Today’s liberalism would be almost unrecognizable to President John F. Kennedy, especially when it comes to liberty.
For an explanation why, The Mises Institute explains the difference between classical liberalism and social liberalism:
“Classical liberalism” is the term used to designate the ideology advocating private property, an unhampered market economy, the rule of law, constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press, and international peace based on free trade.
Up until around 1900, this ideology was generally known simply as liberalism.
The qualifying “classical” is now usually necessary, in English-speaking countries at least (but not, for instance, in France), because liberalism has come to be associated with wide-ranging interferences with private property and the market on behalf of egalitarian goals.
America became the model liberal nation, and, after England, the exemplar of liberalism to the world. Through much of the 19th century it was in many respects a society in which the state could hardly be said to exist, as European observers noted with awe. Radical liberal ideas were manifested and applied by groups such as the Jeffersonians, Jacksonians, abolitionists, and late-19th-century anti-imperialists.
Classical liberalism is often contrasted with a new social liberalism, which is supposed to have developed out of the classical variety around 1900.
But social liberalism deviates fundamentally from its namesake at its theoretical root in that it denies the self-regulatory capacity of society: the state is called on to redress social imbalance in increasingly ramified ways.
The plea that it intends to preserve the end of individual freedom, modifying only the means, is to classical liberals hardly to the point — as much could be claimed for most varieties of socialism.
In fact, social liberalism can scarcely be distinguished, theoretically and practically, from revisionist socialism.
Furthermore, it can be argued that this school of thought did not develop out of classical liberalism around the turn of the century — when, for instance, the alleged fraudulence of freedom of contract in the labor market is supposed to have been discovered.
Social liberalism existed full-blown at least from the time of Sismondi, and elements of it (welfarism) can be found even in great classical-liberal writers such as Condorcet and Thomas Paine.
With the end of the classical-socialist project, classical liberals and anti-statist conservatives may agree that it is contemporary social liberalism that now stands as the great adversary of civil society.
The political preoccupation of classical liberals is, of necessity, to counteract the current now leading the world toward what Macaulay called “the all-devouring state” — the nightmare that haunted Burke no less than Constant, Tocqueville, and Herbert Spencer.
As older quarrels grow increasingly obsolete, liberals and anti-statist conservatives may well discover that they have more in common than their forebears ever understood.
The liberals of today have hijacked the term “liberal” and have twisted its meaning to be something that it never was. Today’s liberalism IS socialism, plain and simple.
What a shame.