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 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 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.”
“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.