From dictionaries, liberalism has the following definitions:
1. quality or state of being liberal.
2. belief in the value of social and political change in order to achieve progress.
3. a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity.
4. a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard.
5. a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties.
6. Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Whereas classical liberalism and European liberalism prioritize liberty, American liberalism and social liberalism stress equality.
1. Human is the most intelligent species on earth. Human desires physical and intellectual liberty.
2. Human beings are born as unique individuals with one's own intrinsic ability and one's acquired ability through one's own will.
3. Human beings with intelligence deserve to have intellectual liberty that is to freely exercise one’s intellectual capability.
4. Following principles 1, 2 and 3, unconditional or unconstrained liberalism can be defined as individuals have rights to think, say and do anything according to one’s desire and to one's ability. (Any individual has liberal rights to think, say and do anything or whatever one wants. For example, an individual living by oneself in one's own universe)
The above definition of unconstrained liberalism cannot work. Since no two individuals are completely (100%) alike, unconditional liberalism will have intrinsic limitations due to one's ability. Furthermore, human beings live in a society (not practical to live by oneself totally cut off from any society), then they face other limitations due to one's environment, such as natural and physical living condition and other man-made conditions imposed by marriage, family, society, nation and world organizations in terms of ethics, laws and regulations. If we add constraints to liberalism, we shall have the following definitions:
5. Come with the above discussed intrinsic limitations and other constraints are liberal rights infringement. Thus conditional liberalism can be defined as individual's unconditional liberal rights being reduced to avoid liberal rights infringement. For example, an individual lives with a family will have to reduce one's unconditional liberal rights (singing loudly at two o'clock in the morning) to avoid infringing liberal rights of other family member (sleep undisturbed under quietness).
6. Conditional liberalism can also be defined as individual's unconditional liberal rights being reduced to tolerate liberal rights infringement caused by one's environment one's in. For example, an individual lives with a family will have to reduce one's unconditional liberal rights (sleep undisturbed at any time) to tolerate liberal rights being infringed by other family member (practicing singing for audition) So conditional liberalism must have ‘give and take’ conditions.
7. Unconditional liberalism cannot be accepted in an environment where family, society or nation exists simply because an individual's unconditional liberalism will infringe on other individual's unconditional liberal rights. Therefore, unconditional liberalism is not a workable liberalism.
8. Avoidance and tolerance of liberal right infringement really define the degree of constraints placed on unconditional liberalism.
9. Conditional liberalism is thus defined as unconditional liberalism with proper constraints applied in an environment, family, society and nation. ‘Proper Constraints’ of course can be subjective.
10. Within a family, conditional liberalism is constrained by family structure, hierarchy, generation, and sibling relationship. These relationships define responsibilities, range of liberal rights limited by constraints. Voluntary constraints are guided by human nature (good versus evil both exist), human knowledge (more or less by education) and infringing and tolerance trade-off (give and take). Involuntary constraints are defined by moral principles and laws.
11. Going beyond family to community, society and nation, more individuals are involved and more constraints will apply. These constraints will be guided by community/society rules, laws and constitutions depending on the social structure, political system and economic condition.
12. The constraints applicable to the liberal rights can be created, regulated and altered by political system, for example, a communist system tends to restrict individual's liberal rights more, thus limiting individuals to achieve their full capability and capacity; a socialistic system tends to make trade-offs in individual liberal rights with a bias to side with the poor and disadvantaged population. A liberal society tends to maximize tolerance (reduce avoidance) to enhance individual liberalism.
13. The methods employed in the political system to apply constraints to individual liberalism is democracy with a variety of practicing methods, from one person one vote to various hierarchical representation systems to only one person decides. (dictatorship, one supreme individual above everyone) The various representation systems define various degrees of democracy. How well does a political system work depend on how liberalism is practiced and what constraints are properly applied, which are dependent on economic condition.
Ideally, human liberalism should be promoted with minimal constraints and maximal tolerance. Unfortunately, human beings have faulty traits such as selfishness, greed, laziness and intolerance, therefore, ideal liberalism (minimum constraints and maximum tolerance) does not work. For example, under a democratic system, voters tend to vote for getting the maximum benefits (take more from the government than give to the government) until the system (government) breaks down (Greece is an example) Therefore, there must be a proper balance to limit or constrain liberalism. To achieve this proper balance, conservatism comes to play. So liberalism must be counter-balanced by conservatism. I hope this column offered you some useful information to understand and interpret the dictionary definitions of liberalism and its necessary constraints. Hopefully this information can help voters calibrating, comparing and judging the workability of the liberal (versus conservative) ideas made by political candidates in their campaign statements.