What is liberalism?

We explain what liberalism is and a little history about this ideological current. In addition, the different meanings of this term.

  1. What is liberalism?

Liberalism is an ideological current of thought that believes that people should enjoy complete civil liberty , opposed to any kind of despotism or absolutism, and relies on the primacy of people as free individuals.

The word, within this definition, has had a multiplicity of uses according to the conjunctures and political contexts , which makes it necessary to briefly review the history of liberalism.

As a political doctrine , liberalism derives from the rationalism of the eighteenth century , because of the uniqueness of differentiating itself from the arbitrariness of absolute power, characteristic of many of the monarchical governments of the time. Liberalism appears in a context that places great importance on debate and discussion, in a climate of tolerance and freedom.

In parallel, the question of progress derived from the use of reason arises in rejection of dogmas and religious absolutism. Liberalism, then, opposed the ideas of hierarchy and authority , presenting those of freedom and equality based on the doctrines of Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau.

The means by which this could be achieved, it was known, could not be other than that of the revolution, and soon arrived with the so-called cycle of liberal revolutions  during the first decades of the nineteenth century. These are the most salient points regarding the political facet of liberalism. With these lines, respect for liberal democracy and the division of state power in many countries is founded .

The other important facet is that which occurs from the economic side and with which for centuries the capitalist system of production has been legitimized . The thinker Adam Smith, from the observation of a pin factory, believed he found the conditions in which human behavior developed in economic decisions.

This is how he formulated the theory of the importance of free play between the supply and demand of any good and service, based on the fact that people left in total freedom to act will end up going along the path of the common good . The first foundation of economic liberalism is the non-interference of the State or any coercive mechanism for the absolute freedom of economic agents. From this it is how they were formulating a series of functions and aggregates that determine the behavior of the agents: the laws of supply and demand, the balance points and the perfect competition .

Undoubtedly, liberalism always worked on the basis of a series of philosophical principles that justify it, based in the first instance on the complete freedom of people. This freedom was considered inviolable, and it was believed that it should be as large as possible (including the important freedom of worship, with a secular state), with the only limit of not attacking the freedom of others.

From this it is that another premise is the equality , but an equality in the relation of the people in front of the State and Justice . They did not refer to equality in the sense of the equitable distribution of wealth, which would only be the responsibility of the market: in the event of wanting to share the profits , it would only be due to the private charity of those who obtain the profit. However, that private charity is contrasted with one of the fundamental principles of this doctrine, which is individualism , understood as people in the exercise of their freedom, outside of belonging to a collective.

However, the word liberalism has changed its meaning a bit over time , coming to represent a position of a country like the United States, and a very different one in others, such as those in Latin America. This may happen because after the globalization process , the model that proclaimed the total absence of the State began to mutate asking for its intervention in favor of transnational corporations, and liberal economic policies began to have clear directions: privatizations, restrictive monetary and fiscal policies , labor flexibility. This is usually called neoliberalism today.

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