The Political liberalism reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Political liberalism

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Table of contents
1 Introduction
2 Characterizing liberalism in general
3 For further reading
4 External links and references


The term "political liberalism" can refer to any of several political traditions. Notable among these are "free market liberalism" (the most common use of the term in Europe) and a broad swath of left-of-center United States politics, sometimes called "American liberalism". The term can also refer to the traditions of any of a number of Liberal parties around the world, although some of these have only a tenuous connection to any tradition that would usually be called "liberal". These definitional questions are further discussed in the article Liberalism. European liberalism is a broad political current, that includes both free market liberals and social liberals. Both emphasize individual liberty, but social liberalism sees a more active role for the state.

Both European liberalism and American liberalism trace their roots back to thinkers such as John Locke and to the Enlightenment. Both see their tradition continuing in the American War of Independence and in some of the more moderate bourgeois elements of the French Revolution, but little by little over the centuries, the two political traditions parted ways.

The political point of view known in the United States as Libertarianism also claims the early portion of this tradition, but diverges strongly from the American liberal tradition over economic matters. See classical liberalism.

The term liberal is also used to refer to certain U.S. political philosophies, such as that of John Rawls. Some considered these philosophies to be more social democratic. But the ideas of John Rawls influenced the political thinking in liberal parties in Europe too, even of parties that are considered free market liberal. Generally one could say that the difference between social democracy and (social) liberalism is the liberal emphasis on the individual. Sometimes conservatives name themselves liberals, when they adhere to liberal economic ideas. Since they generally don't emphasize the individual, these 'liberals' can be considerd liberal conservatives.

A caveat is in order: as with any other political philosophy, an abstract explanation of liberalism refers to an ideal. In practice, politicians make pragmatic compromises (cf centrism), have personal interests, and may pander to voters, so that the ideal is never a perfect description of any one individual's politics. Further, as with any other political philosophy, liberalism in any of its forms is defined somewhat differently by its proponents and its opponents. Those who adhere precisely to a well-defined set of principles are often those who are far removed from contention for power.

Characterizing liberalism in general

The word "liberal" derives from the Latin "liber" ("free") and liberals of all stripes tend to see themselves as friends of freedom, particularly freedom from the shackles of tradition. The origins of liberalism in the Enlightenment era contrasted this philosophy to feudalism and mercantilism; later, as more radical philosophies articulated themselves in the course of the French Revolution and through the Nineteenth Century, liberalism equally defined itself against socialism and communism, although some adherents of American liberalism might overlap with socialists in embracing some or all of the ideas of social democracy.

In general, liberals favor constitutional government and some form of representative democracy. Liberals at various times have embraced both constitutional monarchy and republican government. They are generally opposed to any but the milder forms of nationalism, and generally stand in contrast to conservatives in more readily embracing multiculturalism and even cultural relativism.

Liberals generally favor freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other civil liberties, although the degree of their commitment to this is not necessarily absolute: for example, many liberals accept, or even support, limits on hate speech. Nineteenth-century liberals nearly all believed in free markets and limited government intervention in the economy; part of the contemporary European liberals tend to stay close to this tradition, and even American liberals tend to believe in a smaller role for government than would be supported by most socialists. In the U.S., the nineteenth-century liberal position is probably closer to that of contemporary U.S. libertarians than contemporary U.S. liberals.

As late as 1848 in Europe, liberalism was generally seen as a revolutionary force, and in those parts of the world where feudalism or other highly traditionalist (or merely socially rigid) societies remain, it still has revolutionary aspects. One could make a case that liberalism was a major component of the political philosophy involved in the overthrow of the communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989. As of 2004 in much of the developed world, enough of the goals and values of liberalism are entrenched in governmental and societal institutions that liberalism has necessarily taken on a moderate and reformist character.

The specifics of liberal agendas vary considerably from country to country and over time, so the remainder of this article will focus on political liberalism in more specific contexts. For information on liberal parties around the world, see worldwide liberalism.

For further reading

See for a great deal of content that should eventually find its way into this article.

External links and references