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political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality
(Redirected from Liberal)
Liberalism, for all its virtues, has begun to develop a sense of entitlement, and needs time to rediscover its soul. ~ Stephen L. Carter

Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, capitalism, and freedom of religion. Words such as liberal, liberty, libertarian, and libertine all trace their history to the Latin liber, which means "free".

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  • Ultraliberalism today translates into a whimpering isolationism in foreign policy, a mulish obstructionism in domestic policy, and a pusillanimous pussyfooting on the critical issue of law and order.
    • Spiro Agnew, speech before Illinois Republican meeting, Springfield, Illinois (September 10, 1970); reported in Collected Speeches of Spiro Agnew (1971), p. 193.


  • He that defers his charity 'till he is dead, is (if a man weighs it rightly) rather liberal of another man's, than of his own.
    • Francis Bacon, Francisci Baconi Baronis de Verulamio … Opera Omnia Quatuor (1730), p. 298. Compare: The English Theophrastus: or, The manners of the age (1702), p. 268: "He that defers Charity till Death, is rather Liberal of another Man's, than of his own".
  • A liberal is a man or a woman or a child who looks forward to a better day, a more tranquil night, and a bright, infinite future.
    • Leonard Bernstein, statement of 1953, quoted in A Wonderful Life : 50 Eulogies to Lift the Spirit (2006) by Cyrus M. Copeland, p. 190
  • Liberality consists less in giving a great deal than in gifts well timed.
    • Jean de La Bruyère, in Les Caractères (1688), Aphorism 47 as translated in The Characters of Jean de La Bruyère (1929) by Henri van Laun
    • Variant translations:
    • Liberality consists rather in giving seasonably than much.
    • Generosity lies less in giving much than in giving at the right moment.


Reality has a well-known liberal bias. ~ Stephen Colbert
  • There are people who are known to be very liberal, yet they never give without scolding or pride or even insolence.
    • John Calvin Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, Page 39
  • What do we mean by this Liberalism of which we talk? … I should say it means the acknowledgement in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can, at least, avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life.
    • Henry Campbell-Bannerman, The Liberal Magazine (January 1898), p. 530, quoted in John Wilson, C.B.: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Constable, 1973), p. 232
  • Liberalism in its political instantiation, for all of its appeal, is so powerful a theory that it probably works better in opposition than in government. Modern liberalism has become what liberal philosophers not long ago would have derided as a “comprehensive view” — a theory that believes itself able to give an account of how every institution of the society should operate, and even, alas, how people should think. Add to that a dash of triumphalism, and you wind up with a government impatient with the tendency of human beings to resist having too much forced on them at once.
  • Humanity cannot be made equal by declarations on paper. Unless the material conditions for equality exist, it is worse than mockery to pronounce men equal.


  • I have never seen a class so deeply demoralised, so incurably debased by selfishness, so corroded within, so incapable of progress, as the English bourgeoisie; and I mean by this, especially the bourgeoisie proper, particularly the Liberal, Corn Law repealing bourgeoisie. For it nothing exists in this world, except for the sake of money, itself not excluded. It knows no bliss save that of rapid gain, no pain save that of losing gold. In the presence of this avarice and lust of gain, it is not possible for a single human sentiment or opinion to remain untainted.
  • Any liberal system must proceed from the assumption that freedom is one and indivisible and that elementary human freedom in all spheres of life must go hand in hand with political, religious, economic and spiritual freedom. The strategy of collectivist thinking has always been to split up this most essential and most universal of human values as a means of making inroads into the free system itself.
    • Ludwig Erhard, The Economics of Success (D. van Nostrand & Co., 1963), pp. 291–292


The white liberal's offer to help has an air of condescension because it masks a profound existential investment in the continuation of the racist system. ~ Lewis Gordon
  • It came to me a little while ago what we really are, we liberals. We demand reforms, we want to improve the situation of the underprivileged — why? To make them better off materially? Nuts. It's only to make ourselves feel less guilty. We rend our garments, we're eager to show how willing we are to accept any outrageous demand so long as it's black, or youthful, or put up by someone who thinks he's got a grievance. We want to appease everybody — you know what a liberal is? A liberal is a guy who walks out of the room when the fight starts.
  • Much of Biko's energy is devoted to criticizing the liberal in both the condescending white and the idiotic black forms. The black liberal is idiotic because black people lack power in a white-controlled system. The white liberal, on the other hand, operates from the vantage point of having something—perhaps a great deal—to lose in the event of progressive social change. The white liberal's offer to help has an air of condescension because it masks a profound existential investment in the continuation of the racist system. Thus, the white liberal always insists on offering the theoretical or interpretive strategies against antiblack racism, but such strategies often act to preserve the need for white liberals as the most cherished members or overseers of values in their society. In Biko's words: "I am against the superior-inferior white-black stratification that makes the white man a perpetual teacher and the black a perpetual pupil (and a poor one at that.)"


Liberalism regards it as desirable that only what the majority accepts should in fact be law, but it does not believe that this is therefore necessarily good law. Its aim, indeed, is to persuade the majority to observe certain principles. It accepts majority rule as a method of deciding, but not as an authority for what the decision ought to be. ~ Friedrich Hayek
  • The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this—that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes; a Liberal Government tries, as far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do as he wishes. It has been the tradition of the Liberal party consistently to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the place where people can do more what they please than in any other country in the world.
    • William Harcourt, speech in Oxford town hall (30 December 1872), quoted in The Times (31 December 1872), p. 5
  • Liberalism is a doctrine about what the law ought to be, democracy a doctrine about the manner of determining the law. Liberalism regards it as desirable that only what the majority accepts should in fact be law, but it does not believe that this is therefore necessarily good law. Its aim, indeed, is to persuade the majority to observe certain principles. It accepts majority rule as a method of deciding, but not as an authority for what the decision ought to be. To the doctrinaire democrat the fact that the majority wants something is sufficient ground for regarding it as good; for him the will of the majority determines not only what is law but what is good law.
  • Liberalism, which Luxemburg called by its more appropriate name—“opportunism”—is an integral component of capitalism. When the citizens grow restive, it will soften and decry capitalism’s excesses. But capitalism, Luxemburg argued, is an enemy that can never be appeased. Liberal reforms are used to stymie resistance and then later, when things grow quiet, are revoked on the inevitable road to capitalist slavery. The last century of labor struggles in the United States provides a case study for proof of Luxemburg’s observation.

    The political, cultural and judicial system in a capitalist state is centered around the protection of property rights. And, as Adam Smith pointed out, when civil government “is instituted for the security of property, [it] is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” The capitalist system is gamed from the start. And this makes Luxemburg extremely relevant as corporate capital, now freed from all constraints, reconfigures our global economy, including the United States’, into a ruthless form of neofeudalism.

  • A liberal will defend to the death your right to agree with her. Disagree with her, and she will call the police.


  • But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.
  • Tarian: A liberal is just the opposite of a conservative.
    Herrod: (Entering, with drinks.) And a conservative is a liberal who just got mugged.
    Tarian: Oh, Rex. Thanks. For the drinks and for the definition. But couldn't you also say a liberal is a conservative who just got arrested?


  • A liberal is one who says that it's all right for an 18-year-old girl to perform in a pornographic movie as long as she gets paid the minimum wage.


  • New Deal liberalism broke with progressivism in many if not most respects. Progressives wanted technocratic economic planning. By the 1940s, New Dealers dropped planning for Keynesianism. Most progressives were nativists who supported immigration restriction on ethnic or cultural grounds. New Deal liberals celebrated the melting pot and liberalized American immigration laws in the 1960s. Woodrow Wilson resegegrated Washington. Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Franklin D. Roosevelt created Social Security and Johnson created Medicare. Wilson opposed national health insurance.
  • As to the having and possessing of things, teach them to part with what they have, easily and freely to their friends, and let them find by experience that the most liberal has always the most plenty, with esteem and commendation to boot, and they will quickly learn to practise it.
  • Covetousness, and the desire of having in our possession, and under our dominion, more than we have need of, being the root of all evil, should be early and carefully weeded out, and the contrary quality of a readiness to impart to others, implanted. This should be encourag'd by great commendation and credit, and constantly taking care that he loses nothing by his liberality.
    • John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) Sec. 110
  • Let him sensibly perceive, that the kindness he shews to others, is no ill husbandry for himself; but that it brings a return in kindness both from those that receive it, and those who look on. Make this a contest among children, who shall out-do one another in this way: and by this means, by a constant practise, children having made it easy to themselves to part with what they have, good nature may be settled in them into a habit, and they may take pleasure, and pique themselves in being kind, liberal and civil, to others.
    • John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) Sec. 110


  • Liberalism rejects ideological struggle and stands for unprincipled peace, thus giving rise to a decadent, Philistine attitude.
  • Liberalism, as a set of ideals, is still viable, and even compelling to Western men. That is one reason why it has become a common denominator of American political rhetoric; but there is another reason. The ideals of liberalism have been divorced from any realities of modern social structure that might serve as the means of their realization. Everybody can easily agree on general ends; it is more difficult to agree on means and the relevance of various means to the ends articulated. The detachment of liberalism from the facts of a going society make it an excellent mask for those who do not, cannot, or will not do what would have to be done to realize its ideals.

  • Let's run it on down. White males are most responsible for the destruction of human life and environment on the planet today. Yet who is controlling the supposed revolution to change all that? White males (yes, yes, even with their pasty fingers back in black and brown pies again). It just could make one a bit uneasy. It seems obvious that a legitimate revolution must be led by, made by those who have been most oppressed: black, brown, and white women–with men relating to that as best they can. A genuine Left doesn't consider anyone's suffering irrelevant, or titillating; nor does it function as a microcosm of capitalist economy, with men competing for power and status at the top, and women doing all the work at the bottom (and functioning as objectified prizes or "coin" as well). Goodbye to all that.
    • Robin Morgan, "Goodbye to All That" (1970) in Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist (1977), p 123
  • Liberalism cannot be defined in the abstract in any helpful way. Liberalism in politics can best be defined in terms of specific issues. Political liberalism should also be defined in terms of objectives. A major objective is the protection of the economic weak and doing it within the framework of a private-property economy. The liberal, emphasizing the civil and property rights of the individual, insists that the individual must remain so supreme as to make the state his servant.


  • There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.
    The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.


  • [L]iberalism only works when citizens see and treat each other as individuals with equal value and rights regardless of their gender, religion, sexual orientation or skin color. The famous dream of Martin Luther King seems almost painfully antiquated these days.


Liberalism, however, means "the state for itself, and every man for himself." That is a formula impossible to follow unless one is willing to take the liberal course, which is to say one thing while being dead set against its opposite, but in the end to let the opposite take over anyway. ~ Oswald Spengler
  • The essence of liberalism is negotiation, a cautious half measure, in the hopes that the definitive dispute, the decisive bloody battle, can be transformed into a parliamentary debate and permit the decision to be suspended forever in an everlasting discussion. Dictatorship is the opposite of discussion.
    • Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (1985), translated by George Schwab, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • Among the political attitudes that prevail in Germany today, only socialism has the potentiality of inner value and integrity. Liberalism is for the simple-minded, for those who like to chat a great deal about things they can never achieve. That is how we Germans are; we cannot possibly be like the English, we can only be caricatures of them—and that we have been often enough. Every man for himself: that is an English idea. Every man for every other man: that is the Prussian way. Liberalism, however, means "the state for itself, and every man for himself." That is a formula impossible to follow unless one is willing to take the liberal course, which is to say one thing while being dead set against its opposite, but in the end to let the opposite take over anyway.
  • We must face the fact that, though the free intelligence and the spirit of community are at once the goal and an essential means, they may be not only ineffectual but actually harmful, unless they are combined with a full measure of that hot indignation against tyranny, that devoted service in the struggle for the new order, which is characteristic of the best minds of the political Left. On the other hand, the political Left, if it is to capture the imagination and allegiance of the people of this country and sweep them forward to victory, must, I believe, learn a more liberal spirit. I mean, of course, liberal not in the political but in the cultural sense, namely, loyalty to the free critical intelligence and respect for the human individual.


  • I never use the words Democrats and Republicans. It's liberals and Americans.
    • James G. Watt, in a statement of November 1981, quoted in New York Times (10 October 1983); also quoted in Energy and Environment : The Unfinished Business (1986) by Congressional Quarterly, Inc., p. 91
  • What bothers me about today's "liberals" is this: through the ages, those called liberal fought to take the power away from the kings and the emperors and to give it to the parliaments; now it is the "liberals" who are anxious to give more and more power to the executive, at the expense of the legislative branch.

See alsoEdit

Social and political philosophy
Philosophers AmbedkarArendtAristotleAugustineAurobindoAquinasAronAverroesAzurmendiBadiouBakuninBaudrillardBaumanBenthamBerlinBurkeJudith ButlerCamusChanakyaChomskyCiceroComteConfuciusDe BeauvoirDebordDu BoisDurkheimEmersonEngelsFanonFoucaultFourierFranklinGandhiGentileGramsciGrotiusHabermasHan FeiHayekHegelHeideggerHobbesHumeIrigarayJeffersonKantKierkegaardKirkKropotkinLaoziLeibnizLeninLockeLuxemburgMachiavelliMaistreMalebrancheMaoMarcuseMaritainMarxMenciusMichelsMillMisesMontesquieuMoziMuhammadNegriNiebuhrNietzscheNozickOakeshottOrtegaPaineParetoPlatoPolanyiPopperRadhakrishnanRandRawlsRenanRothbardRousseauRoyceRussellSadeSantayanaSartreSchmittSearleSkinnerSmithSocratesSombartSpencerSpinozaStirnerStraussSunSun TzuTaineTaylorThucydidesThoreauTocquevilleVivekanandaVoltaireWalzerWeberŽižek
Social theories AnarchismAuthoritarianismCollectivismCommunismConfucianismConservatismFascismIndividualismLiberalismLibertarianismRepublicanismSocial constructionismSocialismUtilitarianism
Concepts Civil disobedienceJusticeLawPeacePropertyRevolutionRightsSocial contractSocietyTyrannyWar
Forms of rule AristocracyBureaucracyDemocracyMeritocracyPlutocracyTechnocracy

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