Last modified on 17 April 2009, at 08:14


Liberalism can refer to a number of political philosophies. In this article the American political platform referred to as "liberal" within the United States is contrasted with other meanings of the word, particularly in Europe and in other parliamentary democratic systems.

United States

A satirical conception of the liberal brain.

In the U.S. the word liberal is usually used to describe the platform espoused by the Democratic Party, that is, support of social welfare systems, redistribution of wealth, and government regulation of the economy - combined with a certain brand of individual libertarianism, emphasizing social equality, and (to a certain extent) rejection of traditional Judeo-Christian standards of morality as a proper foundation for law.

The economic aspects of this ideology are to a large extent a product of the New Deal policies of the Great Depression era, as well as Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society." The Democratic Party's idea of social liberty and equality, though, came much later, partly as a result of the counterculture movement of the late 20th century. It continues to be fueled by various youth movements and the interests of numerous special interest groups.

Europe and elsewhere

In Europe, liberalism refers to a political position that leans toward greater individual liberties and less government intervention in general. In short, this is the philosophy commonly referred to in the United States as libertarianism. In Europe and elsewhere, then, the opposite of liberalism is not conservatism, but authoritarianism.

Because of this, the terms "conservative liberalism" and "liberal conservatism", which are seen as contradictory in the U.S., are not so in Europe. "Conservative liberalism" simply refers to a less radical libertarian philosophy, and is often referred to as "law-and-order liberalism." Liberal conservatism is simply a variant of conservatism willing to allow for individual liberties, and, in a way, describes the ideology of the American Republican Party.