What is Liberalism?

Liberalism is a political and economic philosophy that prioritizes individual freedom, equality, and protecting individual rights and liberties. It emphasizes the importance of the rule of law, free markets, and limited government intervention in the economy and society.

The origins of liberalism as a distinct political movement and philosophical idea can be traced back to the Enlightenment era when thinkers such as John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Millicent Fawcett and Adam Smith championed individual liberty, limited government, and the importance of rationality and scientific inquiry. Liberalism gained widespread popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in the United States and Western Europe, where it became the dominant political philosophy.

There are several different strands of liberalism, including classical liberalism, social liberalism, and neoliberalism, each with its own particular and often competing emphasis and approach. However, all forms of liberalism are committed to individual freedom, civil liberties, and limited government intervention in the economy and society (although quite how limited varies significantly among the strands).

Liberalism emphasizes individual liberty, equality, and the rule of law. In a liberal system, the government’s role is to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens, and there are checks and balances to prevent abuses of power. Liberal societies tend to be pluralistic, tolerant, and open to diverse viewpoints and lifestyles. Liberalism is neither “right” nor “left”; nor is it restricted to a particular political party.

On the other hand, “illiberalism” refers to any political ideology that emphasizes authority, and the primacy of the state (or other form of social control) over individual rights. In an illiberal system, governments or other powerful bodies often restrict civil liberties, suppress dissent, and discriminate against certain groups. Illiberal societies tend to be more authoritarian and closed to some perspectives and lifestyles. Illiberalism is neither “right” nor “left”; nor is it restricted to a particular political party.