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The word 'liberal' is derived from the Latin word 'libertas,' meaning 'liberty.' Liberalism started in 17th Century Europe as a logical and historical development from Protestantism with its focus on an individual having a direct personal relationship with God. Liberalism is also rooted in the English tradition of individual rights and privileges. John Locke's *Second Treatise on Civil Government* articulated the basic principles of liberalism--limited government, private property, equality before the law, the rule of law (meaning an impartial application and enforcement of the broad-based laws that allow for a wide scope of private discretion), and some democratic influence to restrict those in power. Locke, himself a Protestant Christian, believed people to be naturally sinful and selfish, but rational and social enough so that they could peacefully interact with one another. Laws are needed to maintain order, but largely the State should be restricted only to protecting private property (broadly defined as a person's private sphere), and to enforce contracts. The Founders of the United States were all followers of Locke. Jefferson's *Declaration of Independence* is an American adaptation of Locke's basic political philosophy. Puritan John Milton's defense of free speech in his *Areopagitica* provided the intellectual justification of the First Amendment from a Christian metaphysic.
With John Stuart Mill we find a bridge to another conception of liberty and equality that moves more toward socialism. Mill was highly influenced by his wife, Harriet Taylor, who was more of an egalitarian than a liberal. Here we find Mill arguing against classical notions of liberalism. Mill argued, contrary to Locke, that a just law is an encroachment on a person's liberty. He also contended that informal, non-coercive public opinion was a violation the rights of the individual as are traditional prohibitions, say on sexual morality or gender roles. In these moves to conceive of liberty in a broader way that simply overt coercion, Mill started to blur the line between private and public. Mill was also concerned about the distribution of wealth and income in ways that the Founders of the U.S. were not. Mill,at times, argued for a greater role for the State to actually achieve equality of result and actual liberty from others as opposed to a purely formal equality and liberty that the classical liberals sought.
These differences point to a fundamental divergence between classical and modern left liberals. Another such difference is the basic character of human nature. Locke and the U.S. Founders believed that humans were naturally selfish and dangerous in their exercise of power. For this reason, the U.S. Founders placed explicit restrictions on the State including a Bill of Rights, federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances. Jefferson's admonition that the power that the State has to do something for you also has the power to do something to you follows from the doctrine of human depravity found in Christianity.
Left liberals tend to view humans as naturally good or malleable. No one is born evil. So, with the proper education and proper social and economic environment, people can naturally cooperate and care for each other. Brutal punishment is inhumane and simply aggravates past injustices making those convicted of a crime even more alienated and victimized by the unequal social order. What is needed to avert criminal behavior is greater inclusion and benevolence. The mechanism that facilitates these moral advances can be the State. Concerns over abuse of power, at least in social welfare legislation and macroeconomic policy, are not only misplaced but can be unnecessary obstacles for social progress.
Classical liberals view of legitimate State action is quite different. Physical punishment is seen as necessary to control those who freely choose to violate the rights of others. The State is needed to contain human evil and establish justice by retribution fairly imposed. Preparation and engaging in war can be necessary to protect a country from the attacks of an international aggressor. In both domestic and international crime, the person(s) who initiate violence forfeit their rights and violence can be justly used against them.
Some classical liberals such as Jefferson, Tocqueville, and Benjamin Constant believed that liberty was supported in the indigenous cultures of free countries. All of the Founders of the U.S. believed that a necessary condition for liberty was moral self-control. Religion provided the average person with the moral training and habit to prepare them to live responsibly with their fellows. Leftist liberals in contrast tend to be indifferent or hostile to traditional cultures and traditional religion and morality. Following Mill, they tend to see tradition and religion as restrictions on liberty and hindrances to greater social and political equality.
These leftist liberal theorists would not only include Mill, but T.H. Green, John Dewey, and John Rawls. These writers combine some elements of classical liberalism with socialism.
Contemporary classical liberals would include F.A. Hayek, Robert Nozick, and Milton Friedman. They are considered conservative because they are trying to conserve or preserve the original liberal tradition that can be traced back to Locke and the U.S. Founders. They clearly reject an active role for the State in achieving actual equality because such extensive and intrusive actions by the State violate individual liberty and place social planners over average people in power relationships.
"I am a liberal, they are socialists." Milton Friedman distinguishing himself from leftist liberals.
by Tex in Tex January 16, 2008
If used in a non-political sense, "liberal" simply means "a lot."
I'd like a large popcorn with a liberal amount of butter, please.
by Doc Sigma September 24, 2003
Liberal is a person with liberal views. However, an EXTREME liberal is the WORST type of person. To start with they brainwash people. Then they convince you that their pre made views they hand to you are open minded. They tell you to hate Republicans and everyone who thinks differently than you. They are the first to throw around the word racist. Most extreme liberal abuse minorities. They look for a group typically blacks or hispanics, convince them they are nothing and need the liberals to survive, then exploit them for political power. Extreme liberals are usually igorant but claim everyone else is. They pretend to be looking out for the people but are only looking out for themselves. Some day people will realize this is the truth.
Now listen, I am only talking about EXTREME liberals. Liberals aren't great either but extreme are horrible Extreme republicans are just as bad. Extreme anything is bad. The moral of the story folks, stay middle of the road, don't completely trust any political group because hey, once you get far enough up in the line there is no difference in the groups they are all selfish and corrupt. Keep an open mind. Think for yourself. Don't believe everything you are told. Have fun. And pay attention to the details here before you flip on me.
by i speak truth August 24, 2006
Pot smoking hippies.
Bill clinton
by CONSERVATIVE November 13, 2003
Adjective - Falling to the left on the political spectrum of the average person, being in favour of more government control of economic actions (such as making minimum wage laws), but less governmental control of personal actions (such as allowing protesting)
noun - Any person who is liberal, as desribed above
The ACLU is a very liberal organization

Of course Mike wont vote for Bush; he's a liberal.
by kstar April 27, 2004
A liberal, in the American sense, is one who falls to the left in the political spectrum; In other parts of the world, however, liberalism is the belief in laissez-faire capitalism and free-market systems - hence the recently coined term, neoliberalism.

Although I do not like to generalize, for the purposes of a (somewhat) concise dictionary definition, here is the very basic liberal (American sense) ideology:

The federal government exists to protect and serve the people, and therefore, should be given sufficient power to fulfill its role successfully. Ways in which this can be accomplished include giving the federal government more power than local governments and having the government provide programs designed to protect the interests of the people (these include welfare, Medicare, and social security). Overall, these programs have helped extensively in aiding the poor and unfortunate, as well as the elderly and middle class.
To make sure that the interests of the people are served, it was liberals (or so they were considered in their time) that devised the idea of a direct democracy, a republic, and modern democracy. This way, it is ensured that the federal government represents the interests of the people, and the extensive power that it is given is not used to further unpopular goals. Liberals do not concentrate on military power (though that is not to say they ignore it), but rather focus on funding towards education, improving wages, protecting the environment, etc. Many propose the dismantling of heavy-cost programs such as the Star Wars program (no, not the film series), in order to use the money to fund more practical needs.

Social Ideology:
As one travels further left on the political spectrum, it is noticed that tolerance, acceptance, and general compassion for all people steadily increases (in theory at least). Liberals are typically concerned with the rights of the oppressed and unfortunate – this, of course, does not mean that they ignore the rights of others (liberals represent the best interests of the middle-class in America). This has led many liberals to lobby for the rights of homosexuals, women, minorities, single-mothers, etc. Many fundamentalists see this is immoral; however, it is, in reality, the most mature, and progressive way in which to deal with social differences. Liberals are identified with fighting for equal rights, such as those who wanted to abolish slavery and those who fought hard for a woman's reproductive right (see Abortion). Liberals have also often fought for ecological integrity, protecting the environment, diversity of species, as well as indigenous populations’ rights. Almost all social betterment programs are funded by liberal institutions, and government funded social programs on education improvement, childrens’ rights, womens’ rights, etc. are all supported by liberals. Basically, social liberalism is the mature, understanding way in which to embrace individual differences, not according to ancient dogma or religious prejudice, but according to the ideals of humanity that have been cultivated by our experiences throughout history, summed up in that famous American maxim: “with liberty and justice for all.”

Using the term ‘liberal’ when speaking of economics is very confusing, as liberal in America is completely opposite to the rest of the world. Therefore, here, as I have been doing, I will concentrate on the American definition of liberal concerning economics.
Liberals believe that the rights of the people, of the majority, are to be valued much more sincerely than those of corporations, and therefore have frequently proposed the weakening of corporate power through heavier taxation (of corporations), environmental regulations, and the formation of unions. Liberals often propose the heavier taxation of WEALTHY individuals, while alleviating taxes on the middle class, and especially the poor. Liberals (American sense) do not support laissez-faire economics because, to put it simply, multinational corporations take advantage of developing countries and encourage exploitation and child labor (multinational corporations are spawned from laissez-faire policies). Instead, many propose the nationalization of several industries, which would make sure that wealth and power is not concentrated in a few hands, but is in the hands of the people (represented by elected officials in government). I am not going to go into the extreme intricacies of the economic implications of privatization of resources, etc., but will say that privatization and globalization have greatly damaged the economies of Latin America, namely Argentina and Mexico (see NAFTA).

This summation of the leftist ideology may not be 100% correct in all situations, as there are many variations on several issues and I may have depicted the current definition of “liberal” as too far to the left than it is generally accepted.
On that note, many leftists are critical of the political situation in America, claiming that the left is now in the center, as the general populace has been conditioned by institutions such as Fox News to consider “everything left of Hitler” (as one clever person put it) as radical liberalism.
I, myself, have observed that, in America, there are two basic types of liberals: those who concern themselves only with liberal policies on the domestic front, and either ignore international affairs or remain “patriotic” and dedicated to the “American way” (Al Franken, Bill Clinton, etc.)
And then there are those, despite the criticism they face from many fellow “liberals” (classified under the former definition), who are highly critical of US foreign policy, addressing such issues as Iran-Contra, the Sandanistas, Pinochet, Vietnam, NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, our trade embargo on Cuba, etc, etc. (such as Noam Chomsky, William Blumm, etc.)
Unfortunately, it seems that adolescent rage has run rampant on this particular word, and most definitions are either incoherent jumbles of insults and generalizations or deliberate spewing of misinformation (see the definition that describes the situation in Iraq, without addressing our suppression of popular revolts in Iraq, our pre-war sanctions on Iraq that have caused the death of some 5 million children, and our support for Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war, and even our post-war sale of biological elements usable in weapons to Saddam’s regime).
Hm...it seems that people have the terms "liberal" "socialist" and "communist" all confused. A communist is liberal. A socialist is liberal. But a liberal is not necessarily communist or socialist.

I am a liberal; I believe in equal rights for all, fair trade, compassionate foreign and domestic policies, and diplomacy instead of war.
by For The People June 23, 2004
1. Technically, someone who falls to the left in a political system, who believes in government programs (healthcare is a good example, as is welfare) and a larger scope of government, also favors monitoring of business and protection of constitutional rights. Someone who believes that the federal government should have more importance than state government,

2. Somehow, it has turned into an insult, like the word conservative. Usually used as such by people who have never taken a political science class and don't know what the word means. Often used to describe "liberal media" despite the fact that most media outlets are owned by conservative corporations like ClearChannel, and the prevalence of conservative talk shows.
1. "He has a liberal attitude towards life"
2. "That gay homo is a liberal comunnisst pinnko! Limbaugh toled me so, and O'reailly agreez! Fox News Rulz, they so impartial in their support of everything Bush! Goddamn liberal media!
by .thieved April 21, 2003
Left-wing idiots of America, they claim to love the country, yet at the same time contradict themselves by bashing any actions taken by the government to protect our nation. They say they love freedom, but will be the first to deny any action that spreads freedom in the world. Their main philosophy is "protecting peoples' rights" and they do this by bashing Christianity calling it "an infringement of people's freedom", although they will grant freedom to rapists, murderers, child molesters, etc, thus endangering people. With liberals in control, anarchy would occur. The ACLU (Anti-Christian Liberal Ulcers), will criticize a business for simply using the word Christmas or putting a nativity scene in the mall, but will allow Islamic groups to hold religious meetings in a public school. Liberals will support abortion, saying that "its the woman's choice" without any regard to the baby that is killed. These idiots are trying to redefine the real definition of marriage (man and woman) into man and man, in an attempt to make being gay seem normal. Liberals will support welfare programs in response to unemployment, but in time this creates more unemployment as a lazy generation of welfare receipients is created. When asked to defend their policies, Liberals will jump around the issue, since they have nothing to back up their beliefs. These left-wing lunatics will put out terrorist-supporting propaganda such as "Fahrenheit 911" in attempt to defeat the fact that these ruthless terrorist factions exist. Sadly, the media brainwashes more and more Americans into the Liberal cause. These people cannot think for themselves and unfortunately the majority of young people are liberals. There is a saying and it goes: "If you're not a Liberal by age 20 you have no heart, if you're not a Conservative by age 40, you have NO BRAIN!" I guess I have no heart then, but at least I can make sensible decisions!
These liberals make me sick with their hypocrisy!
by D-Block_NJ December 20, 2006