What Kind of a Liberal are You?

Classical Liberalism

In order for you to answer that, you first need to know what it means to be a liberal.


What Exactly Does “Liberal” Mean?


The term “liberal” can mean different things in different situations. In everyday conversation, however, “liberal” usually has a political connotation. When someone says, “I’m a Liberal” we generally understand that person to be saying that she is pro-choice, supportive of stringent gun laws, desires redistribution of wealth, etc.


While this generalized view of Liberalism may be a useful rule-of-thumb, an understanding of the historical and theoretical origins of Liberalism can nuance our understanding of this political philosophy, thereby helping us to better index our own political beliefs and those of others.


Classical Liberalism


Classical Liberalism began in Great Britain and America during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This movement “was centrally concerned with bettering the lot of the working class.”[1] While this concern may seem extremely similar to the modern Democratic platform, Classical Liberals differ from modern Democrats regarding what is in the best interest of the working class.


First, Classical Liberals emphasized the importance of liberty, believing freedom to be a good in-and-of-itself.


Second, they saw private property as an essential liberty from which all other liberties flow. Last, Classical Liberalism understood free-market-economics as the ideal economic system.


Modern Liberalism

The shift from Classical Liberalism to Modern Liberalism began during the early 19th century. This political pivot was caused by


1. Decreased faith in pure free-market economics
2. Increased trust in governments’ ability to positively influence the economy and
3. The conviction that private property can lead to unjust inequality.[2]


This third point is perhaps the most significant. While Classical Liberals triumph liberty, especially the right to private property, Modern Liberals are more concerned with equality and are willing to sacrifice private property if its abandonment would promote economic equity.


So What Kind of Liberal Are You?


The discussion of Classical Liberalism should have sounded eerily similar to the Modern Conservative movement, especially the libertarian niche of the movement.


At their core, Classical Liberalism and Modern Conservatism share the same central concern – liberty. Modern Liberalism, as noted above, revolves around equality.


So, what kind of Liberal are you? Would you rather be free, or equal? Once you answer this question concerning your ideal, you might want to ask yourself a few practical questions.


  • Can government realistically calibrate policy so as to obtain your ideal?
  • Is your ideal realistic, or a mere chasing after the wind?


If you take your political position seriously, then answer these questions seriously with serious thought and research (you can start with the Suggested Reading section below). Keep in mind that a knee-jerk answer can often be the wrong answer. Important issues warrant careful consideration, and your political foundation is a very important issue.      


See more political posts under our politics tab!


Suggested Reading

  • Liberalism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberalism/#NewLib>
  • Conservatism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


  • Libertarianism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[1] Gaus, Gerald, Courtland, Shane D. and Schmidtz, David, “Liberalism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/liberalism/>.
[2] Ibid