What is Liberalism?

Liberalism is a political philosophy which came to power in the 18th century. It is radically different than all which came before it in the premodern world. Instead of basing government on the Divine, it is a system of secular government which bases its authority on “the will of the people.” Instead of serving the common good, it promises “liberty,” and has succeeded in redefining what freedom means in modernity. Liberal politics prioritizes the “rights” of the individual at the expense of the community. Finally, by loosening social customs and traditions, liberalism justifies the expansion and acceleration of capitalism.

There are many different strains of liberalism. The early thinkers of the Protestant Reformation, especially Luther and Calvin, were important for laying the foundations of “Christian liberalism,” which served as a transition between medieval Christendom and secular liberalism. Christian liberalism was more fully developed in England by thinkers like Algernon Sidney and John Milton who worked in Cromwell’s Commonwealth (which lasted from 1649-1660).

The first roots of secular liberal thought can be seen in Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Spinoza, who wrote in the 16th and 17th centuries. Though not initially popular, they laid the groundwork for the Enlightenment of the 18th century. This age of political and philosophic thought was led by thinkers like Locke, Voltaire, Rosseau, Smith, Jefferson, Hamilton, and so on. Their thought justified the French and American Revolutions. This strain of liberalism led to the creation of the first fully secular governments in human history. Now, it is known as “classical liberalism” and its principles still define our politics today.

Today, liberalism has divided into “conservative” and “progressive” strains. In many countries, especially the United States, the bitter debate between these two sides makes it seem like they are the only options to choose from. The conservative liberals destroy constraints on Capital by promoting the Free Market and the progressive liberals destroy the constraints of tradition by promoting individualism in matters of religion, family, and sexuality. In the words of Patrick Deneen, “the project of advancing the liberal order takes the superficial form of a battle between seemingly intractable foes, and the energy and acrimony of that contest shrouds a deeper cooperation that ends up advancing liberalism as a whole.” (Why Liberalism Failed, 2018, page 45) The two sides are not that different from eachother, they only disagree about how to advance liberalism. Centrist politicians disagree on a small number of policies.

Liberalism is ultimately an ideology built by capitalism, to justify itself. All throughout its history, its political movements have been funded and supported by the bourgeois, who gained more and more power through the English Civil War of the 1640s, the Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution in 1776, and the French Revolution in 1789. This is why these conflicts are called the “Bourgeois Revolutions.”

Liberalism has historically been opposed by the reactionary (fascist) tradition and the revolutionary (communist) tradition. Integralism is no less radical, but it follows the Church’s guidance in rejecting both these failed traditions.