In American politics, liberals are people who believe in government-sponsored social programs, take a generally tolerant stand on most issues, are concerned with the preservation of the environment, tend toward pacifism, and are pro-choice.

In America, "liberal" has somehow become a derogatory term. Blame the Republicans for that (and much more, nyah, nyah).

Writing nodes about politics is fun.

In Dutch Politics, liberals has the opposite meaning of the word in American Politics, i.e. in the Netherlands the liberals form the conservative side of the political spectrum.

This peculiar contradiction came about since in the 17th century it was the rich bourgeoisie who first started to rebel against the existing powers, nobility, church and king. Those same rich bourgeoisie hung on to the name 'liberals' throughout modern Dutch political history and now make up the ruling class, not eager for reform.

liberal adjective

  1. favourable to progress or reform, as in religious or political affairs.
  2. (cap.) of or relating to the Liberal political party.
  3. favourable to or in accord with the policy of leaving the individual as unrestricted as possible in the opportunities for self-expression or self-fulfilment.
  4. of representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
  5. free of prejudice or bigotry; tolerant.
liberal noun
  1. a person of liberal principles or views, especially in religion or politics.
  2. (often cap.) a member of the Liberal party in politics - phrase
  3. small-l liberal, a person with conservative tendencies, but who takes pride in having an independent, progressive point of view.

(ME) from Latin liberalis relating to a free man)


The Macquarie Dictionary (3rd Edition) (1993) Macquarie University: The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd

A word which has to be used very carefully in international contexts, since it and its cognates have (at least) three conflicting meanings. Basically:

  • In the USA, means a (probably dangerous, drug addled) left-wing movement, spawn of the demonic 1960s and deeply un-American. Or to a European that seems to be how it gets used, anyway. The locals have covered it more extensively in other writeups here. This usage specifically contrasts with "conservative".
  • In the UK, the Liberal party (now the Liberal Democrats) is a traditional centrist, faintly green-tinged but anti-organised-labour party, until recently squeezed between the Labour party to its left and the Conservatives on its right. The stereotypical liberal is a sandal wearing beardy academic who probably knits his own tofu. They don't really contrast with anything (although possibly Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Russian "Liberal democrats" - an extreme nationalist party who chose the name just to bring it into disrepute - might be considered as close to polar opposites as you are likely to get. The UK Liberal Democrats are the successors to the Liberal Party (after merging with the SDP, a then-moderate schism of the old Labour Party), who in turn were the successors to the Whigs in the 19th century, who were roughly speaking economic liberals as described below.
  • Throughout continental Europe, applies to parties and philosophies which were deemed dangerously radical in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, standing for individual freedom and against the divine right of kings and that sort of thing, but which have become more than mainstream in the intervening couple of centuries. Their titular heirs and successors are secular, free trade promoting parties of varying degrees of importance on the conservative, free trade right of the political spectrum (eg the VVD in the Netherlands and the Partito Liberale in Italy). This is also the sense to which "economic liberal" and "neoliberal" relate, and in broad terms it contrasts with "socialist".
  • In Australia, the Liberal Party is the more right-wing of the two major political parties, broadly aligned with the British Conservative Party or the main American parties.

In economics, "liberal" tends to be applied to free market policies in general; thus Reaganomics was (at least supposedly) pure economic liberalism; the WTO is a profoundly liberal organisation. So, boys and girls, be careful who you're talking to when you use the term, since they'll probably assume you meant something completely different ...

Lib"er*al (?), a. [F. lib'eral, L. liberalis, from liber free; perh. akin to libet, lubet,it pleases, E. lief. Cf. Deliver.]


Free by birth; hence, befitting a freeman or gentleman; refined; noble; independent; free; not servile or mean; as, a liberal ancestry; a liberal spirit; liberal arts or studies.

" Liberal education." Macaulay. " A liberal tongue."



Bestowing in a large and noble way, as a freeman; generous; bounteous; open-handed; as, a liberal giver.

" Liberal of praise."


Infinitely good, and of his good As liberal and free as infinite. Milton.


Bestowed in a large way; hence, more than sufficient; abundant; bountiful; ample; profuse; as, a liberal gift; a liberal discharge of matter or of water.

His wealth doth warrant a liberal dower. Shak.


Not strict or rigorous; not confined or restricted to the literal sense; free; as, a liberal translation of a classic, or a liberal construction of law or of language.


Not narrow or contracted in mind; not selfish; enlarged in spirit; catholic.


Free to excess; regardless of law or moral restraint; licentious.

" Most like a liberal villain."



Not bound by orthodox tenets or established forms in political or religious philosophy; independent in opinion; not conservative; friendly to great freedom in the constitution or administration of government; having tendency toward democratic or republican, as distinguished from monarchical or aristocratic, forms; as, liberal thinkers; liberal Christians; the Liberal party.

I confess I see nothing liberal in this " order of thoughts," as Hobbes elsewhere expresses it. Hazlitt.

Liberal has of, sometimes with, before the thing bestowed, in before a word signifying action, and to before a person or object on which anything is bestowed; as, to be liberal of praise or censure; liberal with money; liberal in giving; liberal to the poor.

The liberal arts. See under Art. -- Liberal education, education that enlarges and disciplines the mind and makes it master of its own powers, irrespective of the particular business or profession one may follow.

Syn. -- Generous; bountiful; munificent; beneficent; ample; large; profuse; free. -- Liberal, Generous. Liberal is freeborn, and generous is highborn. The former is opposed to the ordinary feelings of a servile state, and implies largeness of spirit in giving, judging, acting, etc. The latter expresses that nobleness of soul which is peculiarly appropriate to those of high rank, -- a spirit that goes out of self, and finds its enjoyment in consulting the feelings and happiness of others. Generosity is measured by the extent of the sacrifices it makes; liberality, by the warmth of feeling which it manifests.


© Webster 1913.

Lib"er*al, n.

One who favors greater freedom in political or religious matters; an opponent of the established systems; a reformer; in English politics, a member of the Liberal party, so called. Cf. Whig.


© Webster 1913.

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