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Liberalism refers to a broad array of related ideas and theories of government that consider individual liberty to be the most important political goal. Liberalism has its roots in the Middle Ages and Age of Enlightenment.
Broadly speaking, liberalism emphasizes individual rights and equality of opportunity. Different forms of liberalism may propose very different policies, but they are generally united by their support for a number of principles, including extensive freedom of thought and speech, limitations on the power of governments, the rule of law, the free exchange of ideas, a market or mixed economy, and a transparent system of government. All liberals — as well as some adherents of other political ideologies — support some variant of the form of government known as liberal democracy, with open and fair elections, where all citizens have equal rights by law.
Liberalism rejected many foundational assumptions that dominated most earlier theories of government, such as the Divine Right of Kings, hereditary status, and established religion. Social progressivism, the belief that traditions do not carry any inherent value and social practices ought to be continuously adjusted for the greater benefit of humanity, is a common component of liberal ideology. Liberalism is also strongly associated with the belief that human society should be organized in accordance with certain unchangeable and inviolable rights. Different schools of liberalism are based on different conceptions of human rights, but there are some rights that all liberals support to some extent, including rights to life, liberty, and property.
Within liberalism, there are two major currents of thought that often compete over the use of the term "liberal" and have been known to clash on many issues, as they differ on their understanding of what constitutes freedom. Classical liberals, believe that the provision of negative rights, that is freedom from coercion alone, constitutes freedom. As a result they see state intervention in the economy as a coercive power that restricts freedom when enforced coercively by law, emphasize laissez-faire economic policy, and oppose the welfare state. Social liberals argue that freedom from economic as well as physical coercion is necessary for real freedom. They generally favor such positive rights as the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to health care, and the right to a living wage. Some also favor laws against discrimination in housing and employment, laws against pollution of the environment, and the provision of welfare, including unemployment benefit and housing for the homeless, all supported by progressive taxation.
Etymology and historical usage
The word "liberal" derives from the Latin liber ("free, not slave"). It is widely associated with the word "liberty" and the concept of freedom. Livy's History of Rome from Its Foundation describes the struggles for freedom between the plebeian and patrician classes. Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations writes about "...the idea of a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed... ." Largely dormant during the vicissitudes of the Middle Ages, the struggle for freedom began again in the Italian Renaissance, in the conflict between the supporters of free city states and supporters of the Pope or the Holy Roman Emperor. Niccolò Machiavelli, in his Discourses on Livy, laid down the principles of republican government. John Locke in England and the thinkers of the French Enlightenment articulated the struggle for freedom in terms of the Rights of Man.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) indicates that the word liberal has long been in the English language with the meanings of "befitting free men, noble, generous" as in liberal arts; also with the meaning "free from restraint in speech or action", as in liberal with the purse, or liberal tongue, usually as a term of reproach but, beginning 1776–88 imbued with a more favorable sense by Edward Gibbon and others to mean "free from prejudice, tolerant."
The first English language use to mean "tending in favor of freedom and democracy", according to the OED, dates from about 1801 and comes from the French libéral, "originally applied in English by its opponents (often in Fr. form and with suggestions of foreign lawlessness)". An early English language citation: "The extinction of every vestige of freedom, and of every liberal idea with which they are associated."
The American War of Independence established the first nation to craft a constitution based on the concept of liberal government, especially the idea that governments rule by the consent of the governed. The more moderate bourgeois elements of the French Revolution tried to establish a government based on liberal principles. Economists such as Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations (1776), enunciated the liberal principles of free trade. The editors of the Spanish Constitution of 1812, drafted in Cádiz, may have been the first to use the word liberal in a political sense as a noun. They named themselves the Liberales, to express their opposition to the absolutist power of the Spanish monarchy.
Beginning in the late 18th century, liberalism became a major ideology in virtually all developed countries.
Trends within liberalism
Within the above framework, there are deep, often bitter, conflicts and controversies among liberals. Emerging from those controversies, out of classical liberalism, are a number of different trends within liberalism. As in many debates, opposite sides use different words for the same beliefs, and sometimes use identical words for different beliefs. For the purposes of this article, we will use "political liberalism" for the support of (liberal) democracy (either in a republic or a constitutional monarchy), over absolute monarchy or dictatorship; "cultural liberalism" for the support of individual liberty over laws limiting liberty for patriotic or religious reasons; "economic liberalism" for the support of private property, over government regulation; and "social liberalism" for the support of equality under the law, and relief provided by the government from suffering caused by poverty or natural disaster. By "modern liberalism" we mean the mixture of these forms of liberalism found in most First World countries today, rather than any one of the pure forms listed above.
|“||Liberalism wagers that a state... can be strong but constrained – strong because constrained... Rights to education and other requirements for human development and security aim to advance equal opportunity and personal dignity and to promote a creative and productive society. To guarantee those rights, liberals have supported a wider social and economic role for the state, counterbalanced by more robust guarantees of civil liberties and a wider social system of checks and balances anchored in an independent press and pluralistic society. – Paul Starr, sociologist at Princeton University, The New Republic, March 2007||”|
Some principles liberals generally agree upon:
- Political liberalism is the belief that individuals are the basis of law and society, and that society and its institutions exist to further the ends of individuals, without showing favor to those of higher social rank. Magna Carta is an example of a political document that asserted the rights of individuals even above the prerogatives of monarchs. Political liberalism stresses the social contract, under which citizens make the laws and agree to abide by those laws. It is based on the belief that individuals know best what is best for them. Political liberalism enfranchises all adult citizens regardless of sex, race, or economic status. Political liberalism emphasizes the rule of law and supports liberal democracy.
- Cultural liberalism focuses on the rights of individuals pertaining to conscience and lifestyle, including such issues as sexual freedom, religious freedom, cognitive freedom, and protection from government intrusion into private life. John Stuart Mill aptly expressed cultural liberalism in his essay "On Liberty," when he wrote,
|“||The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.||”|
- Cultural liberalism generally opposes government regulation of literature, art, academics, gambling, sex, prostitution, abortion, birth control, terminal illness, alcohol, and cannabis and other controlled substances. Most liberals oppose some or all government intervention in these areas. The Netherlands, in this respect, may be the most liberal country in the world today.
However, some trends within liberalism reveal stark differences of opinion:
- Economic liberalism, also called classical liberalism or Manchester liberalism, is an ideology which supports the individual rights of property and freedom of contract, without which, it argues, the exercise of other liberties is impossible. It advocates laissez-faire capitalism, meaning the removal of legal barriers to trade and cessation of government-bestowed privilege such as subsidy and monopoly. Economic liberals want little or no government regulation of the market. Some economic liberals would accept government restrictions of monopolies and cartels, others argue that monopolies and cartels are caused by state action. Economic liberalism holds that the value of goods and services should be set by the unfettered choices of individuals, that is, of market forces. Some would also allow market forces to act even in areas conventionally monopolized by governments, such as the provision of security and courts. Economic liberalism accepts the economic inequality that arises from unequal bargaining positions as being the natural result of competition, so long as no coercion is used. This form of liberalism is especially influenced by English liberalism of the mid 19th century.
- Social liberalism, also known as new liberalism (not to be confused with 'neoliberalism') and reform liberalism, arose in the late 19th century in many developed countries, influenced by the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Generally speaking, social liberals support free trade and a market-based economy in which the basic needs of all individuals are met. Furthermore, socially progressive ideas are commonly advocated by social liberals, based on the idea that social practices ought to be continuously adapted in such a manner as to benefit the well-fare of society. According to the tenets of this form of liberalism, as explained by writers such as John Dewey and Mortimer Adler, since individuals are the basis of society, all individuals should have access to basic necessities of fulfillment, such as education, economic opportunity, and protection from harmful macro-events beyond their control. To social liberals, these benefits are considered rights. These positive rights, which must be produced and supplied by other people, are qualitatively different from the classic negative rights, which require only that others refrain from aggression. To the social liberal, ensuring positive rights is a goal that is continuous with the general project of protecting liberties. Schools, libraries, museums, and art galleries are to be supported by taxes. Social liberalism advocates some restrictions on economic competition, such as anti-trust laws and price controls on wages ("minimum wage laws.")
The struggle between economic freedom and social equality is almost as old as the idea of freedom itself.Plutarch, writing about Solon (c. 639 – c. 559 BCE), the lawgiver of ancient Athens, wrote:
|“||The remission of debts was peculiar to Solon; it was his great means for confirming the citizens' liberty; for a mere law to give all men equal rights is but useless, if the poor must sacrifice those rights to their debts, and, in the very seats and sanctuaries of equality, the courts of justice, the offices of state, and the public discussions, be more than anywhere at the beck and bidding of the rich.||”|
Economic liberals see positive rights as necessarily violating negative rights, and therefore illegitimate. They see a limited role for government. Some economic liberals see no proper function of government, while others (minarchists) would limit government to courts, police, and defense against foreign invasion. Social liberals, in contrast, see a major role for government in promoting the general welfare – providing some or all of the following services: food and shelter for those who cannot provide for themselves, medical care, schools, retirement, care for children and for the disabled, including those disabled by old age, help for victims of natural disaster, protection of minorities, prevention of crime, and support for the arts and sciences. This largely abandons the idea of limited government. Both forms of liberalism seek the same end – liberty – but they disagree strongly about the best or most moral means to attain it. Some liberal parties emphasize economic liberalism, while others focus on social liberalism. Conservative parties often favor economic liberalism while opposing social and cultural liberalism.
In all of the forms of liberalism listed above there is a general belief that there should be a balance between government and private responsibilities, and that government should be limited to those tasks which cannot be carried out best by the private sector. All forms of liberalism claim to protect the fundamental dignity and autonomy of the individual under law, all claim that freedom of individual action promotes the best society. Liberalism is so widespread in the modern world that most Western nations at least pay lip service to individual liberty as the basis for society.
Early Enlightenment thinkers contrasted liberalism with the authoritarianism of the Ancien Régime, feudalism, mercantilism and the Roman Catholic Church. Later, as more radical philosophers articulated their thoughts in the course of the French Revolution and throughout the nineteenth century, liberalism defined itself in contrast to socialism and communism, although modern European liberal parties have often formed coalitions with social-democratic parties. In the 20th century liberalism defined itself in opposition to totalitarianism and collectivism. Some modern liberals have rejected the classical Just War theory, which emphasizes neutrality and free trade, in favor of multilateral interventionism and collective security.
Liberalism favors the limitation of government power. Extreme anti-statist liberalism, as advocated by Frederic Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Herbert Spencer, and Auberon Herbert, is a radical form of liberalism called anarchism (no state at all) or minarchism (a minimal state, or sometimes called "the nightwatchman state.") These anti-state forms of liberalism are commonly referred to as libertarianism. Most liberals claim that a government is necessary to protect rights, yet the meaning of "government" can range from simply a rights protection organization to a Weberian state. Recently, liberalism has again come into conflict with those who seek a society ordered by religious values: radical Islamism often rejects liberal thought in its entirety, and radical Christian sects in Western liberal-democratic states — especially the US — often find their moral opinions coming into conflict with liberal laws and ideals.
Liberalism and democracy
The relationship between liberalism and democracy may be summed up by Winston Churchill's famous remark, "...democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms..." In short, there is nothing about democracy per se that guarantees freedom rather than a tyranny of the masses. The coinage liberal democracy suggests a more harmonious marriage between the two principles than actually exists. Liberals strive after the replacement of absolutism by limited government: government by consent. The idea of consent suggests democracy. At the same time, the founders of the first liberal democracies feared mob rule, and so they built into the constitutions of liberal democracies checks and balances intended to limit the power of government by dividing those powers among several branches. For liberals, democracy is not an end in itself, but an essential means to secure liberty, individuality and diversity.
Liberalism and radicalism
- Further information: Radicalism (historical)
In various countries in Europe and Latin-America the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century show the existence of a radical political tendency next to or as successor of a more doctrinal liberal tendency. In some countries the radical tendency is a variant of liberalism that is less doctrinal and more willing to accept democratic reforms than traditional liberals. In the United Kingdom the Radicals unite with the more traditional liberal Whigs into the Liberal Party. In other countries, these left wing liberals form their own radical parties with various names (e.g. in Switzerland and Germany (the Freisinn), Bulgaria, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands but also Argentina and Chile. This doesn't mean that all radical parties were formed by left wing liberals. In the French political literature it is normal to make clear separation between liberalism and radicalism in France. In Serbia liberalism and radicalism had and have almost nothing in common. But even the French radicals were aligned to the international liberal movement in the first half of the twentieth century, in the Entente Internationale des Partis Radicaux et des Partis Démocratiques similaires
Liberalism and the great depression
Despite some dispute whether there was an actual laissez-faire capitalist state in existence at the time , the Great Depression of the 1930s shook public faith in "laissez-faire capitalism" and "the profit motive," leading many to conclude that the unregulated markets could not produce prosperity and prevent poverty. Many liberals were troubled by the political instability and restrictions on liberty that they believed were caused by the growing relative inequality of wealth. Key liberals of this persuasion, such as John Dewey, John Maynard Keynes, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, argued for the creation of a more elaborate state apparatus to serve as the bulwark of individual liberty, permitting the continuation of capitalism while protecting the citizens against its perceived excesses. Some liberals, including Hayek, whose work The Road to Serfdom remains influential, argued against these institutions, believing the Great Depression and Second World War to be individual events, that, once passed, did not justify a permanent change in the role of government.
Key liberal thinkers, such as Lujo Brentano, Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse, Thomas Hill Green, John Maynard Keynes, Bertil Ohlin and John Dewey, described how a government should intervene in the economy to protect liberty while avoiding socialism. These liberals developed the theory of modern liberalism (also "new liberalism," not to be confused with present-day neoliberalism). Modern liberals rejected both radical capitalism and the revolutionary elements of the socialist school. John Maynard Keynes, in particular, had a significant impact on liberal thought throughout the world. The Liberal Party in Britain, particularly since Lloyd George's People's Budget, was heavily influenced by Keynes, as was the Liberal International, the Oxford Liberal Manifesto of 1947 of the world organization of liberal parties. In the United States, the influence of Keynesianism on Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal has led modern liberalism to be identified with American liberalism and Canadian Liberalism.
Other liberals, including Friedrich August von Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ludwig von Mises, argued that the great depression was not a result of "laissez-faire" capitalism but a result of too much government intervention and regulation upon the market. In Friedman's work, "Capitalism and Freedom" he elucidated government regulation that occurred before the great depression including heavy regulations upon banks that prevented them, he argued, from reacting to the markets' demand for money. Furthermore, the U.S. Federal government had created a fixed currency pegged to the value of gold. This pegged value created a massive surplus of gold, but later the pegged value was too low which created a massive migration of gold from the U.S. Friedman and Hayek both believed that this inability to react to currency demand created a run on the banks that the banks were no longer able to handle, and that and the fixed exchange rates between the dollar and gold both worked to cause the Great Depression by creating, and then not fixing, deflationary pressures. He further argued in this thesis, that the government inflicted more pain upon the American public by first raising taxes, then by printing money to pay debts (thus causing inflation), the combination of which helped to wipe out the savings of the middle class.
Only in 1974 was Hayek awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for, among other reasons, his theory of business cycles and his conception of the effects of monetary and credit policies and for being "one of the few economists who gave warning of the possibility of a major economic crisis before the great crash came in the autumn of 1929." 
Liberalism against totalitarianism
In the mid-20th century, liberalism began to define itself in opposition to totalitarianism. The term was first used by Giovanni Gentile to describe the socio-political system set up by Mussolini. Stalin would apply it to German Nazism, and after the war it became a descriptive term for what liberalism considered the common characteristics of fascist, Nazi and Marxist-Leninist regimes. Totalitarian regimes sought and tried to implement absolute centralized control over all aspects of society, in order to achieve prosperity and stability. These governments often justified such absolutism by arguing that the survival of their civilization was at risk. Opposition to totalitarian regimes acquired great importance in liberal and democratic thinking, and they were often portrayed as trying to destroy liberal democracy. On the other hand, the opponents of liberalism strongly objected to the classification that unified mutually hostile fascist and communist ideologies and considered them fundamentally different.
In Italy and Germany, nationalist governments linked corporate capitalism to the state, and promoted the idea that their nations were culturally and racially superior, and that conquest would give them their "rightful" place in the world. The propaganda machines of these countries argued that democracy was weak and incapable of decisive action, and that only a strong leader could impose necessary discipline. In Soviet Union, the ruling communists banned private property, claiming to act for the sake of economic and social justice, and the government had full control over the planned economy. The regime insisted that personal interests be linked and inferior to those of the society, of class, which was ultimately an excuse for persecuting both oppositions as well as dissidents within the communists ranks as well as arbitrary use of severe penal code.
The rise of totalitarianism became a lens for liberal thought. Many liberals began to analyze their own beliefs and principles, and came to the conclusion that totalitarianism arose because people in a degraded condition turn to dictatorships for solutions. From this, it was argued that the state had the duty to protect the economic well being of its citizens. As Isaiah Berlin said, "Freedom for the wolves means death for the sheep." This growing body of liberal thought argued that reason requires a government to act as a balancing force in economics.
Other liberal interpretations on the rise of totalitarianism were quite contrary to the growing body of thought on government regulation in supporting the market and capitalism. This included Friedrich Hayek's work, The Road to Serfdom. He argued that the rise of totalitarian dictatorships was the result of too much government intervention and regulation upon the market which caused loss of political and civil freedoms. Hayek also saw these economic controls being instituted in the United Kingdom and the United States and warned against these "Keynesian" institutions, believing that they can and will lead to the same totalitarian governments "Keynesians liberals" were attempting to avoid. Hayek saw authoritarian regimes such as the fascist, Nazis, and communists, as the same totalitarian branch; all of which sought the elimination or reduction of economic freedom. To him the elimination of economic freedom brought about the elimination of political freedom. Thus Hayek believes the differences between Nazis and communists are only rhetorical.
Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman stated that economic freedom is a necessary condition for the creation and sustainability of civil and political freedoms. Hayek believed the same totalitarian outcomes could occur in Britain (or anywhere else) if the state sought to control the economic freedom of the individual with the policy prescriptions outlined by people like Dewey, Keynes, or Roosevelt.
One of the most influential critics of totalitarianism was Karl Popper. In The Open Society and Its Enemies he defended liberal democracy and advocated open society, in which the government can be changed without bloodshed. Popper argued that the process of the accumulation of human knowledge is unpredictable and that the theory of ideal government cannot possibly exist. Therefore, the political system should be flexible enough so that governmental policy would be able to evolve and adjust to the needs of the society; in particular, it should encourage Pluralism and multiculturalism.
Liberalism after World War II
In much of the West, expressly liberal parties were caught between "conservative" parties on one hand, and "labor" or social democratic parties on the other hand. For example, the UK Liberal Party became a minor party. The same process occurred in a number of other countries, as the social democratic parties took the leading role in the Left, while pro-business conservative parties took the leading role in the Right.
The post-war period saw the dominance of modern liberalism. Linking modernism and progressivism to the notion that a populace in possession of rights and sufficient economic and educational means would be the best defense against totalitarian threats, the liberalism of this period took the stance that by enlightened use of liberal institutions, individual liberties could be maximized, and self-actualization could be reached by the broad use of technology. Liberal writers in this period include economist John Kenneth Galbraith, philosopher John Rawls and sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf. A dissenting strain of thought developed that viewed any government involvement in the economy as a betrayal of liberal principles. Calling itself "libertarianism," this movement was centered around such schools of thought as Austrian Economics.
The debate between personal liberty and social optimality occupies much of the theory of liberalism since the Second World War, particularly centering around the questions of social choice and market mechanisms required to produce a "liberal" society. One of the central parts of this argument concerns Kenneth Arrow's General Possibility Theorem. This thesis states that there is no consistent social choice function which satisfies unbounded decision making, independence of choices, Pareto optimality, and non-dictatorship. In short, according to the thesis which includes the problem of liberal paradox, it is not possible to have unlimited liberty, a maximum amount of utility, and an unlimited range of choices at the same time. Another important argument within liberalism is the importance of rationality in decision making – whether the liberal state is best based on rigorous procedural rights or whether it should be rooted in substantial equality.
One important liberal debate concerns whether people have positive rights as members of communities in addition to being protected from wrongs done by others. For many liberals, the answer is "yes": individuals have positive rights based on being members of a national, political, or local unit, and can expect protection and benefits from these associations. Members of a community have a right to expect that their community will to a certain degree regulate the economy since rising and falling economic circumstances cannot be controlled by the individual. If individuals have a right to participate in a public capacity, then they have a right to expect education and social protections against discrimination from other members of that public. Other liberals would answer "no": individuals have no such rights as members of communities, for such rights conflict with the more fundamental "negative" rights of other members of the community.
After the 1970s, the liberal pendulum had swung away from increasing the role of government, and towards a greater use of the free market and laissez-faire principles. In essence, many of the old pre-World War I ideas were making a comeback.
In part this was a reaction to the triumphalism of the dominant forms of liberalism of the time, but as well it was rooted in a foundation of liberal philosophy, particularly suspicion of the state, whether as an economic or philosophical actor. Even liberal institutions could be misused to restrict rather than promote liberty. Increasing emphasis on the free market emerged with Milton Friedman in the United States, and with members of the Austrian School in Europe. Their argument was that regulation and government involvement in the economy was a slippery slope, that any would lead to more, and that more was difficult to remove.
The impact of liberalism on the modern world is profound. The ideas of individual liberties, personal dignity, free expression, religious tolerance, private property, universal human rights, transparency of government, limitations on government power, popular sovereignty, national self-determination, privacy, "enlightened" and "rational" policy, the rule of law, fundamental equality, a free market economy, and free trade were all radical notions some 250 years ago. Liberal democracy, in its typical form of multiparty political pluralism, has spread to much of the world. Today all are accepted as the goals of policy in most nations, even if there is a wide gap between statements and reality. They are not only the goals of liberals, but also of social democrats, conservatives, and Christian Democrats. There is, of course, opposition.
Overview of political positions of contemporary liberal parties.
Today the word "liberalism" is used differently in different countries. (See Liberalism worldwide.) One of the greatest contrasts is between the usage in the United States and usage in Continental Europe. In the US, liberalism is usually understood to refer to modern liberalism, as contrasted with conservatism. American liberals endorse regulation for business, a limited social welfare state, and support broad racial, ethnic, sexual and religious tolerance, and thus more readily embrace Pluralism, and affirmative action. In Europe, on the other hand, liberalism is not only contrasted with conservatism and Christian Democracy, but also with socialism and social democracy. In some countries, European liberals share common positions with Christian Democrats.
Before an explanation of this subject proceeds, it is important to add this disclaimer: There is always a disconnect between philosophical ideals and political realities. Also, opponents of any belief are apt to describe that belief in different terms from those used by adherents. What follows is a record of those goals that overtly appear most consistently across major liberal manifestos (e.g., the Oxford Manifesto of 1947). It is not an attempt to catalogue the idiosyncratic views of particular persons, parties, or countries, nor is it an attempt to investigate any covert goals, since both are beyond the scope of this article.
Most political parties which identify themselves as liberal claim to promote the rights and responsibilities of the individual, free choice within an open competitive process, the free market, and the dual responsibility of the state to protect the individual citizen and guarantee their liberty. Critics of liberal parties tend to state liberal policies in different terms. Economic freedom may lead to gross inequality. Free speech may lead to speech that is obscene, blasphemous, or treasonous. The role of the state as promoter of freedom and as protector of its citizens may come into conflict.
- Main article: Liberal democracy
Liberalism stresses the importance of representative liberal democracy as the best form of government. Elected representatives are subject to the rule of law, and their power is moderated by a constitution, which emphasizes the protection of rights and freedoms of individuals and limits the will of the majority. Liberals are in favour of a pluralist system in which differing political and social views, even extreme or fringe views, compete for political power on a democratic basis and have the opportunity to achieve power through periodically held elections. They stress the resolution of differences by peaceful means within the bounds of democratic or lawful processes. Many liberals seek ways to increase the involvement and participation of citizens in the democratic process. Some liberals favour direct democracy instead of representative democracy.
- Main article: Civil rights
Liberalism advocates civil rights for all citizens: the protection and privileges of personal liberty extended to all citizens equally by law. It includes the equal treatment of all citizens irrespective of race, gender and class. Liberals are divided over the extent to which positive rights are to be included, such as the right to food, shelter, and education. Critics from an internationalist human rights school of thought argue that the civil rights advocated in the liberal view are not extended to all people, but are limited to citizens of particular states. Unequal treatment on the basis of nationality is therefore possible, especially in regard to citizenship itself.
Rule of law
The rule of law and equality before the law are fundamental to liberalism. Government authority may only be legitimately exercised in accordance with laws that are adopted through an established procedure. Another aspect of the rule of law is an insistence upon the guarantee of an independent judiciary, whose political independence is intended to act as a safeguard against arbitrary rulings in individual cases. The rule of law includes concepts such as the presumption of innocence, no double jeopardy, and Habeas Corpus. Rule of law is seen by liberals as a guard against despotism and as enforcing limitations on the power of government. In the penal system, liberals in general reject punishments they see as inhumane, including capital punishment
Liberals generally believe in neutral government, in the sense that it is not for the state to determine personal values. As John Rawls put it, "The state has no right to determine a particular conception of the good life". In the United States this neutrality is expressed in the Declaration of Independence as the right to the pursuit of happiness.
Both in Europe and in the United States, liberals often support the pro-choice movement and advocate equal rights for women and homosexuals.
Racism is incompatible with liberalism. Liberals in Europe are generally hostile to any attempts by the state to enforce equality in employment by legal action against employers, whereas in the United States many liberals favor such affirmative action. Liberals in general support equal opportunity, but not necessarily equal outcome. Most European liberal parties do not favour employment quotas for women and ethnic minorities as the best way to end gender and racial inequality. However, all agree that arbitrary discrimination on the basis of race or gender is morally wrong.
- Main article: Economic liberalism
Economic liberals today stress the importance of a free market and free trade, and seek to limit government intervention in both the domestic economy and foreign trade. Modern liberal movements often agree in principle with the idea of free trade, but maintain some skepticism, seeing unrestricted trade as leading to the growth of multi-national corporations and the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. In the post-war consensus on the welfare state in Europe, liberals supported government responsibility for health, education, and alleviating poverty while still calling for a market based on independent exchange. Liberals agree that a high quality of health care and education should be available for all citizens, but differ in their views on the degree to which governments should supply these benefits. Since poverty is a threat to personal liberty, liberalism seeks a balance between individual responsibility and community responsibility. In particular, liberals favor special protection for the handicapped, the sick, the disabled, and the aged.
European liberalism turned back to more laissez-faire policies in the 1980s and 1990s, and supported privatisation and liberalisation in health care and other public sectors. Modern European liberals generally tend to believe in a smaller role for government than would be supported by most social democrats, let alone socialists or communists. The European liberal consensus appears to involve a belief that economies should be decentralized. In general, contemporary European liberals do not believe that the government should directly control any industrial production through state owned enterprises, which places them in opposition to social democrats.
- Main article: Green liberalism
Many liberals share values with environmentalists, such as the Green Party. They seek to minimize the damage done by the human species on the natural world, and to maximize the regeneration of damaged areas. Some such activists attempt to make changes on an economic level by acting together with businesses, but others favor legislation in order to achieve sustainable development. Other liberals do not accept government regulation in this matter and argue that the market should regulate itself in some fashion.
- Main article: Liberal international relations theory
There is no consensus about liberal doctrine in international politics, though there are some central notions, which can be deduced from, for example, the opinions of Liberal International. Social liberals often believe that war can be abolished. Some favor internationalism, and support the United Nations. Economic liberals, on the other hand, favor non-interventionism rather than collective security. Liberals believe in the right of every individual to enjoy the essential human liberties, and support self-determination for national minorities. Essential also is the free exchange of ideas, news, goods and services between people, as well as freedom of travel within and between all countries. Liberals generally oppose censorship, protective trade barriers, and exchange regulations.
Some liberals were among the strongest advocates of international co-operation and the building of supra-national organizations, such as the European Union. In the view of social liberals, a global free and fair market can only work if companies worldwide respect a set of common minimal social and ecological standards. A controversial question, on which there is no liberal consensus, is immigration. Do nations have a right to limit the flow of immigrants from countries with growing populations to countries with stable or declining populations?
Conservative liberalism and Liberal conservatism
- Main article: Conservative liberalism
Conservative liberalism represents the right-wing of the liberal movement, stressing much on economic issues and combining some conservative elements. Examples include the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy in the Netherlands, the Liberal Party of Denmark and, in some ways, the Free Democratic Party of Germany.
Liberal conservatism is a variant of conservatism which includes some liberal elements. This strain often emerged in countries with strong socialist and/or labour parties, and is often strongly influenced by the writings of Edmund Burke. Examples include the Reform Party of Canada/Canadian Alliance, the Liberal Front Party (Brazil), the Moderate Party (Sweden), Forza Italia, Civic Platform (Poland), the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, National Renewal in Chile, and the Liberal Party of Australia. These parties are mainly member of the International Democratic Union, not of the Liberal International.
Liberal international relations theory
- Main article: Liberal international relations theory
"Liberalism" in international relations is a theory that holds that state preferences, rather than state capabilities, are the primary determinant of state behavior. Unlike realism where the state is seen as a unitary actor, liberalism allows for plurality in state actions. Thus, preferences will vary from state to state, depending on factors such as culture, economic system or government type. Liberalism also holds that interaction between states is not limited to the political/security ("high politics"), but also economic/cultural ("low politics") whether through commercial firms, organizations or individuals. Thus, instead of an anarchic international system, there are plenty of opportunities for cooperation and broader notions of power, such as cultural capital (for example, the influence of a country's films leading to the popularity of its culture and the creation of a market for its exports worldwide). Another assumption is that absolute gains can be made through co-operation and interdependence – thus peace can be achieved.
Liberalism as an international relations theory is not inherently linked to liberalism as a more general domestic political ideology. Increasingly, modern liberals are integrating critical international relations theory into their foreign policy positions.
- Main article: Neoliberalism
Neoliberalism is a label for some economic liberal doctrines. The swing away from government action in the 1970s led to the introduction of this term, which refers to a program of reducing trade barriers and internal market restrictions, while using government power to enforce opening of foreign markets. Neoliberalism accepts a certain degree of government involvement in the domestic economy, particularly a central bank with the power to print fiat money. This is strongly opposed by libertarians. While neoliberalism is sometimes described as overlapping with Thatcherism, economists as diverse as Joseph Stiglitz and Milton Friedman have been described — by others — as "neoliberal". This economic agenda is not necessarily combined with a liberal agenda in politics: neoliberals often do not subscribe to individual liberty on ethical issues or in sexual mores. An extreme example was the Pinochet regime in Chile, but some also classify Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and even Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder as being neo-liberal.
It should be noted that, in the 1990s, many social democratic parties adopted "neoliberal" economic policies such as privatization of industry and open markets, much to the dismay of many of their own voters. This has led these parties to become de facto neoliberal, and has often resulted in a drastic loss of popular support. For example, critics to the left of the German Social Democratic Party and the British Labour Party accuse them of pursuing neoliberal policies by refusing to renationalise industry. As a result of this, much support for these parties has been lost to the Christian Democratic Union and the Liberal Democrats, respectively. This "adopting of the wolves clothes" has led Labour in the UK to spectacular electoral success. However, tensions between the executive and Labour's backbenches is a consistent issue.
Sometimes "Neoliberalism" is used as a catch-all term for the anti-socialist reaction which swept through some countries during the period between the 70s and 90s. "Neoliberalism" in the form of Thatcher, Reagan, and Pinochet claimed to move from a bureaucratic welfare-based society toward a meritocracy acting in the interests of business. In actuality, these governments cut funding for education and taxed income more heavily than wealth, which increased the influence of big business and the upper class.
Some conservatives see themselves as the true inheritors of classical liberalism. Jonah Goldberg of National Review argues that "most conservatives are closer to classical liberals than a lot of Reason-libertarians" because conservatives want to preserve some institutions that they see as needed for liberty. Further confusing the classification of liberalism and conservatism is that some conservatives claim liberal values as their own.
Criticism and defense of Liberalism
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Collectivist opponents of liberalism reject its emphasis on individual rights, and instead emphasize the collective or the community to a degree where the rights of the individual are either diminished or abolished. Collectivism can be found both to the right and to the left of liberalism. On the left, the collective that tends to be enhanced is the state, often in the form of state socialism. On the right, conservative and religious opponents argue that liberalism has removed the traditional mores that informally regulated societies, replacing them with abstract and idealistic principles which are imposed by the liberal-dominated schools, media, courts and bureaucracy. Opponents like Theodore Dalrymple claim that these new principles have actually undermined the concepts of self control and personal responsibility which are vital to any functional society. The liberal answer to this is that it is not the purpose of the law to legislate morality, but to protect the citizen from harm. However, conservatives often see the legislation of morality as an essential aspect of protecting citizens from harm.
Anti-statist critiques of liberalism, such as anarchism, assert the illegitimacy of the state for any purposes.
A softer critique of liberalism can be found in communitarianism, which emphasizes a return to communities without necessarily denigrating individual rights.
Beyond these clear theoretical differences, some liberal principles can be disputed in a piecemeal fashion, with some portions kept and others abandoned (see Liberal democracy and Neoliberalism.) This ongoing process – where putatively liberal agents accept some traditionally liberal values and reject others – causes some critics to question whether or not the word "liberal" has any useful meaning at all.
In terms of international politics, the universal claims of human rights which liberalism tends to endorse are disputed by rigid adherents of non-interventionism, since intervention in the interests of human rights can conflict with the sovereignty of nations. By contrast, World federalists criticize liberalism for its adherence to the doctrine of sovereign nation-states, which the World federalists believe is not helpful in the face of genocide and other mass human rights abuses.
Liberalism has also been accused of being non-political in the works of some critics, for instance in "Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics" by Francis Parker Yockey:
Liberalism, however, with its compromising, vague attitude, incapable of precise formulation, incapable also of rousing precise feelings, either affirmative or negative, is not an idea of political force. Its numerous devotees, in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries have taken part in practical politics only as the ally of other groups.
Left-leaning opponents of economic liberalism reject the view that the private sector can act for the collective benefit, citing the harm done to those individuals who lose out in competition. They oppose the use of the state to impose market principles, usually through an enforced market mechanism in a previously non-market sector. They argue that the dominance of liberal principles in economy and society has contributed to inequality among states, and inequality within states. They argue that liberal societies are characterised by long-term poverty, and by ethnic and class differentials in health, by (infant) mortality and lower life expectancy. Some would even say they have much higher unemployment than centrally planned economies.
A response to these claims is that liberal states tend to be wealthier than less free states, that the poor in liberal states are better off than the average citizen in non-liberal states, and that inequality is a necessary spur to the hard work that produces prosperity. Throughout history, poverty has been the common lot of mankind, and it is only the progress of science and the rise of the modern industrial state that has brought prosperity to large numbers of people.
Liberalism shares many basic goals and methods with social democracy, but in some places diverges. The fundamental difference between liberalism and social democracy is disagreement over the role of the state in the economy. Social democracy can be understood to combine features from both social liberalism and democratic socialism. Democratic socialism seeks to achieve some minimum equality of outcome. Democratic socialists support a large public sector and the nationalization of utilities such as gas and electricity in order to avoid private monopolies, achieve social justice, and raise the standard of living. By contrast, liberalism, in its distrust of monopolies (both public and private), prefers much less state intervention, choosing for example subsidies and regulation rather than outright nationalization. Liberalism also emphasizes equality of opportunity, and not equality of outcome, citing the desire for a meritocracy. American liberalism, in contrast to liberalism in most countries, never took a major focus on socialism nor ever demanded the same social welfare state programs as its European counterparts. Today, the United States does not share the welfare state programs applied in most of Europe and has implemented fewer social programs to aid those in the lower socioeconomic level than Canada and Australia.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
- A: "'Liberalism' is defined as a social ethic that advocates liberty, and equality in general." – C. A. J. (Tony) Coady Distributive Justice, A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, editors Goodin, Robert E. and Pettit, Philip. Blackwell Publishing, 1995, p.440. B: "Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end." – Lord Acton
- Compare for the latter aspect the Oxford Manifesto of 1947 of the Liberal International (Respect for the language, faith, laws and customs of national minorities), Oxford Manifesto of 1997 (We believe that close cooperation among democratic societies through global and regional organizations, within the framework of international law, of respect for human rights, the rights of national and ethnic minorities, and of a shared commitment to economic development worldwide, is the necessary foundation for world peace and for economic and environmental sustainability), the ELDR Electoral programme 1994 (Protecting the rights of minorities flows naturally from liberal policy, which seeks to ensure equal opportunities for everyone) and e.g. I have a dream of Martin Luther King
- Compare the Oxford Manifesto of the Liberal International (These rights and conditions can be secured only by true democracy. True democracy is inseparable from political liberty and is based on the conscious, free and enlightened consent of the majority, expressed through a free and secret ballot, with due respect for the liberties and opinions of minorities)
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- Chandran Kukathas, The Many and the One: Pluralism in the Modern World, Richard Madsen and Tracy B. Strong, editors, 2003, p. 61
- Hel. M. WILLIAMS, Sk. Fr. Rep. I. xi. 113," (presumably Helen Maria Williams) Sketches of the State of Manners and Opinions in the French Republic, 1801. Cited in the Oxford English Dictionary.
- The website of the Molinari Institute labels this form as "Market Anarchism".
- Anthony Alblaster: The Rise and Decline of Western Liberalism, New York, Basil Blackwell, 1984, page 353
- compare: Guide de Ruggeiro: The History of European Liberalism, Bacon press, 1954, page 379
- See for more information the Liberale und radikale Parteien in Klaus von Beyme: Parteien in westlichen Demokratien, München, 1982
- Compare page 255 and further in the Guide to the Political Parties of South America (Pelican Books, 1973
- See page 1 and further of A sense of liberty, by Julie Smith, published by the Liberal International in 1997.
- See for example Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in 1962: Liberalism in the American usage has little in common with the word as used in the politics of any European country, save possibly Britain in Liberalism in America: A Note for Europeans from The Politics of Hope, Riverside Press, Boston. See for a similar view Jamie F. Metzl: In the same "Liberalism" as the term is used in America today is not used in the "older, European sense, but has come to mean something quite different, namely policies upholding the modern welfare state in The Rise of Illiberal Democracy by Fareed Zakaria, Foreign Affairs, November/December, 1997, Vol 76, No. 6
- See for example the Oxford Manifesto 1997 of the Liberal International.
- Oxford Manifesto, 1947
- Liberal International > The International
- Jonah Goldberg, The Libertarian Lie National Review Online, December 18 2001.
- Francis Parker Yockey, "Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics", 1948, p. 207
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- Piero Gobetti La Rivoluzione liberale. Saggio sulla lotta politica in Italia, Bologna, Rocca San Casciano, 1924
- Literature by thinkers contributing to liberal theory is listed at Contributions to liberal theory.
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Prominent law scholars
- Putting liberalism in its place / Paul W Kahn., 2005 (YALE)
- Liberalism divided : freedom of speech and the many uses of State power / Owen M Fiss., 1996 (YALE)
- The future of liberal revolution / Bruce A Ackerman., 1992 (YALE)
- Social justice in the liberal state / Bruce A Ackerman., 1980 (YALE)
- Notions of fairness versus the Pareto principle : on the role of logical consistency / Louis Kaplow., 2000 (HARVARD)
- Knowledge & politics / Roberto Mangabeira Unger., 1975 (HARVARD)
- Principles for a free society / Richard Allen Epstein., 1999 (UCHICAGO)
- Fairness in a liberal society / Richard Allen Epstein., 2005 (UCHICAGO)
- Skepticism and freedom : a modern case for classical liberalism / Richard Allen Epstein., 2003 (UCHICAGO)
- Cultivating humanity : a classical defense of reform in liberal education / Martha Nussbaum., 1997 (UCHICAGO)
- Free markets and social justice / Cass R Sunstein., 1997 (UCHICAGO)
- Reasonably radical : deliberative liberalism and the politics of identity / Anthony Simon Laden., 2001 (UCHICAGO)
- The new inequality : creating solutions for poor America / ed. Joshua Cohen., 1999 (STANFORD)
- The rise and fall of British liberalism, 1776-1988 / Alan Sykes., 1997 (STANFORD)
- A stream of windows : unsettling reflections on trade, immigration, and democracy / Jagdish Bhagwati., 1998 (COLUMBIA)
- Nature and politics : liberalism in the philosophies of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau / Andrzej Rapaczynski., 1987 (COLUMBIA)
- Law and liberalism in the 1980s : the Rubin lectures at Columbia University / Vincent Blasi., 1991 (COLUMBIA)
- Ways of war and peace : realism, liberalism, and socialism / Michael W Doyle., 1997 (COLUMBIA)
- The Liberal future in America : essays in renewal / ed. Michael B Levy., 1985 (UCBERKELEY)
- Boundaries and allegiances : problems of justice and responsibility in liberal thought / Samuel Scheffler., 2001 (UCBERKELEY)
- The anatomy of antiliberalism / Stephen Holmes., 1993 (NYU)
- Passions and constraint : on the theory of liberal democracy / Stephen Holmes., 1995 (NYU)
- Benjamin Constant and the making of modern liberalism / Stephen Holmes., 1984 (NYU)
- Liberal rights : collected papers, 1981-1991 / Jeremy Waldron., 1993 (NYU)
- Liberals and social democrats / Peter Clarke., 1978 (OXFORD)
- Law and the community : the end of individualism? / ed. Leslie Green., 1989 (OXFORD)
- From promise to contract : towards a liberal theory of contract / Dori Kimel., 2003 (OXFORD)
- The new enlightenment : the rebirth of liberalism / ed. Peter Clarke., 1986 (OXFORD)
- Constitutional justice: a liberal theory of the rule of law / T.R.S Allan., 2001 (CAMBRIDGE)
- Liberalism and social action / John Dewey., 1963 (UCHICAGO)
- Combat liberalism / Mao Zedong., 1954 (PEKING)
- Free thought and official propaganda / Bertrand Russell., 1922 (CAMBRIDGE)
- Political Liberalism / John Rawls., 2005 (HARVARD)
- Lectures on the history of political philosophy / John Rawls., 2007 (HARVARD)
- The law of peoples ; with, The idea of public reason revisited / John Rawls., 1999 (HARVARD)
- Conditions of liberty : civil society and its rivals / Ernest Gellner., 1994 (CAMBRIDGE)
- Liberty : incorporating four essays on liberty / Isaiah Berlin., 2002 (OXFORD)
- Objectivity and liberal scholarship / Noam Chomsky., 2003 (MIT)
- Profit over people : neoliberalism and global order / Noam Chomsky., 1999 (MIT)
- Democracy in a neoliberal order : doctrines and reality / Noam Chomsky., 1997 (MIT)
- Liberal politics and the public sphere / Charles Taylor., 1995 (MCGILL)
- Beyond liberalization : social opportunity and human capability / Amartya Kumar Sen., 1994 (HARVARD)
- Sovereign virtue : the theory and practice of equality / Ronald Dworkin., 2000 (NYU)
- The legacy of Isaiah Berlin / ed. Ronald Dworkin., 2001 (NYU)
- Concealment and exposure : and other essays / Thomas Nagel., 2002 (NYU)
- Liberals and communitarians / Stephen Mulhall., 1992 (OXFORD)
- John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism / Alan Ryan., 1995 (OXFORD)
- Liberal reform in an illiberal regime: the creation of private property in Russia / Stephen Williams., 2006 (OXFORD)
- Liberalism, religion, and the sources of value / Simon Blackburn., 2005 (CAMBRIDGE)
- Achieving Our Country : Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America / Richard Rorty., 1999 (STANFORD)
- Bridging Liberalism and Multiculturalism in American Education / Bob Reich., 2002 (STANFORD)
- Boundaries and allegiances : problems of justice and responsibility in liberal thought / Samuel Scheffler., 2001 (UCBERKELEY)
- The logos reader : rational radicalism and the future of politics / ed. Michael Thompson., 2006 (UPITTSBURGH)
- The feminist critique of liberalism / Martha Craven Nussbaum., 1997 (UCHICAGO)
- Nietzsche, politics, and modernity : a critique of liberal reason / David Owen., 1995 (UARIZONA)
- Contemporary Theories of Liberalism / Gerald Gaus., 2003 (UARIZONA)
- Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critique of Modernity / Gary Gutting., 1999 (NOTREDAME)
Prominent political scientists
- Liberal America and the Third World; political development ideas in foreign aid and social science / Robert A Packenham., 1973 (STANFORD)
- Structural conflict : the Third World against global liberalism / Stephen D Krasner., 1985 (STANFORD)
- Democracy's discontent : America in search of a public philosophy / Michael J Sandel., 1998 (HARVARD)
- Liberalism and the limits of justice / Michael J Sandel., 1998 (HARVARD)
- The spirit of liberalism / Harvey Claflin Mansfield., 1978 (HARVARD)
- Liberalism and the moral life / Nancy L Rosenblum., 1989 (HARVARD)
- Bentham's theory of the modern state / Nancy L Rosenblum., 1978 (HARVARD)
- Another liberalism : romanticism and the reconstruction of liberal thought / Nancy L Rosenblum., 1987 (HARVARD)
- Liberalism and its critics / Michael J Sandel., 1984 (HARVARD)
- Technopols : freeing politics and markets in Latin America in the 1990s / Jorge I Domínguez., 1997 (HARVARD)
- The new majority : towards a popular progressive politics / Theda Skocpol., 1999 (HARVARD)
- Tyranny and liberty : big government and the individual in Tocqueville's science of politics / Harvey Mansfield., 1999 (HARVARD)
- The new American dilemma : liberal democracy and school desegregation / Jennifer L Hochschild., 1984 (HARVARD)
- Politics out of history / Wendy Brown., 2001 (UCBERKELEY)
- Radicals and conservatives / William McGovern; David S Collier., 1957 (UCBERKELEY)
- Tocqueville's revenge : state, society, and economy in contemporary France / Jonah D Levy., 1999 (UCBERKELEY)
- Liberalism's crooked circle : letters to Adam Michnik / Ira Katznelson., 1996 (COLUMBIA)
- Liberal socialism (Carlo Rosselli) / ed. Nadia Urbinati., 1994 (COLUMBIA)
- On liberal revolution (Piero Gobetti) / ed. Nadia Urbinati., 2000 (COLUMBIA)
- The clash of orthodoxies : law, religion, and morality in crisis / Robert P George., 2001 (PRINCETON)
- Liberal equality / Amy Gutmann., 1980 (PRINCETON)
- Diversity and distrust : civic education in a multicultural democracy / Stephen Macedo., 1999 (PRINCETON)
- Liberal virtues : citizenship, virtue, and community in liberal constitutionalism / Stephen Macedo., 1991 (PRINCETON)
- The inner ocean : individualism and democratic culture / George Kateb., 1992 (PRINCETON)
- Economic change and political liberalization in Sub-Saharan Africa / Jennifer A Widner., 1994 (PRINCETON)
- Natural law, liberalism, and morality : contemporary essays / Robert P George., 1996 (PRINCETON)
- Natural law and public reason / Robert P George., 2000 (PRINCETON)
- Liberal international relations theory : a social scientific assessment / Andrew Moravcsik., 2001 (PRINCETON)
- Liberalism and international relations theory / Andrew Moravcsik., 1992 (PRINCETON)
For secondary literature bibliographies in languages other than English see Additional reading on Liberalism
- Liberal International
- Political liberalism at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Peter Berkowitz on "Modern Liberalism"
- French Liberalism in the 18th and 19th century
- What's the Matter With Liberalism, political theorist Ronald Beiner's classic critique
- The divergence between American and English definitions of "liberal", a personal view by Jeffry Fischer
- The program of liberalism, Ludwig von Mises
- The Oxford Manifesto of 1947
- Australian Liberalism: The Continuing Vision
- Liberalism vs. Fascism by Roderick T. Long
- The Liberal Magazine committed to reinvigorating Liberalism
- Liberal Review an online magazine relating to liberalism in the UK
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