Liberalism means running the government to promote individual liberty and freedom, along with providing social programs, notably a Welfare state to promote economic
equality opportunity and economic security. Therefore, it's what works best. Many different theories and ideas are included in liberalism, but Liberalism accepts change as inevitable, and we do not expect that tomorrow's liberal government will be the same as today's any more than today's is the same as yesterdays. In the United States, any number of Social democrat ideas such as Universal health care is considered liberal
What is a Liberal Government?
"That Government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common Benefit and Security of the People, Nation, or Community. Of all the various Modes and Forms of Government, that is best, which is capable of producing the greatest Degree of Happiness and Safety, and is most effectually secured against the Danger of mal-administration. And that whenever any Government shall be found inadequate, or contrary to these Purposes, a Majority of the Community had an indubitable, inalienable and indefeasible Right to reform, alter or abolish it, in such Manner as shall be judged most conducive to the Public Weal."
George Mason IV, first draft Virginia Declaration of Rights, May 1776
What is liberalism?
A liberal society is characterized by freedom of thought for individuals, limitations on power, the rule of Law, the free exchange of ideas, a market Economy with moderate state intervention to protect the weak from the strong, protection of the environment, and equality under the law. Liberalism seeks to minimize the harm caused by the worst aspects of Capitalism. It holds that the system of government should be transparent and the rights of all citizens should be protected. It holds that the right to the pursuit of happiness is a right held by both rich and poor. In the 21st Century, this usually translates to a liberal Democracy with open and fair elections, where all citizens have equal rights by law.
What Liberalism isn't
Liberalism isn't Static. This is one of the most confusing aspects of Liberalism. Liberals change and grow: Liberals adapt and evolve. When Liberals stop being pragmatic and receptive to change or demand rigid compliance to accepted norms, they become Conservatives. We modern Liberals might look at historical Liberals and believe they were conservative. If we do that, we're wrong. Past Liberals had to live within their society, and still work to bring the incremental changes (reforms) which have made Modern Liberalism possible. If we look at the Liberals in very conservative societies today, we may believe them to be conservative. Again, we're wrong to think that. Liberalism and conservatism should be viewed in the context of era and culture.
Liberalism versus Libertarianism
Liberalism and libertarianism are sometimes confused but are fundamentally different in many ways. Libertarianism is all too often a hypocritical pretense of freedom while in reality the powerful are free to oppress the weak. Liberalism and libertarianism nevertheless reflect two things: individual rights and theoretical equality of opportunity. In practice, the freedoms associated with libertarianism become warped and create a very unequal and unbalanced society. In a libertarian society, the opportunities for the younger generation depend heavily upon the economic status of the older generation. As the wealthy elite are allowed to take in even more wealth and power, the opportunity to move up the economic ladder and share in that wealth greatly diminishes.
In practice, Liberals try to balance supporting the rights of the individual against the collective will of society. Liberals tend to see this "individual v. collective" opposition in both society and the market, and as necessary and good. Liberals may see the extension of collective power into the marketplace as sometimes expedient, but always dangerous to individual market rights. Libertarians, on the other hand, tend to ignore the effect of "collectivization of capital interests" in the market.
Under libertarianism, ordinary people and Poor people don't have the resources to fight back against powerful individuals or the corporations they control who oppress them, for example offering poorly paid jobs under bad working conditions. Libertarians also oppose welfare payments making it harder for workers to give up bad jobs and look for something better.
- Main article: History of liberalism
Liberalism has its roots in the Western Age of Enlightenment and was seen as a reaction to assumptions and tradition, such as the Divine Right of kings which were the basis of most earlier theories of government. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were important early Liberal thinkers.
Can Liberals be conservative?
As silly as this may sound to some of us, it's actually a very fair question. Much effort has been devoted recently to defining the political spectrum from liberal to conservative. In terms of rights, the spectrum of liberal to conservative makes some sense. In terms of governments or economic systems, it makes no sense at all.
So, back to the question, can liberals be conservative? Undoubtedly!
- Most liberals believe in the ideals of universal Human rights, Representative government, the citizen as a stakeholder in the Country, and progress towards these goals.
- Liberals disagree on both how to achieve these goals and the rate at which that progress should take place, with the more conservative liberals desiring slower change. Even some fairly Progressive liberals believe that some changes should happen rather slowly to create a moderate reaction of markets.
- Liberals generally agree that a limited government is best, but disagree on the amount that the government should intrude into the market in order to protect the market, individuals, or common property, with the more conservative liberals wishing less government and the more progressive liberals advocating more.
- Conflicts sometimes occur between liberal ideals. The most divisive of these conflicts have traditionally concerned public benefit versus private property. Generally, the more conservative liberals favor property rights while the more progressive favor public benefit, although both groups recognize the need for private property owners to be compensated for property taken for public benefit. The most heated division among American liberals was Slavery. Slavery was sort of an inherited institution, and liberals from the beginning of the United States recognized that it had the potential to end our republic. Even many slaveholders favored universal rights but understood that ending slavery without aid was personal Economic suicide. As it turned out, rather than compensate slaveholders for their slaves and set them free, and then educating and empowering the former slaves to become free citizens, like we should have done as good liberals, the slaves were taken from their former owners by force and the former owners were given no compensation, and many slaves were left at the mercy of their former masters. A more modern manifestation of this conflict between public benefit and property rights is the debate on the economy, Taxation, and corporate personhood. Corporations were originally created to serve public needs, but have evolved to the point that many wonder whether or not the public now exists to serve corporate needs.
- Liberals generally differ on the degree that government should be centralized. More conservative American Liberals generally favor more local control and more progressive liberals favor a more centralized government.
These are just some of the ways in which liberals can differ, and until the 1980s, there were many liberals not only in the Democratic but in the Republican Party as well. We may not wish to acknowledge it, but even Neoliberals (as unevolved as they are!) share a common heritage with modern liberals.
Modernity and beyond
Social Progressivism teaches that we shouldn’t imagine something’s good just because our parents and grandparents always did things that way. If an old way of doing things doesn’t work or doesn’t work anymore we should change it, humanity will do better if we change bad traditions. Liberal ideology usually includes social progressivism. Freedom and equality do not always go together if there is too much freedom some strong people will abuse freedom to oppress weaker people. Therefore some liberal philosophies think freedom is more important, see Libertarianism while other liberal philosophies like social democracy think equality matters more. Classical liberalism was all for free private enterprise, letting people control their own property even when they harmed others, that’s called free property rights, laissez-faire economic policy, and freedom of contract. Classical liberalism doesn’t always like the welfare state. Classical liberals support equality before the law and classical liberals say that when Capitalism causes economic inequality i.e. makes some people rich while others are poor the state shouldn’t force rich people to share their wealth. New liberals advocate a greater degree of government influence to protect individual rights (in a broad sense), often in the form of anti-discrimination laws. New liberals support universal education, and many also support welfare, including benefits for the unemployed, housing for the homeless, and medical care for the sick, all supported by progressive taxation.
Forms of liberalism
- Left Liberalism
- Classical Liberalism
- Centre Left
- Green Liberalism
- Civil Liberties
- American Liberalism
- Green Politics
- Social Democracy
- Liberal Capitalism
- Anti Democracy
- Right Wing (Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism are both right wing in some ways.)
- Anti Semitism
- Wootton, D (ed), Modern Political Thought: Political Readings from Macchiavelli to Nietzsche, Hackett Publishing Co, Inc (1 Oct 1996)
- John Maurice Clark et al., Adam Smith, 1776-1926. (University of Chicago Press, 1928)
- E. L. Hawkins, An abstract of Adam Smith's "Wealth of nations" (Oxford : Hubert Giles, 1905)
- Steve Chan, Cal Clark and Danny Lam (eds.), Beyond the developmental state : East Asia's political economies reconsidered (Basingstoke : Macmillan, 1998)
- Norman P. Barry et al., “Hayek's 'Serfdom' revisited : essays on 'The road to serfdom' after 40 years”, (London : Institute of Economic Affairs, 1984)
- Paul Krugman, “Competitiveness: A Dangerous Obsession”, Foreign Affairs, 73 (2), 1994, pp. 28-44