It is not particularly surprising that an ideology that first emerged roughly 200 years ago has multiplied and mutated beyond recognition to create an incredibly diverse set of principles.
There can, however, be issues with this diversity. For example, when two people meet on the internet, both of whom claim to represent the liberal argument and descend into a mudslinging, race to be the’“better liberal’.
As far as I can see, there are five types of liberal.
1. The Economic Liberal (two for the price of one)
At its heart, liberalism is generally about exercising freedoms and that has presented itself in different ways throughout history. Liberal economics has come in two different forms throughout history: classical economics and neoliberal economics.
When thinking of classical economics, think along the lines of early economic thought; Adam Smith and market forces etc. Classical economists generally place their trust in an almost completely free market. They tend towards the belief that allowing freedom of choice to individuals and to corporate entities will result in the most economic allocation of resources. In other words they worship at the shrine of the invisible hand.
Secondly, the neoliberal. Neoliberals extend the principles of free-market economics to trade. A neoliberal’s dream is essentially a worldwide EU, with unbearable levels of globalisation, where the governments’ main methods of intervention are through monetarist policies.
2. The Libertarian (yes, they count too!)
Libertarians take the fundamentals of liberal philosophy to perhaps its most extreme conclusions. The average libertarian will generally want to see as small a state as possible, preferring personal liberty and individualism above all else. This is what distinguishes them from any other form of liberal, who will generally see government as a good thing, so long as it extends our freedoms or quality of life.
3. Social Liberals (most of us)
Social liberalism is the basic principle that we should strive to be progressively freer in our social liberties. These are all but the most hardcore authoritarian/religious individuals. Ultimately these people are governed by the idea that we should be able to do whatever we want so long as it poses no direct threat to anyone else’s freedoms.
4. Political Liberals (all 11 of ‘em)
Political liberals are people who are members of an ACTUAL liberal party. Funnily enough, this brand of liberal does not necessarily fall under any of the other liberal camps!
5. Colloquial Liberals (The Twitterati)
Finally, the colloquial liberal. Generally the most vocal set of ‘liberals’, though funnily enough many of the views held by the “colloquial liberal” and their modus operandi of screaming down their opposition whenever their challenged, very rarely falls under the philosophy of liberalism.
Often existing in their own echo chamber, the colloquial liberal will generally have the following cognitive process:
- I believe I am a liberal, therefore any argument I make is the liberal argument.
- Liberalism is inherently good, therefore any argument I make is inherently good.
- If any argument I make is inherently good, then all other arguments must be inherently bad.
It is this thought process that makes many of the neo-literati so unbearably smug, and yet so badly incapable of winning debates.
Liberalism is an incredibly diverse school of thought, many components of which are actively contradictory. Collectively we need to stop trying to take ‘ownership’ of liberalism, and equally recognise that there is nothing inherently superior about liberalism and that liberalism can be held in conjunction with other ideas.
Here endeth the lesson.