As you may know already, I am quite a Quora fan. Quora is a question-and-answer sir where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. Lately, I have seen a lot of questions about how liberals feel about conservatives, about the Republican Party and about pro-life demonstrations. People tend to assume that Liberalism is a left-wing ideology, but is this always the case?
What is Liberalism?
Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality, but what do we mean with “liberty” and “equality”? The vague descriptions of these two terms, make Liberalism an ideology that’s not only different per continent, but even per country or per state. In general, we can find a few common characteristics such as freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular movements and gender equality. To summarize it: freedom is a fundamental right.
The vague terms of freedom and equality caused that we have different schools (versions) of Liberalism, each with their own definition of freedom and equality. Social Liberalism (the American liberalism) is very fond of progressive tax rates to make people more equal, while some Classical Liberals say: “Everybody needs a fair start with education and that’s it”, while other Classical Liberals think that public education reduces freedom because public education is funded by taxes. To make it short: Liberals are constantly arguing about the importance of freedom versus equality, and the definition of freedom and equality.
History of Liberalism
The very start of Liberalism is unknown, because we are quite certain that some people have always been fighting for freedom and equality. Liberalism that we know nowadays, found its foundation in 1688, after the Glorious Revolution in which the power of monarch was constitutionally limited. This revolution gave power to the parliament, which passed the Bill of Rights which would guarantee basic civil rights of civilians, and so make people more equal and more free. After that, the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776 caused the independence of the thirteen American colonies, in which the constitution would be based on liberal principles, without the encumbrance of hereditary aristocracy. The final foundation of Liberalism would be set in France, in which the French Revolution overthrew the aristocracy, granted universal male suffrage, and would lay the foundations of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
Liberal governments often adapted the economic beliefs espoused by Adam Smith, John Stuart and other free market economists. According to them, freedom for the market would cause freedom for men. These social, political and economical beliefs, call we classical liberalism. We consider this as a socially left-wing ideology, and an economically right-wing ideology. Liberalism spread rapidly after the French Revolution, especially in Europe, South America and North America, as an opponent of conservatism. However, different kind of Liberalisms arose at the time, all with their own characteristics.
Other variants of Liberalism
Classical Liberalism, with its free market, and individual freedom, quickly evolved into other kinds of Liberalism. Some people were sceptical of the radical stance of Classical Liberals, and wanted some kind of hierarchy, preservation of the culture and were more devoted to the nation. This variant is called Conservative Liberalism. Conservative Liberalism has nationalist characteristics, supports a well funded army but still upholds the values of personal freedom, and equality. A sub-ideology of Conservative Liberalism is National Liberalism. National Liberalism cares less about the free market, and more about the state, its culture and is more authoritarian in its nature. Conservative Liberalism was, together with Classical Liberalism, the most common ideology of the political classes in most European countries. Conservative Liberalism is socially a right-wing ideology, and economically also a right-wing ideology.
However, after World War 2, there was demand for an intervening government, which could provide welfare to its citizens. Europe was in ruins, and there was a new threat on the rise called Socialism. This caused business men, and the wealthy to accept a welfare state, and interference from the government; in a Socialist economy, they would lose all their wealth while in a Social Democrat system, they would have less profits, but they could still keep their wealth. This caused a new variant of Liberalism called Social Liberalism. Social Liberalism upholds the values of personal freedom, equality, but espoused the idea of Social Democracy: a Capitalist system which would be regulated to serve the general interest. To make things more clear, the American Democratic Party espouses the idea of Social Liberalism and Modern Liberalism. Modern Liberalism is a sub-ideology of Social Liberalism, and in particular an American terms. It’s used to describe Social Liberals who also address the social issues around women’s rights, support for LGBT rights and reformation of the immigration system. Social Liberalism is socially a left-wing ideology, and economically also a left-wing ideology.
Social Liberalism was quite popular after World War 2, however, after the economic problems in the 1970s, there was a transformation. The economic problems in the 1970s gave rise to a new kind of Liberalism called Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is actually the revival of Classical Liberalism with extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity and reductions in government spending. This would reduce the tax burden, and so improve purchasing power, to revive the economy.
Liberalism applied to American politics
To make matters more understandable, one can easily apply the teaching of Liberalism to American politics. As noted before, the Democratic Party largely consist of Social Liberals and Modern Liberals. The Republican Party, however, clearly consists of Conservative Liberals and American conservatives (Conservatives want to defend Western Culture from unlimited free speech, while Conservative Liberals uphold the values of liberty and so, free speech). Classic Liberalism can be found for a large part in the Libertarian Party and for a small part in the Republican Party.
Liberalism can not be seen as a left-wing or right-wing ideology, because of the amount of variants. Conservative Liberalism is clearly a right-wing ideology(both socially and economically) while Social Liberalism is obviously a left-wing ideology. To make matters clear, not all Liberals espouse the ideas of a big welfare state, multiculturalism or high tax rates. We just want you to voice your opinions, so we can all be truly free.