What liberals believe
Some liberals believe that freedom is impossible without equality, and that governments should promote equality by providing education and health care supported by taxes. Other liberals believe that taxes are bad, and that people should provide their own education and health care; these people are usually called libertarians today. Most liberal governments today do provide at least some education and health care, though not necessarily equally for all citizens.
Other concepts important to some liberals include:
- Free markets (market economy) – People should be free to buy and sell goods and services.
- Peace– People should not start wars or use violence.
The philosophy of liberalism
In the old days, kings or queens told people what to do (a form of government called a Monarchy), and there was very little freedom. A few hundred years ago, philosophers such as Simón Bolívar, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham began to write about freedom. Earlier writers, such as Marcus Aurelius, had written about freedom, but this time the idea caught on. The United States of America was the first country to have a constitution which was based on the ideas of Mill and Bentham, and which guaranteed certain rights to all citizens, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to assemble (get together in groups), the right to bear arms (weapons), and the right to ask their government to take action (right of petition) or to remove from office rulers they did not like (right of referendum).
Most of the wealthy countries in the world today are liberal democracies with more or less free trade. An exception to this rule are the oil-rich countries, not all of which are liberal or democratic. Most of the poor countries in the world are dictatorships, with heavy restrictions on trade. China is a poor country which is rapidly becoming rich, and is trying the experiment of combining dictatorship with free trade. Whether it is possible to have the advantages of free trade without other freedoms remains to be seen.
Liberalism around the world
While all liberal governments support free elections, other ideas of liberal government vary a great deal from country to country. For information about liberalism in a particular country, look for an article called "Liberalism in..." and then the name of the country.
The government of the United States was created based on a belief in Democracy and personal freedom. However the word "liberalism" has taken on a different meaning in modern times. Liberals in the United States still believe in supporting democracy and freedom, however many liberals also support other ideas. While not all liberals agree on everything, most liberals in the United States agree:
- That equal opportunity for all people is a good goal
- That government should provide some level of education and healthcare to all people, even if some taxes have to be increased to achieve this goal
- That richer people should pay more of their income in taxes than poor people
- That liberties and freedoms are very important and should be protected
- Most liberals in the United States believe that peace is at least somewhat important, and that government should work together with other countries and not start as many wars on their own
Liberals in the United States are also sometimes called "Progressives". The biggest liberal political party in the United States is the Democratic Party. But the Green Party is seen to be more 'left', or liberal than the Democrats.
Liberals in Australia have many different ideas about government than liberals in the United States. Most liberals in Australia believe that government should not increase taxes, and would like a government that has lower taxes and less power over the economy. The main liberal political party in Australia is the Liberal Party of Australia. The Liberal Party also believes that government should support traditional values and morals, something which many conservatives believe as well.
The Bill of Rights was a landmark piece of liberal legislation.
The Philadelphia Convention in 1787 adopted the United States Constitution, which is still in effect.
A meeting of the Anti-Corn Law League in Exeter Hall in 1846
John Stuart Mill's On Liberty greatly influenced the course of 19th century liberalism.
Thomas Hill Green was an influential liberal philosopher. In Prolegomena to Ethics (1884), he established the first major foundations for what later became known as positive liberty. In a few years, his ideas became the official policy of the Liberal Party in Britain, precipitating the rise of social liberalism and the modern welfare state.
Color photo of Roosevelt as the Man of the Year of Time, January 1933
Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man was a manifesto for political radicalism.
Liberalism for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.