The Liberals

While the adjetive of the term means “Marked by generosity”, a used definition of liberal regards the person
who is open-minded or not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional, or established forms or ways.

Earl Killian thinks that a liberal is the person “who seeks to maintain the changes of recent years or limit the erosion thereof.” He adds the following:

“The dictionary definition of “liberal” has meaning independent of the political spectrum, but is now almost exclusively used — incorrectly in my opinion — as to mean someone from the left. In the U.S. this means one of the two dominant parties of the two-party system. The modern meaning of “liberal” has therefore become simply a synonym for a Democrat, i.e. an artificial packaging of political views created to help perpetrate the two party system. As such, “liberal” has undergone an about-face from someone who is open-minded and non-traditional to someone who seeks to maintain the status quo in the face of efforts to undo the program of past liberals.

In addition, the word “liberal” has acquired a negative connotation due the sustained and withering attacks of neo-conservatives. Neo-conservatives use “liberal” as a pejorative to tar their enemies as spend-thrifts of government money, thus capitalizing on the meaning of the English adjective form of the word. The effort to pejoratize the word is also aided by the lack of defenders of the term “liberal”; non-conservative political movements have historically preferred to call themselves “progressive”. In the 18th and 19th century, “liberal” was associated with disciples of John Locke (thus the authors of the U.S. Constitution would have been liberals), who believed in minimalist government (government as a protector of rights, not an instrument of social policy). The association of “liberal” with a more expansive role for government may have begun with the New Deal, since by then laissez-faire had become orthodoxy that was failing under conditions much evolved from those of Locke and the U.S. founders (the corporate age).”

The study of international relations: Idealism and Liberalism

“Idealists believe international law and morality are key influences on international events, rather than power alone. International law refers to principles and rules of conduct that nations regard as binding. Idealists think that human nature is basically good. They believe good habits (such as telling the truth in diplomatic dealings with other nations), education, and the existence of international organizations-such as the UN to facilitate good relations between nations-will result in peaceful and cooperative international relationships. Idealists see the world as a community of nations that have the potential to work together to overcome mutual problems.

Idealists were particularly active in the 1920s and 1930s, following the painful experience of World War I. United States president Woodrow Wilson and other idealists placed their hopes for peace in the League of Nations, an international organization that existed from 1920 to 1946 to promote world peace and cooperation. These hopes were dashed when the League failed to stop German and Japanese aggression in the 1930s, which led to the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Realists blamed idealists for looking too much at how the world should be instead of how it really is.

Although the term idealism fell out of use, related liberal approaches to international relations continued after World War II ended in 1945 (see Liberalism). Liberals believe international relations evolved through small changes over time. Liberals focus on the interdependence of the world’s countries and the mutual benefits they can gain through cooperating with each other. Unlike realists, liberals believe that by cooperating together, all nations could win. They also think gaining actual wealth is more important than acquiring more power relative to other countries. Liberals tend to see war not as a natural tendency but as a tragic mistake that can be prevented or at least minimized by international agreements and organizations. ” (1)

Introduction to Liberalism

“Liberalism, attitude, philosophy, or movement that has as its basic concern the development of personal freedom and social progress. Liberalism and democracy are now usually thought to have common aims, but in the past many liberals considered democracy unhealthy because it encouraged mass participation in politics. Nevertheless, liberalism eventually became identified with movements to change the social order through the further extension of democracy. A distinction must therefore be made between liberalism, in which social change is conceived of as gradual, flexible, and adaptive, and radicalism, in which social change is seen as fundamental and based on new principles of authority.

The course of liberalism in a given country is usually conditioned by the character of the prevailing form of government. For example, in countries in which the political and religious authorities are separate, liberalism connotes, mainly, political, economic, and social reform; in countries in which a state church exists or a church is politically influential, liberalism connotes, mainly, anticlericalism. In domestic politics, liberals have opposed feudal restraints that prevent the individual from rising out of a low social status; barriers such as censorship that limit free expression of opinion; and arbitrary power exercised over the individual by the state. In international politics, liberals have opposed the domination of foreign policy by militarists and military considerations and the exploitation of native colonial people, and they have sought to substitute a cosmopolitan policy of international cooperation. In economics, liberals have attacked monopolies and mercantilist state policies that subject the economy to state control. In religion, liberals have fought against church interference in the affairs of the state and attempts by religious pressure groups to influence public opinion.

A distinction is sometimes made between so-called negative liberalism and positive liberalism. Between the mid-17th and the mid-19th centuries, liberals fought chiefly against oppression, arbitrariness, and misuses of power and emphasized the needs of the free individual. About the middle of the 19th century many liberals developed a more positive program stressing the constructive social activity of the state and advocating state action in the interests of the individual. The present-day defenders of the older liberal policies deplore this departure and argue that positive liberalism is merely authoritarianism in disguise. The defenders of positive liberalism argue that state and church are not the only obstructors of freedom, but that poverty may deprive the individual of the possibility of making significant choices and must therefore be controlled by constituted authority.” (2)

Concept of Liberalism

Note: explore also the meaning of this legal term in the American Ecyclopedia of Law.


In relation to the liberalism and constitutional law, Massimo Fichera[1] made the following observation: Liberalism as a concept belongs both to political philosophy and constitutional doctrine. It expresses the political-philosophical ambition to craft a free, just, and prosperous society in which the projects of individual’s lives ought to be developed independently of any unjustified interference by private or public authorities. However, liberalism may also be understood as a doctrine emphasizing the fundamental principles of constitutional (ie limited) government, rule of law and individual rights. Both configurations—liberalism as a political-philosophical (…)

Liberalism and Europe

There is an entry on liberalism in the European legal encyclopedia.


See Also

  • Ideology
  • Public Opinion
  • Media


See Also

Further Reading

  • Entry “Liberalism” in the work “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)


Notes and References

  1. Max Planck Encyclopedia of Comparative Constitutional Law, Massimo Fichera, “Liberalism” (2018, Germany, United Kingdom)

See Also

  • Constitutional Principles
  • Constitutional Objectives
  • Liberalism


Notes and References

  1. Information about Liberalism in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
  2. Id.

See Also

  • Economics
  • Humanism
  • Political Economy
  • Comparative Politics
  • Leaders of Nations
  • Conservatism
  • International Actors
  • Social Democracy
  • Political Science
  • International Relations

Guide to Liberalism

Liberalism and International Trade Economy

In relation to international trade economy, Christopher Mark (1993) provided the following definition of Liberalism: In the context of trade policy, “liberal” usually means freedom from import controls or government restraints. Liberalism connotes a preference for reducing existing barriers to trade –in contrast with protectionism, or a preference for retaining or raising barriers to import competition. See also mercantilism and economic nationalism.

Hierarchical Display of Liberalism

Politics > Political framework > Political ideology
Politics > Political framework > Political philosophy > Democracy
Economics > Economic policy > Economic policy > Economic liberalism
Politics > Political party > Political parties > Liberal Party


Concept of Liberalism

See the dictionary definition of Liberalism.

Characteristics of Liberalism

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Translation of Liberalism

Thesaurus of Liberalism

Politics > Political framework > Political ideology > Liberalism
Politics > Political framework > Political philosophy > Democracy > Liberalism
Economics > Economic policy > Economic policy > Economic liberalism > Liberalism
Politics > Political party > Political parties > Liberal Party > Liberalism

See also

  • Neo-liberalism


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