Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis) is a political philosophy or worldview founded on the ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and a right to life, liberty, and property.
Liberalism first became a distinct political movement during the Age of Enlightenment, when it became popular among philosophers and economists in the Western world. Liberalism rejected the notions, common at the time, of hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The early liberal thinker John Locke is often credited with founding liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition. Locke argued that each man has a natural right to life, liberty and property and according to the social contract governments must not violate these rights. Liberals opposed traditional conservatism and sought to replace absolutism in government with democracy and the rule of law.
The revolutionaries in the American Revolution, the French Revolution and other liberal revolutions from that time used liberal philosophy to justify the armed overthrow of what they saw as tyrannical rule. The nineteenth century saw liberal governments established in nations across Europe, Spanish America, and North America.
During the beginning of the twentieth century some countries adopted totalitarian, non-liberal regimes, such as Fascism, Nazism and Communism. In other countries classical liberalism became less popular and gave way to social democracy and social liberalism. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "In the United States liberalism is associated with the welfare-state policies of the New Deal program of the Democratic administration of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, whereas in Europe it is more commonly associated with a commitment to limited government and laissez-faire economic policies."
After the defeat of Fascism and Nazism in World War II, the world was largely divided into two blocks, the western world, which held onto liberal ideas, and the Communist Block. Non-aligned countries were sometimes called "Third World" countries. Today, liberal political parties remain a political force with varying degrees of power and influence on all major continents.
Famous quotes containing the word liberalism:
“There are two kinds of liberalism. A liberalism which is always, subterraneously authoritative and paternalistic, on the side of ones good conscience. And then there is a liberalism which is more ethical than political; one would have to find another name for this. Something like a profound suspension of judgment.”
—Roland Barthes (19151980)
“The basic idea which runs right through modern history and modern liberalism is that the public has got to be marginalized. The general public are viewed as no more than ignorant and meddlesome outsiders, a bewildered herd.”
—Noam Chomsky (b. 1928)