Liberalism is a political philosophy grounded in conceptions of liberty and equality.[1] There are several different forms of liberalism that draw different conclusions from this initial grounding, but generally include fair elections, civil rights, freedom of speech (through press etc), freedom of trade, religious freedom, and private or personal property.[2]

Liberalism draws the legitimacy of government from social contract theory. Individuals either explicitly or implicitly surrender certain rights in exchange for protection of natural rights by the state. The social contract is often grounded in a state of nature by social contract philosophers.

Classical Liberalism

Classical liberalism is a philosophy that emerged as a response to industrialization in the West. It holds that true freedom can only be attained through limitations on the government and laissez-faire capitalism [3]. Philosophical it draws from the ideas of John Locke, Adam Smith, and utilitarianism. Recently, right libertarianism is more or less the best example of neo-classical liberal ideology.

Rawlsian Liberalism

See also: John Rawls

Rawlsian liberalism, sometimes called Deontological Liberalism [4] is grounded on the thought experiment of the Original Position and the Veil of Ignorance and worked through mainly by John Rawls' A Theory of Justice [5]. This type of liberalism attempts to distribute social goods based on what rational agents would choose if they did not have knowledge of their position in society. This flavor of liberalism allows for pluralism in various conceptions of societal good.

Rawls notably puts what is right before the good, which sets him in opposition to Utilitarian liberalism. However, Rawls allowing treating individuals as means to an end, while still treating them as ends in and of themselves, allows for utilitarian conceptions in certain policies.


  1. Russell, Bertrand (2000) [1945]. History of Western Philosophy. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-22854-9.
  2. Kathleen G. Donohue (2003-12-19) Freedom from Want: American Liberalism and the Idea of the Consumer (New Studies in American Intellectual and Cultural History). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 9780801874260. Retrieved 2007-12-31. "Three of them - freedom from fear, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion - have long been fundamental to liberalism."
  3. Modern Political Philosophy (1999), Richard Hudelson, pp. 37–38
  4. Liberalism and the Limits of Justice Michael Sandel Cambridge University Press 1982 0-521-56741-6
  5. Rawls 1971 A Theory of Justice 0-674-00078-1 Belknap