Liberalism Good and Not-So-Good? It Depends On Which Kind! (Guest Post)



There are several kinds of liberalism. This article focuses upon two kinds: Classical liberalism (good) and Social liberalism (not-so-good, in fact, bad).


Liberalism is a political philosophy founded on ideals of liberty and equality. The former principle is stressed in classical liberalism while the latter is more evident in social liberalism. Liberalism is a political doctrine that takes protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual to be the primary function of government.

Liberalism must be understood as a doctrine that grew out of a distinctive culture – the culture of the West. Theory and social reality interacted throughout the history of liberalism, with changes to theory being the basis for the reform of governments.

Classical Liberalism

Classical liberalism is a political ideology that advocates personal responsibility, values the freedom of individuals, and espouses limited government.

“Classical liberalism” is the term used to designate the ideology advocating personal responsibility, private property, an unhampered market economy, the rule of law, constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press, and international peace based on free trade.

Up until around 1900, this ideology was generally known simply as liberalism. The qualifying “classical” is now usually necessary, …[.]

It draws upon the thinking of Edmund Burke and the economics of Adam Smith, a belief in natural law, utilitarianism, and progress. Classical liberalism emphasizes the importance of free markets, civil liberties, and a laissez-faire style governance, with a minimum of governmental interference.

Classical liberalism is based upon the rule of law, especially with regard to property rights, religious toleration, freedom of expression, and a limited central government. The success of classic liberalism has had a “demonstration effect” on European culture and politics. Political theory and social reality interacted, with political theory refined through the practice of what worked, and societal changes made with reference to more accurate (from societal perspective) political theory. Protection of individual rights therefore are accomplished through more accurate political theory.

“Laissez-faire, laissez-passer, le monde va de lui-méme” (the world goes by itself) is a cornerstone of classical liberalism. This theory of spontaneous order was elaborated upon by classic liberal philosophers such as Herbert Spencer and Carl Menger in the 19th century, and F.A. Hayek and Michael Polanyi in the twentieth century. In fact, Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, argued that phenomena, such as the Great Depression and the rise of Totalitarian dictatorships, were not a result of laissez-faire capitalism, but a result of too much government intervention and regulation on the market.

Classical liberalism is what today is called “conservatism.”

Social Liberalism

Social liberalism seeks to “find a balance” between individual liberty and social justice. It believes the role of the government is to address economic and social issues such as poverty and health care. Lester Frank Ward, in 1883, published Dynamic Sociology, formalizing the basic tenets of social liberalism. Simultaneously he attacked laissez-faire governmental policies. Ward advocated socialist methods to achieve liberal goals, some of which were later incorporated into FDR’s New Deal.

… [Social] liberalism has come to be associated with wide-ranging interferences with private property and the market on behalf of egalitarian goals. This version of liberalism is now designated as “social” liberalism, [or “progressivism.”]

The widening disparity between rich and poor in the late 19th century, especially in England and Germany, began a trend toward social liberalism that emphasized a greater role for the state in “correcting” devastating social conditions.

Social liberalism deviates from “liberalism” in that it denies the self-regulatory capacity of society. Therefore the state is increasingly called upon to adddress (and alter) social imbalance. Its appeal is that it intends to preserve individual freedom by promoting social justice, modifying only the means to achieve freedom and justice. But in so doing, social liberalism curtails freedom and justice. In fact, social liberalism can hardly be distinguished, theoretically and practically, from revisionist socialism.

Social liberalism failed (and continues to fail) when its theories were/are used as the basis for the reform of politics. One only has to look at recent history, “The War on Poverty” for example, to see failure.

The one constant trait of ALL social liberals is that they lie. They have to. None of their proposals work as intended. They therefore constantly attack classical liberals and their proposals that work.

Social liberalism is what today is called “liberalism.”

So ….

“Liberalism” has become (for us conservatives) a pejorative term. So the next time the term “liberalism” is bandied about, be sure that you know which kind of liberalism is being discussed. Wear the term “classical liberal” proudly, and you will thoroughly confuse social liberals.

Cross-posted at Well Said, my personal, very conservative, web site.

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Thanks for the excellent clarification.

I saw an example of the contrast between these two liberalist ideas on the news today.
An older video showing a toddler hearing his father’s voice for the first time (after his cochlear implant) was shown while an account of Jesus healing a deaf man was recounted.
You could SEE the joy on the boy’s face although he had to sign how happy he was (because he didn’t talk with his mouth yet.)
You could read the joy of that deaf man and his family in Jesus’ day as he could hear.
Now contrast that with a liberal group who wants to criminalize parents giving their deaf children implants. They want the deaf to retain their deafness until they are old enough to decide for themselves! Can you imagine the theft of a normal life they would have robbed from that toddler!
They protested at a hearing about cochlear implants today.
They have organized: (Audism is the ability for the deaf to hear.)
Who do they hate most?
Rush Limbaugh for publicizing that cochlear implants can work…..and for being a conservative with classical liberal ideals.
J. Christian Adams also reports on this (with a different spin than yours about the contrasts between liberals) here:

How do you define equality?
Is it equality of opportunity or equality of outcome?
You try out for a team. Should the team be chosen by chance (equality of outcome) or sklll (opportunity)
Shoud the best team be chosen by chance or by performance?
Should not social liberals accept, as their own standard of living, the average for all persons in the State?
Or is it just equality for others?
It seems to me that social liberals have no foundation for their faith. For equality to be mandated, ALL things should be equal. Lodging should be government made, with all units alike. All food shoud be equally distributed. All income should be equal. This is the Marxist ideal Socialist State, which is prima facie absurd.
Never been done, never can be done.
Start thinking about this, and soon your head will hurt.

As I keep asserting; Where the Constitution is concerned, it is possible to be both Conservative and Liberal in it interpretation, as the founders themselves were very conservative in limiting the powers, scope and responsibilities granted the central government and very liberal towards the protection of rights and liberty and ensuring that the states would retain certain powers not delegated to the central government.

Today’s “Social Liberalism” takes the exact opposite stance, and instead adopts as it’s goal the transformation of this nation into a socialist state by perverting the supreme law of the land to use it against itself. The founders stood absolutely against such democracies, as those who march to “Social Liberalism” mantra wish to enact.

“Social Liberalism” (aka Progressive socialism) should not however be confused with Social Libertarians, whom should be very cautious about supporting “Social Liberalism” causes, as the end goals of those Progressive socialists is completely opposite to that of Libertarians.


How do you define equality?
Is it equality of opportunity or equality of outcome?

Opportunity. Everyone should be able to try out for the team. Only those who possess talent for the sport, or the spelling bee, or the math competition, will make it.

But that is not what the left wants. They want equality of outcome. Well, that is, unless it affects the NFL, the NBA, or Hollywood. You will never see a short Asian woman playing for the Lakers. Nor will you ever hear of any major movie star sharing their tony Million $$ plus salaries with the camera man, the grip, the stage hand, etc. Obama claims to support “equality” but not when it came to the revenue generated from his books. No equal money divided between Obama and the editor, the printer, the trucker who delivered the books to the stores, the clerk so sold the books. And although Obama is one of the one percenters, he paid only 19% in federal income tax on his 2014 income.

Excellent post on how the term liberalism has become bastardized over the last century or so. Modern liberalism has given liberalism a bad name.


But that is not what the left wants. They want equality of outcome.

But, only as defined by the lefties. Lefties should be allowed to have a body guard with a gun, but an individual shouldn’t be allowed to have a gun. It’s applies in many other ways also

Way back when we were using round rocks for bowling balls…ok, NOT THAT LONG…I coached youth bowling. The first thing I told the kids and their parents that there is First Place and First Place Loser. If you Don’t Want To Be the First Place Loser, work harder. They did. Of course the head of the program gave them participation awards but they knew the difference. My grandkids are in TaeKwonDo, it’s the same thing, they get very upset when they come in second in a tournament. (The tournaments give awards for a ‘tie’ for 3rd place) I tell the kids, work harder you can’t let up. I doubt they’ll grow up to be the ‘new’ Liberals.