Liberal: The Dirty Word

Reading tabloid articles and their associated comments from ‘the people’, it is clear that Liberals are to be one of the convenient scapegoats for the world’s problems. Ignoring the fact that ‘liberal’ is a multi-usage term applied to a number of often contradictory beliefs, tabloids have trained ‘the people’ to react to this trigger word, alongside a few others, and to use it to shutdown debate. Liberal is being used in a bigoted way, by ‘the people’ who really don’t like being called bigots. Therefore, this post has been written so that during any debate with ‘the people’, the most common misuses or more accurately – misleading uses – of the term are easily recalled.

Liber (root from Latin liberalis meaning noble, generous or benefiting a free person) + al (suffix indicating a relationship to the root)

Liberal – willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas. Not really that bad is it? We all have to live together and you can’t kill everyone who disagrees with you, although this has been tried before. Also, time can’t stand still. A nice quote on liberalism comes from William E. Gladstone, 4 times British Prime Minister and leader of the old Liberal Party:

‘Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.’ 

Incidentally, Gladstone was known as, ‘The People’s William’ and also said that, ‘Men are apt to mistake the strength of their feeling for the strength of their argument. The heated mind resents the chill touch and relentless scrutiny of logic.’ (or facts)

Liberal or Keynesian economics – emphasises the concept of the free market and moneylenlaissez-faire policies, with the government’s role limited to controlling the excesses and providing support services. Keynes refined and developed his ideas in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression of the 1930s; recognising the need for some regulation saying that, ‘Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.’ 

‘The Moneychanger and his Wife’ by Quentin Matsys, 1514 .

Neoliberalism (related to Libertarianism) – also a belief in the free market but placed alongside the policies of a deregulated and globalised economy. The Neoliberalist policy model is the transference of economic control from the public sector to the private sector and the reduction of public expenditure, focusing instead on personal responsibility. It is associated with the ‘Chicago School’ economist Milton Friedman and was adopted by Thatcher and Reagan ‘Reaganomics’.

‘So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear. That there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.’ Milton Friedman.

The ‘unleashing’ of those free market activities is where we are now, but hey, I’m NOT an economist! But I’m NOT a businessman either. It could be argued that we don’t really have a ‘free market’, but the resulting scramble would be even uglier and there would be a lot of human collateral.

On a final note, Liberal was also a term of abuse in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when it meant ‘free from restraint or action’ in a society dominated by strict religious codes. It was the Enlightenment that revived it in a positive sense to mean ‘free from prejudice, tolerant, not bigoted or narrow’ and ‘favouring democracy’ in the late eighteenth century.

So, if you are NOT Liberal, what are you?


‘The Execution of Torrijos and his Companions at Malaga Beach’ by Antonio Gisbert Perez, 1887 – 1888.
This entry was posted in Brexit, Democracy, EU Referendum, Liberal, Liberal Economics, Neoliberalism, Tabloids and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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