What is liberal? ‘Liberal’ comes from the Latin word ‘liber’ (free) but it is simply not known as ‘liber’ and make it into ‘liberal’. It is ...

What is liberal?

‘Liberal’ comes from the Latin word ‘liber’ (free) but it is simply not known as ‘liber’ and make it into ‘liberal’. It is also denotes ‘liberty’ as root i.e. freedom as one choose without too many restrictions from the government or authority. ‘Liberal’ an adjective word and simply means generous, open minded or frank one, through willing to understand and respect other people opinions, behavior, etc. especially when they are different from one’s own.

Generally ‘Liberal’ is used politically as meaning. It denotes a political and social philosophy i.e. wanting or allowing a lot of political and economic freedom and supporting gradual social, political or religious change through promoting individual rights, civil liberties, democracy etc. Liberal means understanding of the principles of liberty in a wide range of views depending on their narrow government, individual rights, capitalism, democracy, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.

In the US, both the Republican and Democratic parties have concerned with ‘liberal’ as their party level. Although it is not suitable for these parties in their positions as people in the US commonly give it.

Then, when ‘Liberal’ is a noun word; it means a person of liberal principles or views, especially in politics or religion or a member or a supporter of a liberal political party. Simply, the party members are called briefly the liberals.

“By definition,” Maurice Cranston says, “a liberal is a man who believes in liberty” (1967: 459).


The term limousine liberal, meaning "a wealthy political liberal," is older than many people realize; although the phrase was long believed to have originated in the 1960s, recent evidence shows that we have been sneering at “limousine liberals” almost as long as we have had limousines.

“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.

—New York Tribune, 5 May, 1919

What is Liberalism?

Generally, Liberalism is used as political philosophy for ensuring and increasing the freedom of the people rights and liberties from the political problem; favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection. A Liberal one typically believes that for the protection of the individuals from harmful others, government is necessary. Besides, their perception is that government itself can stop a threat to liberty. It needs the laws, judges, and police for the security of an individual’s life and liberty, but the misuse of their power can also be turned against him. Then, it is needed to create a system that ensures the government to protect individual by using its power properly and prevents the abusing of the power for the development of a nation. So in brief, it can be said that, Liberalism is liberty, consent of the governed and equality before the law on the basis of political and moral philosophy. Yellow is the color most commonly associated with liberalism.

According to modern liberalism, the main task of government is to remove obstacles as poverty, discrimination, ignorance etc. that prevent individuals from living freely or from fully realizing their potential. Liberalism is concerned with the welfare-state policies of the Democratic administration for the New Deal program in the US. But in Europe, it is more commonly concerned with laissez-faire economic policies and limited government policies.

In Western society, liberalism is the result of developments that formed through the importance of the individuality of human, individual liberation, a relaxation of the tight custom, law, and authority. This means liberalism stands for the liberation of the individual.

Liberalism also develops from the repetition of European political and economic life. There has the competition between different political parties in electoral challenges; between different producers in a market economy etc. i.e. their institutionalized competition in European economic life. Liberalism has a close relationship with democracy but sometimes it becomes uneasy. It is the belief that governments raise their authority from popular election through democratic policy; liberalism is primarily concerned with through governmental activity. Liberals often have been cautious of democracy, because it might cause of autocracy by the majority.  Liberalism is much thoughtful to time like other political rules. It is different for different countries and it varies with generation variation.

Classical Liberalism

Political foundations

In the middle Ages the rights and responsibilities of the people were determined by their place in a hierarchical social structure that placed great anxiety upon compliance and conformity. By the end of the 16th century, the papacy had been ruined in most of northern Europe, and tried to join the unity of his kingdom. But this liberal idea was not visible in European politics until the early 16th century. 

The goals of national rules and the requirements of growing industry and commerce run gradually to the assumption of economic policies. However, as such intervention increasingly served established interests and inhibited enterprise; it was challenged by members of the newly emerging middle class. This challenge was a significant factor in the great revolutions that rocked England and France in the 17th and 18th centuries—most notably the English Civil Wars (1642–51), the Glorious Revolution (1688), the American Revolution (1775–83), and the French Revolution (1789). Classical liberalism as an articulated creed is a result of those great collisions. The absolutist king Charles I then James II and then Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are the great scholars till 1690 of the development of Liberalism in England.

Liberalism and democracy

The government applied the early liberals working to free individuals from two forms of social constraint; religious conformism and aristocratic integrity. The aim of the early liberals was to minimize the power of government over the people while holding it responsible to the governed. As Locke and others claimed this essential, a system of government based on majority rules—i.e. one in which government performs the expressed will of a majority of the electorate. 

John Adams, in his Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787), was more explicit. If the majority were to control all branches of government, he declared, “debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on others; and at last a downright equal division of everything be demanded and voted.”

Most 18th- and 19th-century liberal politicians are afraid of popular authority. Consequently, they limited suffrage to property holders for a long time. Even in Britain the important Reform Bill of 1867 did not completely stop property qualifications for the right to vote. Efforts to range the vote to women met with little achievement until the early years of the 20th century. Indeed, Switzerland, which is called the world’s oldest continuous democracy, did not allow full voting rights to women until 1971.

Separation of powers

Different strategies are employed for the solution to the problem of limitation of the powers of a democratic majority in liberalism. The first was the separation of powers—i.e., the distribution of power between the agencies of government as the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. This planning and the procedure of checks and balances by which it was practiced, received its classic picture in the Constitution of the United States and its political justification in the Federalist papers (1787–88), by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Such a separation of powers also could have been done through a “mixed constitution”—i.e. one in which power is shared by, and governing roles distinguished between, a imperator and an elected assembly; this was in fact the system of government in Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution. 

Periodic elections

The next part of the solution is the periodic elections to make the decisions of any given majority subject to the concurrence of other majorities distributed over time. For example, in the US, presidents are selected every four years and members of the House of Representatives every two years, and one-third of the Senate is elected every two years to terms of six years. Therefore, the majority that elects a president every four years or a House of Senates every two years is different from the majority that elects one-third of the Senate two years earlier and the majority that elects another one-third of the Senate two years later. In Britain an act of Parliament becomes part of the structure; however, before acting on a highly debated issue, Parliament must seek a popular mandate, which represents a majority other than the one that selected it. Thus, in a lawful democracy, the power of a current majority is checked by the results of majorities.


The final part of the solution monitored from liberalism’s basic pledge to the freedom and integrity of the individual, which the limitation of power is, after all, meant to preserve. From the liberal perspective, an individual is not only a citizen who parts a social contract with his partners but also a person with rights. A majority judgment can come about only if people are free to some range to altercation their views. But the individual also has rights apart from his role as citizen. These rights secure his personal security and his protection from random arrest and punishment. In a liberal democracy there are affairs that do not concern the state. Such affairs may range from the practice of religion to the creation of art and the raising of children by their parents. For liberals of the 18th and 19th centuries they also included most of the activities through which individuals engage in production and trade. The British Bill of Rights (1689), The U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776) and Constitution (ratified 1788), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), these documents and speeches stated that freedom is more than the right to cast a vote in a random election; it is the vital right of people to live their own lives.

Economic foundations

The political foundations of liberalism were laid in Great Britain. By the 18th century parliamentary restrictions were making it difficult for British monarchs to follow the schemes of national exaggeration. These rulers fought for military authority, which required a strong economic base. Because the usual mercantilist theory understood international trade as a zero-sum game—in which gain for one country meant loss for another—national governments interfered to regulate prices, shelter their industries from foreign contest, and escape the disclose of economic information.

Soon liberalism is come under these practices…. In France a group of thinkers known as the physiocrats said that the best way to improve wealth is to permit uncontrolled economic competition. Their news to government was “laissez faire, laissez passer” (“let it be, leave it alone”). This laissez-faire doctrine found its most detailed and important exposition in The Wealth of Nations (1776), by the Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith. According to Smith, free trade profits all parties, because competition hints to the production of more and better goods at lower prices. Leaving individuals free to pursue their self-interest in an exchange economy based upon a division of labour will necessarily improve the welfare of the group as a total. The self-seeking individual becomes harnessed to the public good because in an exchange economy he must aid others in order to aid himself. But it is only in an openly free market that this positive value is possible; any other plan, whether state control or monopoly, must lead to regulation, exploitation, and economic inaction.

Liberalism and utilitarianism

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Bentham, the philosopher James Mill, and his son John Stuart Mill checked classical economic regulations to the political range. Raising the policy of utilitarianism—object of all regulation should be “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” In assessing what democracy, asserting that it was the best means by which government could encourage the kind of government could best realize this independent, the utilitarians generally supported characteristic benefits of the the trust that something has care when it is useful or increases happiness—they claimed that the governed. Taking their sign from the idea of a market economy, the utilitarian’s called for a political structure that would assure its people the highest degree of individual freedom of choice and extended education, enlarged suffrage, and periodic elections to ensure government’s responsibility to the governed. Although they had no usage for the idea of natural rights, their defense of individual liberties—including the rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the media, and freedom of meeting—lies at the heart of modern democracy. These liberties received their classic advocacy in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859), which claims on utilitarian estates that the state may set action regular with efficient government and the protection of social harmonization. They supported ones behavior only in cases where the welfares of others would be clearly harmed.

Liberalism In The 19th Century

As a philosophy and in practice liberalism became the famous reform movement in Europe during the 19th century. Even religion could affect the national atmosphere of liberal movement. For example, Liberalism in Roman Catholic countries i.e. France, Italy, and Spain tended to get anticlerical overtones. In Great Britain the Whigs had developed by the mid-19th century into the Liberal Party, whose activist programs became the classical for liberal political parties throughout Europe.

Modern Liberalism

At the end of the 19th century, some unexpected but serious significances of the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America had made a developing disappointment with the principal economic basis of classical liberalism. The leading problem was that the profit system had focused vast wealth in the hands of a relatively small number of industrialists, with some contrary consequences. First, huge number of people doesn’t able to benefit from the wealth flowing from factories and lived in poverty. Second, because the greatly extended structure of production created many goods and services that people often could not afford to buy. Briefly, some of the same forces that had once released the productive energies of Western society now restrained them. Because they valued the real achievements of the market system, modern liberals required to alter and control the system rather than to finish it. They realized that no cause for a stable line sharing the private and public sectors of the economy; they opposed, the separation, must be made by position to what works. The ranges of regulation in centrally planned economies and even the dangers of bureaucracy in mixed economies discouraged them from abandoning the market and replacing a putatively Omni competent state and this is a basic difference between classical and modern liberalism. On the other hand most liberals came to recognize that the operation of the market needed to be improved and modified. First, the new liberals declared the rewards allotted by the market as most people made to society and second, the market ignored the needs of those who lacked opportunity or who were economically broken. They contended that the enormous social costs incurred in production were not reflected in market prices and that resources were often used wastefully. Finally, they insisted that price-wage-profit decisions affecting the economy as a whole must be settled with public policy, although liberals believed that prices, wages, and profits should continue to be subject to negotiation among the interested parties and responsive to conventional market pressures.

Contemporary Liberalism

The recovery of classical liberalism

The three decades of unique general affluence that after World War II the experience of the Western world marked as the high tide of modern liberalism. But the slowing of economic growth that gripped most Western countries beginning in the mid-1970s presented a serious challenge to modern liberalism. By the end of that period economic idleness pushed governments increasingly toward politically weak levels of taxation and mounting debt combined with the cost of maintaining the social benefits of the welfare state. Governments continued to expense money on programs expected at motivating economic growth, but the way too often was enlarged inflation and ever-smaller failures in unemployment rates.


  1. I have got the point and this article has increase my knowledge on Liberalism.
    Thanks for sharing this valuable article.

  2. Hello, I think you need to add more think here.

    What is Liberal?

    ‘Liberal’ comes from the Latin word ‘liber’ (free) but it is simply not known as ‘liber’ and make it into ‘liberal’. It is also denotes ‘liberty’ as root i.e. freedom as one choose without too many restrictions from the government or authority. ‘Liberal’ an adjective word and simply means generous, open minded or frank one, through willing to understand and respect other people opinions, behavior, etc. especially when they are different from one’s own.


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Knowledge World: Liberalism
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