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Liberalism is a way of thinking and acting that we now take for granted. It is easy to forget how it struggled to come into existence. That our liberal habits of today were built on the back of courage and sacrifice. And it’s easy to forget how liberal ideas have spread around the world. That it remains far more attractive than the alternatives.

Today it suffers a crisis of confidence.

The left sees it as the free-market belief of the elites who created the recent financial mess.

The right’s complaint is different. Forget that Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison fathered liberalism in the United States. For 30 years Republicans have persuaded American voters that liberals are godless, amoral, tax-happy hypocrites.


No Sense

Little of either of these charges makes sense. Liberal Democracies stood proud against communism during the cold war. Since it failed, the case for liberal democracy has only strengthened. When “liberal” and “democracy” go together the term is used with pride.

Illiberal Russia, undemocratic China, populist Venezuela, theocratic Iran are the alternatives.

And if you ask people who live in the West what values they believe in, most will choose liberal values. Personal freedom, rule of law, and active but accountable government. Free but responsible markets, mutual toleration and equal concern for all.

Ask Westerners if they are liberals, however, and many will turn away.

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Modern citizens all too often forget that the liberal way of life is a good way of life.

It is Liberalism’s underlying philosophy that offers the surest path toward both individual freedom and a collective sense of purpose.

At its core is an optimistic view of human nature, respect for both individualism and equality, and recognition of the need for society. It also has a passion for justice and preference for experience over theory, combined with openness and commitment to fairness.

We need liberalism if we are to respect the integrity of human beings, design institutions that serve their needs, and enable them to shape their destinies.

The seventeenth century English philosopher John Locke pointed the way. We remain indebted to him every time we insist that we be recognized for our accomplishments or demand that nobody be treated as inherently more superior (or inferior) than anyone else. For a more detailed explanation of liberalism click here.

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This Essay draws on work by the philosopher Alan Wolfe, particularly his book The Future of Liberalism. If you’re interested in learning more click here.


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