A word or phrase will rarely mean one thing today, then something else in the future. Such is the case with the term “Liberal.” How did this change occur and where has the old meaning gone? Is there truly a contrast in terms of today’s liberal ideology versus what it once was?
According to the United States’ founding fathers, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has long been the foundation and basis of our God-given human rights. The grand experiment that is this country began with the Declaration of Independence and has thrived on the rights inherently granted to each individual. To be a liberal used to mean adherence to these sacred ideals.
While most liberals are aligned in their basic beliefs about human rights and the role of government, there’s room for nuance. People are the uniting force behind the liberal movement[a], but it would do the liberal party a disservice to assume there’s no depth or diversity within the party or its leadership.
When in people today’s culture hear the term “Liberal”, it’s most likely used in contrast to the term “Conservative”. Much like north and south, or right and left, these two words represent a completely opposing set of ideals. They simply do not mix. And these disagreements continue to spill over into the public discourse that seems to be reaching more and more violent levels. One may find it hard to believe, however, that classical liberalism and conservatism were once not all that different.
To social scientists, all modern political parties in the United States espouse a classical liberal ideology. But what makes modern liberalism different?
The United States, and the world, have undergone rapid change in recent years. Attitudes are changing about everything from gay marriage to immigration law to international trade. America’s two main political parties are struggling to keep up with the changes, and division is plaguing their ranks and weakening their institutions. The liberal party, in particular, is at a critical juncture in its history and it must reorganize soon to retain and grow its power on the national stage.
Modern Liberalism’s mainstream ideology[a] has undergone some change in the last few decades, and there is now a need for liberal Americans to band together to support strong candidates and policies in order to strengthen their position in national leadership.
Conservatives often see eye-to-eye with liberals on some of the most important facets of life, like the importance of family and the desire to live comfortably. But while some of the fundamental values that drive modern liberalism’s mainstream ideology may appeal to conservatives, they are not the most important values to the conservative thinker.
Traditional liberalism and classical republicanism were both influential ideologies in the founding of the
United States. Small government is a hallmark of both of these ideologies and is considered by many to
be the foundation of American democracy. But although classical liberalism and classical republicanism
are similar in some respects and may particularly feel similar in the context of modern American political
philosophy, a key difference distinguishes them.
Despite our best efforts, it’s impossible to know what the future of liberalism is. We can watch trends
and poll voters to learn where they stand, but ultimately, economic and social factors at the local,
national, and global levels will all impact political views and ideologies, and we can’t predict our future
This is why it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to the political beliefs of others; those
beliefs may be shared by millions who will direct and influence our country’s policies moving forward,
and it’s important to understand them at a foundational level.
In considering the future of liberalism, many pundits discuss how social liberties will evolve over time
and if the United States will become as progressive as Europe, with liberal trade policies and socialized
medicine. Classical liberalism is rarely part of this conversation, but it should be; according to many
political analysts, it’s making a comeback.
The United States has suffered from a stubbornly bipartisan Congress that seems unable to put
aside differences and the promise of political power for the common good of the American
people. But despite the shortcomings of our lawmakers and the challenges they face, we know
it’s the American people who are the force to unite this country. So how can the American
people unite a bipartisan government?