In another thread, someone asked about "the Liberal Mindset". I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding among many Americans upon what the word "Liberal" actually means, and I'd like to have a go at correcting that here...
"Liberal" comes from the Latin adjective "liberalis" which means "Of or pertaining to freedom".
Liberalism, as a philosophical philosophy, developed during the Age of Enlightenment, as a contrast to monarchy and societies where not everyone was equal because there were nobles at one end (with additional rights) and slaves at the other end (with fewer rights).
Liberal democracy is the form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of liberalism. It is characterized by fair, free, and competitive elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, and the protection of human rights and civil liberties for all persons. To define the system in practice, liberal democracies often draw upon a constitution, either formally written or uncodified, to delineate the powers of government and enshrine the social contract. Liberals support capitalism (not necessarily Laissez-faire capitalism, but at least some private ownership of the means of production and the creation of goods or services for profit), and a free press.
Liberalism is the most successful political philosophy ever developed, and vast majority of the Earth's most successful countries are liberal. They include: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and, yes, The United States of America.
So why the confusion? Why do many now use "Liberal" as an insult?
The Liberal Mindset, of freedom and equality, is a broad one, with room for quite a bit of variance within its bounds. There are two main strands:
- On the 'right' there is: Classical liberalism or neoliberalism
- On the 'left' there is: Social liberalism
I think the confusion in America is due to the right forgetting that they count as Liberals too, and leaving the word solely to refer to social liberals.