The words “liberal” and “liberalism” have many meanings, depending upon who is using them and who is hearing them. Moreover, the popular meaning in the context of political science has changed over time. (Bell, D., 2014. What is Liberalism? Political Theory, 42(6), pp. 682-715.)
The modern concept of liberalism in use by today’s political scientists evolved from an Enlightenment period concept to a response to the absolute monarchy of Hirohito, the right-wing fascism of Hitler and Mussolini, and the left-wing totalitarianism of Stalin.
Liberalism today emphasizes personal liberty within a constitutional system of equal and impartial laws. A liberal system of government displays those qualities.
To achieve that kind of liberalism, a constitution must safeguard rights to civil and economic liberties including the rights to say what we like, come and go as we please, worship as we think correct, maintain our privacy, work for who we like, work without coercion, and to use our property as we wish.
Political scientists emphasize that liberalism’s rights can make free and fair elections more likely. This can be done by providing political rights such as the right to vote, the right to run for office, the right to campaign and to finance campaigns, the right to a free press, and the right to fair and speedy trials. Republics with such rights are described by political scientists as liberal republics or liberal democracies. Those that lack such characteristics are considered to be illiberal.
- You can explore life in other kinds of political systems in this short course.