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The term 'liberalism' in this page is 'liberalism' as a whole as used in an international context, not 'liberalism' in the United States. For American liberalism, see Modern liberalism or Social liberalism.
In a global context:
Ideological roots
Political parties
Adjacent ideologies

In the international political context, liberalism is an ideology based on free trade, free markets, limited governments, low taxes, open society, civil rights, and secularism. Liberal movements generally represent the interests of the middle class. (In this international political context, liberalism may also include political forces called 'libertarian' or 'conservative' in the United States.)[1] Liberalism has had a profound effect on both the left and right sides of the West, and opposition to liberalism (in traditional contexts, not in American contexts) is usually classified as far-right or far-left. Liberalism is accepted as the ideology that shaped almost everything in modern politics.

Liberalism can be used in different contexts in different countries. Liberalism is also generally regarded as one of the three major political ideologies, along with conservatism (right-wing) and socialism (left-wing).[2] Therefore, in many countries, liberalism is simply used similarly to centrism. (In general, the vocabulary of "liberalism" used by Americans can be very different from that of "liberalism" in almost every other country.)

Political scientists say that all politicians in the United States are liberals academically.[3] Some political scientists even believe that in American politics, center-left social liberals have been called "liberals", and center-right conservative liberals have been called "conservatives" (to be precise, fiscal conservatives).[4] Of course, this was before the emergence of Trumpism, a far-right conservative-populist and illiberal-democratic movement.

Three major liberalisms[edit]

Since the 20th century, liberalism has become mainstream thought in three forms. In the European political context, classical liberalism is classified as center-right, conservative liberalism as center to center-right, and social liberalism as center to center-left. European-style social liberalism is used differently than the United States, as it actively embraces economic liberalism.[5]

Classical liberalism[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Classical Liberalism

Classical liberalism is a branch of liberalism that advocates civil liberties based on the rule of law. After the 20th century, it is used similarly to economic liberalism. Classical liberalism is generally classified as right-wing liberalism in modern times.

Related Ideologies[edit]

Ideas derived from classical liberalism are as follows.

  • Radicalism: RadicalismWikipedia in the classical sense means liberals who were historically considered left-wing to far-left until the 19th century, as the name suggests. It is deeply related to civil nationalism, social liberalism, and utopian socialism.Wikipedia Social liberalism and utopian socialism, in particular, are not considered far-left in modern times, and nationalism is often considered far-right.
  • Economic liberalism
    • Laissez-faire: Laissez-faire is a concept derived from classical liberalism, which many classical liberals still support.
    • Neoliberalism
  • National liberalism: It is an ideology that combines civic nationalism and classical liberalism. However, unlike ordinary civic nationalism, it is closer to the center-right than the center-left.

Representative people and parties[edit]

  • John Locke
  • Voltaire
  • Immanuel Kant
  • Adam Smith
  • John Stuart Mill - was also classified as a proto-social liberal because he was a radicalist.
  • Democratic-Republican Party - This is left-wing by then standards.
  • Milton Friedman
  • Friedrich Hayek - He was a very hard-line classical liberal who strongly opposed that he was called a "conservative" in the United States. He emphasized that he was not a "conservative" and that he was a "liberal". He also thought that socialists and radicalists stole the word "liberal" in the United States.[note 1]
  • Emmanuel Macron - Though a French Socialist In Name Only Party member, he was an American-style center-left social liberal, but now he is more of a center-right economic/classical liberal. He also strongly opposes the "Extremism", "Identity politics", and "Islamo-leftism" of social liberals and socialists in the United States and France. (Of course, by his own standard.)
  • Liberal InitiativeWikipedia - Portugal's right-wing liberal and libertarian party.
  • Liberal AllianceWikipedia - Denmark's right-wing liberal and libertarian party.
  • Free Democratic Party
  • Architects of "shock therapy" in Russia under Boris Yeltsin, most notably Yegor GaidarWikipedia - probably the roughest possible take of classical liberalism "just privatize it already" without caring how exactly the privatization be done, which created massive wealth inequality and whose disastrous consequences lead to "liberal" (a vague term in the Russian context, applying to a wide range of pro-democracy politicians) becoming a swear word in Russia.

Conservative liberalism (= European style liberalism)[edit]

It is literally liberalism that values the conservative side of liberalism. Conservative liberalism is generally classified as 'center to center-right', but some are hard-line right-wing. Right-wing conservative liberalism typically inherits the classical liberal philosophy. Still, centrist conservative liberals partially accept elements of social liberalism (in this case, it is simply referred to as liberalism in Europe/Australia). European/Australian liberalism is more like conservative liberalism than social liberalism in modern times.

The following are ideologies derived from Conservative liberalism.

Related Ideologies[edit]

  • Liberal conservatism: This center-right ideology combines classical liberalism and conservatism. It pursues a moderate form of liberalism based on conservative philosophy. It is one of the representative conservative political ideologies. The philosophical origin of liberal conservatism is Edmund Burke. In a global context, 'liberal conservatism' is used similarly to moderate conservatism in the United States.
  • American Neoconservatism: Some scholars see American neoconservatism as an idea based on conservative liberalism. The values of private property rights, independent individuals, small governments, and the spread of liberal democracy around the world pursued by neoconservatives in the U.S. clearly have elements to be seen as liberalism in an academic sense, albeit right-wing.[7] Moreover, neoconservatives generally support liberal internationalism.

Representative people and parties[edit]

Social liberalism (= U.S. style liberalism)[edit]

This ideology focuses more on social justice than on general liberalism. It is an ideology that is simply referred to as liberalism in the United States. This ideology is derived from radicalism, a left-wing form of classical liberalism. Social liberals see the market as a power and support a balance of power between the government and the market.

Social liberalism in Europe and Asia means 'center to center-left', but 'center-left to left-wing' social democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are also called "liberal" or "social liberal" in the United States. This is only an American exceptional term, and they are not described as "liberal" outside the United States because they are negative about free trade.

In the United States, left-wing democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is called "Ultra-liberal"(=radical left).[9] In most countries other than the United States, Emmanuel Macron is called "Ultra-liberal"(=radical centrist). In the United States, 'liberal' means 'leftist', but in most countries other than the United States, 'liberal' means 'centrist'. Hence, Americans need to understand world politics, considering that the concept of 'liberal' is an American exceptional concept and does not exist in other countries.

Representative people and parties[edit]

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Liberalism.
  • Free market
  • Human rights
  • American Revolution
  • French Revolution
  • Liberal International — This international organization is linked to European 'centrist' and 'moderate' parties. The Democratic Party of the United States does not belong here and belongs to the Progressive Alliance, a coalition of center-left parties in Europe.
  • Individualist feminism — The academic meaning of original 'liberalism' used in Europe and others is closely related to individualism.
  • Libertarianism — American libertarianism originated from classical liberalism. Since the European liberal tradition is a movement against traditional authoritarian conservatism and centralized socialism, the term "liberal" and "libertarian" in Europe are not clearly distinguished.
  • Radicalism (In Europe) — Social liberals in Europe often refer to themselves as "radical".


  1. Of course, the socialists and radicalists he refers to are social democrats and classical radicalism, respectively. (Radicalism was considered left-wing in the 19th century, but it is evaluated as a proto-version of social liberalism in the present era.)
  2. However, there are many criticisms that he is more a right-wing populist than a conservative liberal.
  3. However, some say that FDR is more left than social liberalism because he has damaged the free market. Even in France, which is famous for its welfare state, New Deal partyWikipedia is classified as a 'left-wing' party. The New Deal party is left-leaning over the 'center-left' Socialist PartyWikipedia.


  3. Adams, Ian (2001). Political Ideology Today. Manchester University Press. p. 32.
  4. Slomp, Hans (2011). Europe, a Political Profile: An American Companion to European Politics. ABC-CLIO.
  5. Liberal Parties in Europe: The liberal party family ideology
  6. Fujii, George (2013). "Liberalism". Encyclopedia of the Cold War. Routledge.
  7. Peter Lawler, Liberal Conservatism, Not Conservative Liberalism, The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2003/Spring 2004