, and freedom of speech. All three are pillars of early American democracy. Another term to keep in mind is social liberalism, which espouses policies that regulate or promote equal opportunities for all citizens. Another term is neoliberalism. In political economy theory, it’s globalized capitalism.

Types of Liberals

Classical Liberals believe in individual liberty and limited government. Social Liberalism, on the other hand, is a bit more complex. It is an amalgamation of different ideologies. What Social Liberalism boils down to, however, is advocating for social justice while supporting government intervention and regulations.

In general, Social Liberals take a do-gooder approach by proposing programs that make life easier for those who need it most, such as poor people and oppressed minorities. Of course, not all Liberal viewpoints fall within these two categories. There are also Libertarian/Libertarian-leaning Liberals. They don’t think either of them goes far enough when it comes to protecting individual rights or fostering social change.

Principles behind liberalism

In essence, there are two principles at play: individual freedom and equality. Liberals believe that an individual should have complete freedom in regards to her actions, but within reason; if something damages another’s person or property then it is not acceptable. As for equality, liberals believe that every person has equal opportunity. Regardless of where they were born or what their social status may be. All people should have access to quality education, for example.

Most importantly, liberals acknowledge that everyone is free to his or her own opinions and ideas. It is not up to any government official (or politician) to dictate how an individual thinks or lives his life. Our country’s foundation is upon these principles and most Western countries now embrace these ideas as well.

Historical Liberal Beliefs

The first modern political philosophers who advocated for liberal beliefs were John Locke, a 16th-century Englishman; Baron de Montesquieu, a French citizen; and Thomas Jefferson, an American author. Locke’s philosophy is based on three key tenets: humans are born as blank slates. They have certain rights and liberties by virtue of their creation that can’t be denied them or taken away from them, and all people have an innate ability to reason.

Montesquieu builds on Locke’s philosophy by arguing that government should derive its power from consent—if citizens don’t approve of something their representatives do, they have a right to remove those representatives from office.

Modern Liberals

Not every American liberal is far left. Instead, we recognize liberals by their belief in individual rights (such as free speech), a free-market economy, democratic governance, and a society that’s tolerant of different political views. Liberals believe in equal rights for all people, including women and minorities. But do not be mistaken: many liberals do lean far left when it comes to issues like climate change, tax reform, and health care access. Remember: there’s no correct ideology for identifying as a liberal or conservative—it all depends on your personal values and beliefs.

Are Liberals Socialist, Fascist, Communist, or Capitalist?

Socialism, fascism, communism, and capitalism all have at least one thing in common: They are all forms of political ideologies that favor liberalism. Under capitalism, for example, people are free to pursue their interests. This can lead to activities such as production and trade – which eventually foster competition that tends to improve efficiency. When everyone is free to make his or her own decisions regarding property ownership and labor opportunities – with minimal interference from outside parties – a capitalist society becomes more prosperous for everyone. So yes, liberals can be capitalists — but not all capitalists are liberal (also referred to as classical liberals).

Are All Liberals Far Left?

 A liberal is someone who supports specific personal freedoms, such as abortion rights and gay marriage. Liberals in government also favor the larger government, more stringent regulations on business, and taxes that fund social programs to aid low-income individuals. If you consider yourself a liberal, you likely support an increase in governmental control over big business (and possibly even big unions). You probably believe that tax cuts for the wealthy should be drastically reduced and income taxes for middle-class Americans increased to pay for social programs designed to help lower-income families succeed.

Final verdict:

Liberalism is the belief in progress and especially in the gradual improvement of human conditions; open-mindedness, and tolerance. It is an ideology or disposition that favors principles of individual liberty and egalitarianism – emphasizing freedoms and opportunities for individuals—and often places collective decision-making (political democracy) at odds with social hierarchy and traditional authority.

To promote personal liberties, many liberals have pursued ideas such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from want. Or simply put: A liberal believes in expanding rights whereas a conservative wants to protect them. The primary difference between liberal democrats and conservatives is their approach toward liberty.

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