I'm not US resident, so that's a real question rather than pre-election discussion.

Where I live liberalism never seriously changed meaning in public debate (yet) - it is still more or less faithul to the ideas of classical liberalism from XVIII and XIX century. As such it is an opposite of totalitarianism and socialism. (which doesn't necesarilly mean that liberals enjoy wide support).

Bits and pieces of news from the USA lead me to believe that US "liberals" abandoned the idea of maximization of personal liberties and minimization of the involvement of state in various areas of citzen's life (notably economic activities). Is this a valid observation? Is this used in political debates to discredit "liberals" or did the public generally accept the new meaning of "liberalism"?

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    You should take into account that the term "liberalism" has different meaning in the USA than elsewhere in the world. In the USA they call "liberals" the LEFT politicians and movements, unlike other countries where "liberal" usually means a right-wing politician. This is very confusing to anybody who is not accustomed with the US politics.
    – Anixx
    Oct 13 '12 at 22:29
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    left-wing, right-wing - this doesn't tell me much. Nazism is said to be right-wing, while communism left-wing, but from the point of view of classical liberals they are both totalitarian.
    – Jake Jay
    Oct 14 '12 at 10:51
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    In US politics "liberal" generally means somebody or something our right-wing party doesn't like. Aside from that, there is no ideological consistency to the term. For example, forcing universal healthcare coverage via tax penalties to those without it started life as a right-wing idea to counter "liberal" ideas the other party had like true socalized medicine. However, once the other party took it up themselves, it became a "liberal" idea.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 15 '12 at 17:55
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    @T.E.D. well, in my country making entire medicine paid, optional and commercial would be considered a "liberal" idea.
    – Anixx
    Oct 16 '12 at 15:13
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    @T.E.D. - Abortion is viewed as "murder" among most right wingers, rightly or wrongly. I don't think you can argue that less government control dedicated to prevent murder is against a right wing position. They are right wing, not Anarchists :) . As far as marriage, there's a small but severely growing movement on the right to get the marriage FULLY out of the government (or government out of the marriage). It shouldn't be something government decides on in the first place. Yes, there are certain things right wing would want to delegate to government. But VERY VERY few.
    – DVK
    Oct 16 '12 at 17:49

Anixx's comment is quite right: in America "liberal" means "center-left".

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "In the United States liberalism is associated with the welfare-state policies of the New Deal program of the Democratic administration of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, whereas in Europe it is more commonly associated with a commitment to limited government and laissez-faire economic policies."

But for the rest of the world, a "(Classical-type) liberal" refers to what Americans call a "(right-wing) libertarian" (more commonly just libertarian).

Recent right-wing rhetoric has castigated any form of government and/or left-wing ideas as "totalitarian" and "socialistic". I won't comment on the validity of these claims, but I suspect they would cause confusion for...well, everyone.

  • Could you clarify where in the world liberal = right-leaning libertarian? I ask as being in Canada, liberal usually refers to the centre-left of the political spectrum (although not the American version, which is a tad skewed). And I was always given the impression that Englands version is quite similar to ours as well. Oct 14 '12 at 1:24
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    @canadiancreed: I updated my post, since the UK Liberal party's ideology has changed since I studied it (i.e., since the 19th century!). What I mean is "Classical liberalism" is, in America, called "Libertarianism"; like Japan's Liberal Democratic party or Neoliberalism... Oct 14 '12 at 1:48
  • Actually, in the 18th and 19th Centuries the term generally indicated a desire to open up the voting franchise, and make representative bodies soverign.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 15 '12 at 17:38

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