Political liberalism refers to the respective political traditions of the liberal parties around the world. The same phrase is also used to refer to the later political philosophy of John Rawls.

Liberal traditions vary but are usually a blend of aspects of social democracy, though of a moderate reformist kind as opposed to revolutionary socialism, and selected aspects of classical liberalism, especially an attachment to a sphere of individual liberties, though without any strong principle in circumscribing government intervention. Liberals usually think of themselves as progressive rather than conservative, and as moderate and reformist rather than radical or revolutionary. They will defend a democratic constitution that guarantees civil rights, as opposed to monarchies, aristocracies, or otherwise non-democratic systems.

The specifics of liberal agendas vary considerably from country to country and over time, as social standards, and cultural attitudes deal directly with some issues regarding personal freedom.

As in all political battles, what is apparent does not resemble the underlying political mechanics, and all political issues should be taken with a grain of salt. Thus, many attempts by liberals and conservatives to characterize each other, are more akin to a public stage-play based on symbolic idealisms than on the real workings of compromise in government. Compromises and the personal interest of politicians mean that political discourse are taylored to pander to expected voters and fit their common prejudice, whereas promises are forgotten once the party holds power.

This distinction of political liberalism carries a caveat, which is that in the absence of strong principles characteristic of successful power-seeking endeavours, there is no possible strong definition liberty, and liberalism will refer to the vague common prejudices of the day. The countries where liberals have stronger principles are those where they are farther removed from any contention of holding power.

Table of contents
1 United Kingdom
2 United States

United Kingdom

Emerging primarily from the Whigs of the nineteenth century, the Liberal Party was a major force in pre-World War I politics. Their political rivals were the Conservative (Tory) Party.

After the War, their influence was undermined by the rise of socialism in the form of Labour Party, who displaced the Liberals to become the party of progressive and reformist tendencies.

The doctrine of the party evolved a lot throughout history, matching concerns of the day. For historical details, see the article about Whiggism.

In the latter half of the 20th century, the party merged with the Social Democratic Party to become the Liberal Democrats. As a result, most commentators agree that the party has, at least on a national level, moved left into social democracy. (Though members often claim that the right-left spectrum is inadequate in a post-Cold War and post-ideological Britain.)

Liberal policies that remain important to the party include support for free trade, a capitalist economy (albeit with government intervention) and strong civil liberties.

Notable Liberal Prime Ministers include:

United States

In recent decades the most common use of the term liberal in the USA is greatly at variance from the use of the term in the rest of the world, and with the historical meaning of the word in the USA through the mid 20th century.

Some think that conservatives have been successful in undermining progressives as 'liberals', by deliberate public relations campaigns, through repeated use of the word, 'liberal', in ways that associate it with irresponsibility.

Some independent leftists and libertarians who dislike the USA's two leading parties allege that since liberal means being in favor of liberty, both parties are telling the truth when they deny that they are liberals.

In the United States, the label of liberal is sometimes used as derogatory or politically undermining label. It can imply an overly free-spirited, unaccountable, and compromised character, or someone in favor of vast and needless government intrusion into peoples lives.

USA Conservatives in recent years, often those of the Republican Party, sometimes use liberal as an subversive adjective for anyone who is a member of or supports any policy of the Democratic Party.

Consequently, while far right wing politics often are debated and voiced in the political world, liberalism has been associated with far-left politics, whose agendas are often voided.

See: Politicized issues

Twentieth century American political liberalism traditionally held many of the following views:

  • Support for the rights of women and minorities, particularly racial and religious minorities, the disabled, and homosexuals. Some further support such programs as affirmative action and multi-lingual education.
  • Support for abortion rights.
  • Support for government social programs such as welfare, medical care, unemployment benefits, and retirement programs.
  • Support for strong environmental regulations.
  • Support for trade unions and strong regulation of business.
  • Support for animal rights.
  • Support for gun control
  • Opposition to the death penalty

This resembled what in other countries was sometimes referred to as social democracy. However, unlike European social democrats, American liberals never widely endorsed nationalization of industry. In addition, in recent years the term has become somewhat confused,as the term has been applied to a broad spectrum of viewpoints.As the United States Democratic Party, the standard bearer of American liberals, adopted of the more centrist outlook of the Democratic Leadership Council,the term "liberal" has become associated with more centrist candidates and issues who, for example, support the death penalty or take pro-business positions. For this reason, many Americans on the left of the political spectrum prefer to use the term progressive to describe their views, disassociating themselves from contemporary mainstream liberalism.

Some people define liberals as those who support the use of government power to promote equality, but generally not to promote order. They also support more government intervention than conservatives. For example, liberals are more likely to promote affirmative action than to ban homosexual marriage. This definition is generally true, especially considering the main supporting points given above. However, this definition can be incorrect in some cases; for example, most liberals support gun control.

See also:

See Talk page

External links and references