In Praise of Liberalism

In the United States, present-day liberalism came into full existence as consequences of the Great Depression had their full impact on the nation. Liberalism quickly became and remains a mainstay of everyday life in the United States.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the founding father of liberalism as we think of it. His programs effectively forever transformed the relationship people have with the government and their expectations of the government. Classical liberalism (a form of conservatism today), rooted in the Enlightenment tradition and widely popular in the 19th century, suggested that societies thrived when governments remained small and allowed the “free” market (i.e., capitalism) to operate without interference.

While the New Deal and FDR were far from perfect (as I have written about before), the nation entered a trajectory that steadily and increasingly sought to expand the basic opportunities and human rights of everyone.


FDR’sEconomic Bill of Rights includes rights as follows:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

FDR’s Four Freedoms include the freedom: of speech and expression, to worship God in his own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is yet another articulation of these rights and another statement of their importance for every-single-person-on-the-planet. 

That is was necessary to so clearly and specifically articulate all of these rights indicates their vast absence and profound importance to this society.

Liberalism allowed the nation to thrive economically from roughly 1941 to 1970, called “The Great Compression.” During this time workers were paid well, and the rich paid more taxes. Banks were prohibited from engaging in risky investments. Liberalism, through the Great Society, helped even more individuals with basic survival. 

Click on the chart to enlarge

Liberalism is also, of course, what allowed all of the civil rights movements of the post-World War II era to thrive. Opportunities for women and Black Americans were vastly expanded during this era of the liberal consensus. 

Intentions aside, all of the nation’s accomplishments are because of liberalism. Check out this list. Conservatism, as popularly promoted, was and remains against unions, high wages for workers, and basic human rights for every one. Conservatism promotes the belief that left to act without government influence, individuals will thrive and everything will work together in harmony. Additionally, we can very specifically trace the creation and rise of present-day conservatism in the 1950s and 1960s as a backlash started by and for Whites against the increasingly “equal” society.  Conservatism also refuses to recognize the long-term legacies of racism and sexism. 

equity Equality-to-Liberals-and-Conservatives1

Liberalism, like popular notions of democracy, sets the bar high in hopes of allowing the nation to actually promote itself as “the land of the free and home of the brave” without being hypocritical. While very hard to define, liberalism seeks to provide every one with equitable, that is fair, opportunities. Liberalism posits that societies are better off when group interests come before private interests, especially in matters of economics, the environment, and other things that are public issues. Liberalism believes that active and willing governments are the best mechanism to curb abuses of power from the majority, be it the passage of hate crime laws or workplace safety regulations. Liberalism believes every one should have true equality and vast opportunity.



.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 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 I’m a “Liberal.”

Supporting liberalism, then, is a responsibility. See this list of responsibilities for all of us in the United States I made.