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A brief history of liberalism and why I'm happy to be “smeared” with that word!

Updated on March 27, 2011

What say the reeds at Runnymede?

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissom reeds that give and take,
That bend so far, but never break,
They keep the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede.

This stanza, and those in the sections below, are from Rudyard Kipling's 1911 poem "What say the reeds at Runnymede"

Back in 1215, a little before my time, some high-and-mighties in England got together on the meadows at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames River near London and forced the highest-and-mightiest in the land, King John, to sign a document which has come down to us as the Magna Carta. This was, in effect, the birth of liberalism.

It was a document which, though it has been through many vicissitudes and twist and turns, is the foundation of all that liberalism stands for today, and its effects are seen in constitutions and basic laws around the world.

Even the Charter of the United Nationsis not thinkable without the Magna Carta.

Why did this document, signed by the King under duress, come to have such immense influence on political thought and action throughout the years? It had one main effect – until that signature was appended to that document, Kings had ruled by “Divine Right” and their slightest whim or fancy was to be obeyed without question.

King John. Image from Wikipedia
King John. Image from Wikipedia
King John granting the Charter
King John granting the Charter

They settled John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:
'You musn't sell, delay, deny,
A freeman's right or liberty.
It wakes the stubborn Englishry,
We saw 'em roused at Runnymede!

But on that meadow of Runnymede on the15th day of June in the year of Our Lord 1215, the King in effect agreed that his “Divine Right” had limitations, in particular, that he could no longer imprison anyone on a whim. This is the great and fundamental principle of the Rule of Law, known by its Latin tag of Habeas Corpus. This is the first principle on which liberalism is based – that no-one can be imprisoned without due process. Without the principle of Habeas Corpus a ruler or a government can take away another person's freedom without the need to explain why. Of course a ruler or government can still put people away without cause or explanation, but if the Rule of Law is upheld, the ruler or government can be challenged legally and forced by the courts either to provide a proper reason for the imprisonment or, if they cannot do so, to free the person.

The drawback of the Magna Carta, of course, was that at the time it applied only to the Barons of England, not to the ordinary folk. But the principle was established and it only had to be rolled out to the rest of the people. Not an easy task in those inequitable days!

When through our ranks the Barons came,
With little thought of praise or blame,
But resolute to play the game,
They lumbered up to Runnymede;
And there they launched in solid line
The first attack on Right Divine,
The curt uncompromising "Sign!'
They settled John at Runnymede.

King James II
King James II
Prince William of Orange, later King William III of England and Ireland. Image from Wikipedia
Prince William of Orange, later King William III of England and Ireland. Image from Wikipedia

The Glorious Revolution of 1688

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgement found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter signed at Runnymede.'

In fact this had to wait some 473 years for the so-called “Glorious Revolution of 1688 which finally, or almost finally, established the power of Parliament over against the King. The King involved this time was King James II who's attempt to reinstate an absolute monarchy was stopped by the combined forces of Parliament and Prince William of Orange, in a not-quite bloodless revolution which has ever since been known as “Glorious” because it made Parliament supreme over against the King. A principle which still stands in Britain, though it has had some interesting permutations down the centuries.

When individuals want to become dictators, or when governments want absolute powers, certainly in the Western context, they always attack the principle of Habeas Corpus first. This is why liberals get rather hot under their sometimes over-stretched collars when governments initiate laws which seem to infringe on this principle. It is a first step towards dictatorship, and whatever the justifications used is usually bad for people.

Image from Flickr
Image from Flickr

The text from the image above

''What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal"? If by a liberal they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people - their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties - someone who believes that we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a liberal, then I'm proud to say that I'm a liberal.”

Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Accepting the New York State Liberal Party 1960 Presidential Nomination
The Commodore Hotel, New York, NY.
September 14, 1960

Extract from the Oxford Manifesto 1997 of Liberal International

"...that liberty and individual responsibility are the foundations of civilised society; that the state is only the instrument of the citizens it serves; that any action of the state must respect the principles of democratic accountability; that constitutional liberty is based upon the principles of separation of powers; that justice requires that in all criminal prosecution the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, and to a fair verdict free from any political influence; that state control of the economy and private monopolies both threaten political liberty; that rights and duties go together, and that every citizen has a moral responsibility to others in society; and that a peaceful world can only be built upon respect for these principles and upon cooperation among democratic societies. We reaffirm that these principles are valid throughout the world.

"Freedom, responsibility, tolerance, social justice and equality of opportunity: these are the central values of Liberalism, and they remain the principles on which an open society must be built. These principles require a careful balance of strong civil societies, democratic government, free markets, and international cooperation.

"We believe that the conditions of individual liberty include the rule of law, equal access to a full and varied education, freedom of speech, association, and access to information, equal rights and opportunities for women and men, tolerance of diversity, social inclusion, the promotion of private enterprise and of opportunities for employment. We believe that civil society and constitutional democracy provide the most just and stable basis for political order. We see civil society as constituted by free citizens, living within a framework of established law, with individual rights guaranteed, with the powers of government limited and subject to democratic accountability.

"We believe that an economy based on free market rules leads to the most efficient distribution of wealth and resources, encourages innovation, and promotes flexibility.

"We believe that close cooperation among democratic societies through global and regional organisations, within the framework of international law, of respect for human rights, the rights of national and ethnic minorities, and of a shared commitment to economic development worldwide, is the necessary foundation for world peace and for economic and environmental sustainability.

The full text can be found here.

What is liberalism?

And still when mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on Englishways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!

The basic definition of liberal from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED) is “respectful and accepting of behaviour or opinions different from one's own” and, in a political context, “favouring individual liberty, free trade,and moderate political and social reform.”

The Wikipedia article on liberalism states that “most liberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutions, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, free trade, secularism, and the market economy.”

Now I suspect that the right wing attack on liberalism in the US particularly, but not only there, is based on two concepts enshrined in these two definitions: from the COED “accepting of behaviour or opinions different from one's own” and from the Wikipedia article the one word, “secularism”.

So let me state why I believe those two concepts not only are important but are essential to liberalism and, indeed, to democracy.

Let us look at the first statement, the one about respecting and accepting views different from our own. When this principle is absent or unheeded democracy is not possible. As Voltaire (real name, François-Marie Arouet) once said: “I disagree strongly with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” For me, that is the essence of democracy and of liberalism. Freedom of speech, religion and opinion are not “nice-to-haves” or “optional extras” - they are fundamental. Without respect for and acceptance of differing opinions we cannot have democracy. These are basic human rights which any human, simply because they are human, have. Take them away and you are on the road to absolutism. As Albert Camus wrote in his great essay “Bread andFreedom”, “If someone takes away your bread, he suppresses your freedom at the same time. But if someone takes away your freedom, you may be sure that your bread is threatened, for it no longer depends on you and your struggle but on the whim of a master.”

Why this concept might be uncomfortablefor those on the right is that it implies that people who are different in any way have the right to be treated with respect and full rights. This means that homosexuals, blacks, Asians, Muslims, Hispanics, whomever, have to be treated with respect. And not only with respect, but they have rights, the same rights, as anyone else.

This principle means that no-one has the right to be more privileged than anyone else. The toothless, homeless beggar on the street has as much value in the eyes of the law as the fancily-dressed corporate executive or high-ranking politician. In any country where racial prejudice has been rampant, like South Africa, this value is very hard for some to swallow. True democracy means that there is no longer “us” and “them”, there is only “we, the people.”

The other word which no doubt causes those on the right red-faced apoplexy is the word “secularism”. But if we examine the word we will see that it too is an essential ingredient of liberty and democracy. The opposite of democracy in many ways is theocracy, the rule of religion. If freedom of religionis a basic human right, which I believe it is, then it has to be exercised in freedom from coercion. This would not be possible in a theocracy which, by definition, favours the ruling religion over others.

This is the reason why liberals tend to be fairly firm on the question of the separation of church and state, why liberals view with suspicion the use of religious symbols in affairs of state. Why, in situations where public funds are being used, the rituals and practices of a particular religion should not be featured. Those funds come from people of many different faiths, and so to use them to promote in any way, one particular faith, is anti-freedom. It is curtailing the freedom of those who do not share that particular faith. And this is no small matter, actually, but something fundamental to the liberal conception of freedom and respect.

For a liberal, the rule of law and constitutionalism is very basic to the concept of freedom. The rule of law, from the time of the Magna Carta, is the protection ordinary people have against arbitrary acts of the ruler or government. The rule of law means that government and its agencies cannot arbitrarily act against the interests of anyone. It means that the individual has recourse to law when such actions do occur.

So we who love freedom, especially in the English-speaking world, have much to thank those unruly barons on the meadow at Runnymede for. For without their action in standing up to the King, and the many who have followed them in standing up against tyranny and absolutism, we would not today enjoy those liberties we do enjoy. The Revolutions which birthed the United States and free France could not have happened, and those Revolutions were essentially liberal revolutions. The constitutions under which most of the English-speaking world and many other parts of the world live today would not have been possible without liberals who took seriously the demands of liberty.

Liberalism is not monolithic or static.It has evolved over many centuries, and in different ways, and is likely to continue to evolve for many years to come. Liberals stand against obscurantism and the disrespect of human intelligence so often encountered in authoritarian regimes, because liberals know that knowledge and understanding are essential factors in freedom,and that the price of freedom is constant vigilance against those who would undermine and destroy it. Freedom to seek for and find new knowledge is an essential bulwark against the despotism of ignorance.

Nationalism and patriotism

Nationalism and patriotism could also be sites of contestation between liberals and the political right. By its nature liberalism is not conducive to the attitude of “my country, right or wrong.” Liberals tend to view all opinions as relative, and would want to apply reason to conflicts. So a narrow nationalism which sees an enemy in another country is incompatible with the liberal view of all people having rights. The ideology of national security is essentially illiberal and anti-freedom. So most liberals would naturally oppose anything which seemed to suggest that one nation has more right to exist than another. This is because a liberal view is that there should be a clear distinction between the government and the state.

So a liberal would oppose a fascist government in another country, and would indeed see it as a duty to do so, but that would be clearly different from opposing that country per se . Liberals were strongly opposed to Nazism in Germany, but did not have any prejudice against the German people or the country Germany.

In terms of recent history, liberals oppose the view that Muslims should be treated in any way differently than other people are treated. Just because some Muslims have behaved in a certain way does not mean that all Muslims should be objects of suspicion and be discriminated against.

In South Africa some years ago a young man got onto a bus carrying black commuters and shot some of them in cold blood. He claimed to be Christian and that his action was a Christian act. He claimed that blacks were not people and that it was the duty of Christians to kill them because they threatened the “purity” of the white race. This is the danger of the opposite of liberalism, when people are dehumanised and treated as objects.

Liberalism and humanism

Finally, liberalism is a humanism in the sense that it places a high priority on the good of the human being. That good is not defined in any ethereal or dogmatic way, but is based on the real day to day life experience of the individual.

Humanism, according to the COED, is a “rationalistic outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.”

This is expressed in the last lines of Rudyard Kipling's “Song of the English”:

“Stand to your work and be wise – certain of sword and pen,

Who are neither children nor Gods, but men in a world of men.”

As he was writing in the early part of the 20th Century and the women's movement had not yet had the impact it would later have on our language, we have to forgive him that “world of men,” I guess!

Saadi in a Rose Garden. Image from Wikipedia
Saadi in a Rose Garden. Image from Wikipedia

Peter Linbaugh video

The video above is a fairly long video (51 or so minutes) of an address given by historian Peter Linebaugh on "Magna Carta and the Commons" given March 13, 2009 at the Law of the Commons Conference at Seattle University and sponsored by the Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

It is a brilliant exposition of the meaning of the Magna Carta for our times. Well worth taking the time and trouble to listen to.

An article by Linebaugh on the Carta and its implications for today can be found here.

Some implications: I am involved in mankind

One of the greatest impacts that liberalism has had since the latter half of the 20thCentury is the way international relations have changed, or at least the way such relations are viewed. Before World War II nation states could go their own ways, to some extent, without impacting on others very much, but the war changed that radically. Pearl Harbour shattered the illusion of isolationism forever. No longer could any country claim to be able to “go it alone.”

One of the great learnings of the second half of the 20th Century is that in international relations, as in the relations between people, we are all connected.This was, of course, foreshadowed by poets and other visionaries long before. English poet John Donne, and Persian poet Saadi, had both expressed the inter-connectedness of people centuries before.

Saadi, who died in the 13thCentury, lived in Shiraz, Iran (then Persia) and wrote many aphorisms. One the best-known of these is the one at the entrance to the Hall of Nations in the United Nations building in New York:

Of One Essence is the Human Race,

Thusly has Creation put the Base.

One Limb impacted is sufficient,

For all Others to feel the Mace.

The Unconcern'd with Others' Plight,

Are but Brutes with Human Face.”

John Donne, poet and Anglican priest, wrote in 17thCentury England, and in his “Meditation XVII” from “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions” he captured much the same idea as Saadi had some four centuries earlier: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Anyman's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

This rightly famous passage (and by the way, he did not write it as a poem, as it is so often presented, he wrote it as prose) is an almost perfect expression of the liberal idea of the connectedness of humanity. It is part of a longer piece, a meditation on the mortality of humanity, of which the bell ringing for a funeral is a timely reminder: “Nunclento sonitu dicunt, morieris. Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.”

This awareness of the fragility of human life, of the inevitable contact with our own death, is a key to understanding liberalism. Liberalism says to us, we are all mortal, in that there are no exceptions. So let us use the time we have to live in dignity and respect with those with whom we share this mortal life.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly in 1962 Adlai Stevenson said of Eleanor Roosevelt: "She would rather light candles than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.” He was using a variation of an old Chinese saying, “Don't curse the darkness - light a candle.” The phrase has become popular in English as, “It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

This to me is one of the important factors in liberalism, that it would prefer to get on with practical ways of improving people's lives than engage in endless ideological debate. It, as a philosophy and political approach, would rather shed light and warmth than blame.

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010


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    • L. Ray Haynes profile image

      L. Ray Haynes 6 years ago from the biosphere

      Great Hub Tony. I really like your use of Kipling's poem to cinch up the narrative. On the whole this is very informative and re-iterates the basic underlying principles of democratic-republics. I live in the US and have grave misgivings about the contention between 'right and left' and recently stated "the Right is always 'right' and there is no Left left". James' comments epitomize the Right's 'rightness'. He says the conservative wants to teach others how to fish, but I ask, would he only teach this if the pupil signed a contract to pay for the service and had to be indebted to the teacher's private interest in exchange for the knowledge of how to provide his own sustenance? Furthermore, after I start fishing for myself, do I find that not only do I have to keep paying this guy a portion of my fish for the training, but his buddy charges me so many fish for access to the stream, and his other buddy wants to trade me the equipment for so many more fish, and their other buddy who oversees all this fishing activity to make sure everyone gets their "fair share" is demanding a few fish to cover his administration costs, and when I want to rest at night, I have to fork over another fish or two, for a place to sleep, eventually I wonder if this fishing deal is really all it's hyped up to be. Whatever happened to "we all go fishing together and then at the end of the day, we have a big fish fry and all eat together, big and small, young and old, man and woman, and then dance, sing, and tell stories around the fire? Why all the fish hoarding? "One who hoards fish lives a very stinky, lonely life." Is that too simplistic and cynical? I don't know. The question I am really asking is do we prefer hierarchy, coercion, and exploitation or community, cooperation, and care?

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      ME - thanks for the kind words and the heads-up about Dean's book I shall indeed look outfor it. Thanks also for the explanation of James's position. Not being that familiar with US politics of that ilk I was a bit puzzled by some of his positions on issues.

      Thanks again for stopping by.

      Love and peace


    • My Esoteric profile image

      My Esoteric 7 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      Tonymac, wonderful hub; I can't add much to what has been said above because all of the praise is well earned. I have bookmarked it for reference for my own hubs and refresher. It is a shame that most that commented were of the same mind but at least James Watkins got his five dollars worth in. If you haven't read it, I would recommend John Dean's "Conservatives Without Conscience". It goes into the psychology of what has been defined as Right-wing Authoritarian followers and Social Dominators. If I am not mistaken, James covered virtually all of the characteristics that would score high on the scales for both types of personalities. America's Newt Gengrich or Tom Delay would be examples of Social Dominators and I suspect James might be one of the army of RWA followers.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Micky - thanks so much, brotherman! Thanks for stopping by.

      Love and peace


    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      I still agree with your every word Tony. Our founding fathers owned slaves and that wasn't "Christian". Many of the actual fore-fathers were not of "faith" at all. TJ wrote his own Bible. Etc.!Thank you Sir!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Dave - I thank you for this interesting and thoughtful comment. I really appreciate it. You raise a very valid point about labels and the changes in definitions.

      Love and peace


    • Dave Sibole profile image

      Dave Sibole 7 years ago from Leesburg, Oh

      Interesting, thought provoking Hub. I am no spring chicken (59) but I have found that most people want the same things in life and from life. What seems strange to me is everyone seems to have a different opinion on how to achieve those things. But with so much history behind us it should be nobrainer if we learn from it. I have learned so why would anyone question my way? Labels are just that. Labels. Definitions somehow evolve as someone above commented to fit their purposes and agenda. Liberal and conservative have definitely changed over time in American politics. Thanks again Tony.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Yes indeed - politics, religion and the weather, the eternal trio of conversation subjects!

      Thanks for coming back to continue this conversation.

      Love and peace


    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      So true, Tony! Without politics and religion, we'd have no spirited debates! lol

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Holle - thanks for stopping by and commenting. I do appreciate it. Politics always make for controversy - otherwise it would be so boring!

      Love and peace


    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Great history lesson, but I'm not so sure that libs in the US believe in free trade. I'm kind of a conservative moerate or a moderate conservative, though I do have some liberal positions, also.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Equealla - such wisdom in your words! I really feel honoured that you shared such deep thoughts with me here. Thank you.

      Love and peace


    • equealla profile image

      equealla 8 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything. We all know that quote. But goodness, I hate politics. It does not make life easier, though it is much needed. I am not politically orientated, and it took me forever to read this article, with all those "big" words. I used every bit of my mouse-attention-span (I loved that bit, Nellieanna) to keep the threads together. Tony, you are a very brave man, to tackle a political subject, you know you are going to get under fire. This is really a very informative hub explaining the principles of liberalism.

      The fact that we are spending time on this planet, is not the purpose and reason we came into being. We are hear to listen, to learn and to grow for a much higher purpose, none of us know what. ( Still too big for my little mind to understand.) We are here just to mature a little bit more.

      War is good and bad, depends on the perspective- we learn from it. Peace can be equally good or bad, depends on who's peace it is. We learn from it. We are not the same, thank goodness for that. Because you are different from me, I can learn from you. Every person has a roll to play, and we cannot all be the politicians, neither even try to debate such a complicated matter, like me for instance.

      All I know is that history has never, until today, provided a perfect system to keep everybody happy. We are still living under "the curse" - remember. Every perfect idea is prone to coruption, because we live in a world of change, and nothing here is suppose to be forever.

      We need people like Julius Malema, and we need people like Eugene Terblanche. It is because of them being radical, we can learn and try to find the equilibrium in our own confused minds. The Muslim, the Christian, or any other religion will challenge us with moral codes, and out of those challenges, we discover in ourselves, our real selves.

      I am grateful though, for strong people willing to enter the battlefield of politics, and "opinion" their opinions. If it was not for everyone of them, good, bad, holy or corrupt, our existence would not have been much more different than that of phytoplankton.

      I am a mere baby growing up, and will not stand for now for anything. Not in the field of politics, that is. Babe's are not allowed to drive a car. I trust and know, that nothing that ever happens in this amazing universe, happened per chance. We will come out better at the other side, by the road of pain and joy. I appreciate every creature passing my way, whoever and whatever you are, because you help me to become.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Richard - thanks so much. I was also very glad to discover your Hubs. Thanks so much for the kind words and for the visit. I really do appreciate both.

      Love and peace


    • Richard VanIngram profile image

      Richard VanIngram 8 years ago from San Antonio, Texas

      tonymac04: Thank you for this wonderful hub and upholding the principles underlying it. And on a completely selfish note, if I am allowed to express such, it makes me happy to find someone of similar beliefs to my own here on these pages -- this made me feel a bit less lonely.


    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks Hi-Jinks. The gap between the walk and the talk is difficult for all of us to bridge.

      Love and peace


    • Hi-Jinks profile image

      Hi-Jinks 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      I agree. Great Hub. Too many Conservatives don't practise what they say.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      HS - thanks for the kind words of encouragement. I really do appreciate them.

      Love and peace


    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 8 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you Tony for this wonderful history of liberalism. I have always wondered why people in the U.S. run away from the term and allow the right wing to define liberalism as they wish. I loved JFK's speech on this. I also agree wholeheartedly that so-called patriotism where you agree with your country right or wrong without critical thinking is actually unpatriotic. The only way to improve your country and society is to question and work to make it better. THAT IS PATRIOTISM. Knowledge and the search for knowledge and wisdom is the key to liberalism. Thanks again for your lucid history.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Secularist - thanks for stopping by and commenting with such kind words. I really appreciate it very much. Did go to your Hub and left a comment there.

      Love and peace


    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 8 years ago from New York City

      Brilliant, Tony. Great article.

      Liberalism, broadly defined, has been one of the most important forces for good in human history. It has led to freedom, prosperity, new ideas, popular control over the government (not the other way around), and a lot of other cool stuff.

      More narrowly defined, social liberalism has had some positive and negative contributions. The positives include greater tolerance for different lifestyles or value systems that have no negative impact on society (like homosexuality). The negatives include greater tolerance for lifestyles that DO have a negative impact on society (like poor single mothers who live off welfare).

      Economic liberalism has contributed common-sense regulations and state involvement in the market. However, when it goes too far, we get unnecessary red tape and bureaucratic nightmares.

      You are absolutely right that secularism is vital for democracy. As goes the secular state, so goes religious freedom. You simply can't have religious freedom without secularism, although the conservatives have never understood that, and they never will (at least in the US). And if you don't have religious freedom, then you don't really have true freedom.

      You might be interested in a hub I wrote recently deconstructing modern American conservatism:

      Take care.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Niall - thanks for the idea! Don't think they'll take too much notice, though?

      Christine - thanks so much.

      James - wow! that's quite a lot of comment! Interesting and some I agree with, lots I don't! On the theocracy thing it was in fact mostly the Muslim theocracies that I had in mind. However, there is a tendency, for instance, to say that the US is a "Christian" country. Now it might have been founded three centuries ago by Christians, but the people of the US who pay taxes to keep the country going are not all Christian by any means, and so to say that the US is a Christian country is making a claim close to theocracy. I also think you distort some words for your own purposes - whatever you might think it is important to recognise diversity. There are people with many different beliefs and opinions which are all deserving of respect, and that is what diversity means. I also wonder about your statement that what conservative want to conserve is liberalism in its classical sense - what I see conservatives wanting to conserve is some sort of privilege, either of their political views, their religion, or whatever. Anyway I have another Hub in the making which will attempt to address, among other things, someof the points you make here.

      Amillar - eternal vigilance is indceed it!

      GL - thanks for the kind words and the support. I appreciate it very much.

      Cari Jean - thanks for the visit.

      Braudboy - I won't say who I think is a liberal in the US because I don't really know enough about politicians in the US. There is a long list of those who were distinctly illiberal but on second thoughts maybe not this time. Thanks for dropping by and commenting anyway!

      Nick - "actively tolerating what you dislike" - I like that! Thanks.

      Liber - thank you for the comment. I too love Liberte, egalite, fraternite. I think those three sum it all up pretty well!

      Thanks all for contributing to a great and necessary debate.

      Love and peace


    • liber profile image

      liber 8 years ago

      Very interesting history of liberalism. I always think of it as beginning with Locke's Second Treatise on Government -- which I don't think is correct, but I always think of it that way.

      I especially love that you included one of my favorite slogans, and one of the most lovely in history: liberty, equality and fraternity. I always site these three as my principal political values.

      From one liberal to another then :)

    • profile image

      nicks 8 years ago

      Of course, as you rightly state, Voltaire had it right in every regard. Liberalism is about actively tolerating what you dislike - if it means that freedom is protected. Our governments would do well to heed this important creed.

    • braudboy profile image

      braudboy 8 years ago from Long Beach, MS

      What politicians in today's America would you consider to be a "liberal". By your definition, I would have to say NO ONE. What passes for liberalism in today's world, we can do without.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      James - LOVE your comment. I totally agree with you!

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Thank you Tony for speaking so eloquently and intelligently on behalf of true Liberals worldwide. As many have implied,(including those who differ with your ideas), Liberalism has been distorted. What we must gage is the level of distortion which appears to manifest most destructively from the radical Right; self-serving politicians and fear-monger media megalomaniacs targeting those who are too lazy or pre-programmed with prejudicial concepts to seek the truth. As you say,"know that knowledge and understanding are essential factors in freedom". Your words are ammunition against the blighting of hope. Rated up, useful, awesome, beautiful.

    • amillar profile image

      amillar 8 years ago from Scotland, UK

      "the price of freedom is constant vigilance against those who would undermine and destroy it." Bravo.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 8 years ago from Chicago

      I only wish to add one more thought that hit me after I typed this comment above (that ties it all together I think).

      What Consersatives wish to Conserve is Liberalism. In it's true and classical sense.

      Thank you, Tony. Love and Peace to you.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 8 years ago from Chicago

      I'm not sure how things are in your country, my friend. Over here in the USA the people who are commonly called Liberals should be called Progressives or Social Liberals. You did a fine job of explaining Classical Liberalism, and added in some Progressive ideas. The Founding Fathers were Classical Liberals, they would in no way agree with the ideology of today's "Liberals." The word has been hi-jacked because it historically stood for great things.

      The folks in the US who call themselves Liberals are for Social Justice—equality of outcomes. That idea sounds great to a four year old being taught to share. In our world the only way to equalize outcomes is to confiscate private property and income from those who have earned it and give it to others. You can't otherwise equalize outcomes from a people with such an astonishing range of talent and skill, as well as intellectual, emotional, and motivational diversity. The problem is that is requires state control. It takes away freedom and gives more and more power to the state. This is not the Liberalism of the Founding Fathers by any means.

      Here in the US Progressives (Liberals) are not content with running their own affairs, they want Washington DC to run everybody's affairs. All liberals are free to give away all their money to any cause they want but that will not satisfy them—they insist on giving away other peoples money. Tolerance is a buzzword that really means the opposite of what the word means in the standard English language. What is tolerant about Political Correctness, and Speech Codes, and Thought Police? Nothing. Liberals are the most intolerant bunch in the USA except when it comes to total libertinism—that they tolerate just fine.

      Diversity another buzzword but diversity generally means everybody except Christians, except Conservatives, except white men. Equal rights are hardly uncomfortable to "the right" in this country. I don't where you got that idea unless you mean in South Africa. Special privileges such as Affirmative action, racial job quotas and Hate Crimes legislation are not equal rights—they are unequal rights. To say that a white kid with a 4.0 GPA and SAT scores in the top 5% of the nation can't get into Harvard while a black kid with a 2.5 GPA and and SAT in the 50% range can is unequal not equal—but liberals CALL it equality. To say that the murder of a homosexual or black person is more aggregious than the murder of a 75 year old white heterosexual is not equality but inequality before the law.

      The Left loves to throw out this word theocracy. Other than Muslims, who in the hell wants a theocracy? Not our Founding Fathers, not modern day conservatives. If 50 kids on a high school football team want to pray together before a game and the one and only Atheist kid on the team objects, a liberal judge rules for the one kid. That is not separation of church and state—that is robbing the 50 kids of their religious freedom and a tyranny of the minority. American Liberals want to completely run everybody's lives through an army of bureaucratic experts in a humungous central government. That is the opposite of liberty. You mentioned liberals want to improve lives as if they have a monopoly on that sentiment. I object! Liberals want to give the poor my fish—conservatives want to teach them to catch their own fish. You mention one lone nut who shot some people. In America demonstrations by the right are utterly peaceful but when the left demonstrates violence is their tool. Liberals in America are Socialists, Unionists, Marxists. These are not Liberal ideas in the classical sense but represent a hi-jacking of the word to cloak their ideas in what once once a grand word and a great liberating ideology.

    • mulberry1 profile image

      Christine Mulberry 8 years ago

      Thank you for this bit of history and definition of liberalism. Such words and labels are so often distorted and/or misunderstood. It's good to take a step back and examine what they really mean.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      LRCB - sorry about the Runnymede thing and glad you feel you learned something here.

      Exploring - thank you so much for your kind words. I appreciate them and agree that there seems to be some sort of vendetta against President Obama.

      Story - love your little verse there - especially the last line. So true!

      Thanks all for your visits and much-appreciated comments.

      Love and peace


    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Oh Runnymead, dear Runnymead,

      where first unleashed this Truth:

      our kings are no more gods than bums

      and often quite uncouth.

      LOL what a great rhyme and exploration of liberal history. I will remember this one for a very long time.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 8 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Tony,I felt like i was in a class room learning the

      principals of truth in a free democracy.I am proud to call

      myself a liberal. I believe in equality for all people.

      Thank God for all the liberals of long ago, who paved the

      way for us, sometimes by accident, i turn on fox news and

      they make the word liberal sound dirty and less than

      truthful, and oh how they hate President Obama, makes one

      ponder if they ever read the gospel that say,s " pray

      for your leaders"

      You put so much work in this piece and it,s amazing !

    • LRCBlogger profile image

      LRCBlogger 8 years ago

      I can say that I learned a lot here, thank you. I am a little bit annoyed with the fact that I have Runnymede, Runnymede, stuck in my head. I've already made up like 10 different versions, ha ha

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      DG - thank you very much and you are most welcome! Indeed I feel totally honoured that you would think my writing worth plagiarising! LOL!

      Thanks for the visit and the really wonderful comments!

      Love and peace


    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 8 years ago from UK

      You have disarmed me. I cannot now think that it is possible to write a better piece of non fiction. This is a piece of work, a lecture, that every child should have access to and, indeed, should be required reading and discussion in every classroom.

      From "“nice-to-haves” or “optional extras”, through "True democracy means that there is no longer “us” and “them”, there is only “we, the people” " to " as a philosophy and political approach, would rather shed light and warmth than blame" it is an ode to logic, fairness and love for human kind. I am copying this in order to shamelessly plagiarise from it! :-)))

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Sandy - thanks. I hoipe I expressed it well!?

      Chasing Cars - thank you so much. I did feel that the opposite point of view was getting rather a lot of exposure here! And I so agree with you about the big/small government thing. What is needed is good government that ensures justice for all, not only the "big" guys!

      Thank you both for dropping by and commenting. I appreciate it.

      Love and peace


    • profile image

      chasingcars 8 years ago

      Thanks so much for expressing what we liberals/progressives believe. It's not about large or small government; it's about good government starting with our own little republic. I am sharing this with my liberal friends. It's about time they heard from someone who understands them.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      It is good to see your point of view on this.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you so much, Marijana. Jou woorde maak dit alles die mooite werd!

      Love and peace


    • marijanareynders profile image

      marijanareynders 8 years ago from Toodyay, Western Australia

      I so agree with Micky and would also high-light: “respectful and accepting of behaviour or opinions different from one's own” - it should be the rule of life of every person in every facet of our lives. Just how wonderful would life then be! We usually tend to want to convert others to our way of thinking; and that is what starts wars, divorces, fights, arguments, disrespect. A thought provoking and well-researched blog Tony, your usual high standard.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Micky - thanks for your thoughtful comment and for "waving the Golden Rule Flag" - I like that!

      Love and peace


    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 8 years ago

      “respectful and accepting of behaviour or opinions different from one's own” and, in a political context, “favouring individual liberty, free trade, and moderate political and social reform.”

      This is certainly of what I strive to adhere to! The object of our political train wreck is to keep the citizens hating each other I'm sure.

      If a religion, political party, and etc, are not waving the Golden Rule flag- "it's" a cult. Thank you Tony!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Alek - I am really pleased that you found this Hub interesting. It was great writing it, though it took far longer than I had planned for! It is certainly something I feel strongly about. Thanks for your kind words and for being such a good friend here.

      Love and peace


    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Tony, What a fabulous history lesson, so well written and told. I found it fascinating and was totally mesmerized through the whole hub. I have always considered myself a liberal and now, in light of your insights and research, still do.

      I've been a fan of yours ever since I joined hub pages, a year ago, and I must say that your writing is some of the very best here. Thank you so much for taking the time to write thoughtful, interesting, and inspiring pieces.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Peggy - your words warm me. Thank you for making such a thoughtful comment.

      Nellieanna - wow, lady, you have added another dimension to this Hub, and I thank you for that. Your kind words and compliment really make me want to blush and cry at the same time. I am very moved by your words. Thank you, kind lady.

      To both of you, my sincere thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Love and peace


    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 8 years ago from TEXAS

      I'm totally impressed with this Useful, Awesome and Beuatiful hub. But even if it had not been so well written and organized that surely anyone with the attention span of a mouse could follow and understand it - what it presents is so clear and needed if this world is to manage with any shred of humanity remaining, that it should be read and reread by all who have that hope.

      I've never been much of an "ism" or label person. I always need to look at things and sift through the veiled agendas and manipulative tactics and look at the real residue to take a position - and then I take it with a sense of flexibility for having been possibly lacking all the facts or the idea as I understood it having been fundamentally wrong, despite my diligence in forming even a first impression.

      As I've mentioned, my parents were born in the 1890s. Slavery wasn't that far in the past in this land and women's rights were far into the future. So it was amazing that even when my Dad gave me a copy of "If" by Kipling, which ends with " .. and what is more, you'll be a man, my son." Both Dad & I looked past the gender reference and saw the advice in the poem as applicable to all "men" - which was usually used to mean everyone within earshot whatever their gender - or perhaps, their race, etc. My Dad basically thought it did include every human, so it applied to his youngest daughter too.

      Even so, the mores of the times had stigmas & cautioned against assuming that everyone shared the open-mindedness. I became aware of his caution when the singer at my first wedding, a Julliard-trained professional who was a cadet friend of my to-be husband, happened to be black. Dad was happy that he'd been chosen to sing but tried to "warn" me that in Waco, Texas, many attending the wedding would be upset, if not horrified. He sang and to my knowledge, any horror was not expressed. But it demonstrated the point that in 1954, there was much work to be done in human rights reform.

      A digression, sorry. But every point of what freedom means which you made is so. And the steam roller of oppression, even when held in check, is ever-ready to roll forward, and I suspect it has learned how to prepare the "soil" of the human land to be acceptant and even to lie down and be rolled over - or some prepared to be willing to drive the machine to roll over others. That's rampant now, in my humble opinion.

      I voted to elect whom I felt really intended to promote freedom & botn national & international cooperation. The "system" is such a tricky thing, though, it seems especially dangerous for him; and then it's suggested that he is the danger. This type of smoke screen has surely always been employed when something "different" which threatens the status-quo rises. Then it basically comes down to "who can you trust?" And I have no answer except in my personal rule of thumb that "truth will out." and a wise biblical adage: "By their fruits you shall know them."

      Hopefully the truth will out and be recognized before it's another Dark Age or worse - and way too late.

      Tony, you have my undying admiration. This is a work that should be historic. I've never heard it better explained, sir.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      It is obvious the time and effort you put into this hub. Most people probably find themselves somewhere in between liberalism and conservatism and in our primarily two party system (Republican and Democrat) in the U.S., there are liberals and conservatives in both parties. That is why I no longer send donated money to either party but prefer supporting individual candidates of whom I have a better sense of how they think and might vote when it comes to important issues.

      My favorite words that you have written are the following: "Liberalism says to us, we are all mortal, in that there are no exceptions. So let us use the time we have to live in dignity and respect with those with whom we share this mortal life."

      If only everyone would think like this!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Larry - thanks for your really interesting comment. I have to disagree with you slightly, though. I think that JFK would still be regarded as a liberal, because he was. His remarks quoted in the box above attest to that. Be that as it may, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. Thank you, my friend.

      Lori - yes I think that people make up the meanings of some words to suit themselves. This can make politics both interesting and dirty!

      Petra - I think the word has become distorted and becomes a label to stick onto people so we don't have to deal with or take seriously what they are actually saying. It's a way of avoiding confrontation with the real issues - the current diatribes about Mr Obama being a Muslim and a socialist are typical. He has shown that he is neither, but the labels are somehow more credible to some people than the content.

      Thanks all for your comments - they are deeply and much appreciated and have made the writing of this Hub worthwhile.

      Love and peace


    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 8 years ago from Los Angeles

      Those days liberalism became a dirty word and it is thrown around by conservatives implying a lack of patriotism and basic values. Twisting its fundamental meaning it is now synonym with having socialistic inclinations and being ready to forget the very principles America was build on.

      By this distorted definition California is the most liberal state and all the evil that affected us in recent years comes from this “aberrant” concept.

      Thank you Tony for clearing up the real meaning of liberalism and for giving us a history of what it really means

    • profile image

      loriamoore 8 years ago

      These terms get confusing throughout time, don't they? I'm a conservative, though leaning toward a Libertarian Republican. Interesting hub.

    • maven101 profile image

      maven101 8 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Tony...Thank you for this well-written, vigorously researched, and passionate look at liberalism without comments remark only on the scholarly and intelligent discourse you have given us...

      My very first vote for president was for a liberal democrat named John F Kennedy in 1960...Despite his personal flaws, he remains the most motivational and inspirational president in my lifetime, including Ronald Reagan...He was not a liberal of the stripe you fact, he would be considered a conservative in this day and age...his " ask not what your country can do for you " speech is in diametric opposition to today's cradle to grave big government liberals...His use of language was poetically patriotic evoking a spirit of American pride, an American pride so sadly misunderstood and denigrated by the present occupant of that office...

      A man should always remain true to himself, and you have done that here, Tony, in spades...John Donne would be proud of you...Peace and enlightenment, my friend...Larry

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Charlie, my good friend, thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such a super comment. I appreciate it and your friendship here.

      Love and peace


    • profile image

      ralwus 8 years ago

      I love how you think Tony and this was a pleasure to read. Peace friend, Charlie

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Christopher - I agree with you and like all human endeavours those things were very mixed. The point I was trying to emphasise was simply the conflict between the concept of "Divine Right" and an absolute monarchy on the one hand and the freedom of the people as represented in Parliament on the other. Human activity seldom brings unmixed blessings. The suppression of the Catholics in England was definitely a downside of the Glorious Revolution but the upside I think, at least in the realm of ideas, was beneficial and outweighed the downside. Of course the concept of religious freedom was not established then.

      Dave - thanks so much for your thoughtful and fruitful comment. You are so right that government has to regulate the "free market" (which in any case is seldom really free, even without government intervention, given the propensity to monopolisation)to limit the 'freedom' of the few to exploit the many.

      Thanks to both for the great comments.

      Love and peace


    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hi Tony - this is a fantastic (and timely) article. I hope it gets the wide readership it so richly deserves. The idea of minimal government as a principle is enshrined, even though pragmatism has required government to legislate (rightly) to restrict free markets in response to excesses that sacrificed the freedom of many to the 'freedom' of the few to amass vast fortunes at others' expense.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 8 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Very interesting and well written article. It contains many points that we all would be wise not to forget. I do however disagree that the French Revolution and the American Revolution were necessarily good things.

      Also James II only really wanted to establish equality for catholics. The "Glorious Revolution" resulted in the penal laws,which put back catholic emancipation for another 130 years. The people who called William of Orange to come over to England were not motivated by a desire to establish universal freedom, but only to protect the Protestant Whig establishment. But apart from those few reservations I feel you make some very valid points. Thankyou.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Bill - thanks for your comment. I agree that people are becoming dehumanised by those things you mention, and also by the greed and lack of humanity of so many with power, whether political or economic.

      Love and peace


    • ocbill profile image

      ocbill 8 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      I can say with pride that I fit into the liberal category, However, it is more as a democrat when voting in US elections. I also think people are becoming more dehumanised due to too much media; graphic films and videos.


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