Written by Dr. Hannes Nel
Liberalism implies freedom.
Does this mean that people should be allowed to decide for themselves how they will live, if they will work or not, if they will commit crime or not, support a particular religion or not?
Or does it mean that the government should protect people against the criminal, decadent, greedy, racist, sexists, etc.?
Liberalism promotes change and reform.
Does that mean that everyone should have the right to own property?
Or does it mean that the government should own all property to ensure that all will have equal access to the wealth of the country?
Are all people in any country really equal before the law?
Or is the law there to protect the rich, the wealthy and the elite?
I discuss liberalism in this post.
Neoliberalism rendered liberalism, in the opinion of some academics, obsolete.
Even so, liberalism is still a relevant paradigm.
Liberalism advocates tolerance, progress, humanitarianism, objectivity, reason, democracy and human rights.
To this can be added a host of other positive attributes dealing with human rights, social interaction and freedom.
This, amongst other things, implies that all individuals in a country have an equal status as legal subjects, regardless of other inequalities and differences that might divide them.
All the elements of liberalism offer valuable fields for research.
In a constructivist spirit, research should utilise observation and experiences to reflect on and evaluate previous perceptions in the hope of understanding the situations and phenomena being investigated.
Understanding should lead to change and reform.
Constructivism is a variant of liberal theory if issues like human rights, freedom of social interaction are investigated.
Neoliberalism also supports or extends some elements of liberalism.
For example, private property rights, a classically liberal state and the efficiency of the free market system.
In other respects, neoliberalism is in opposition to liberalism.
However, neoliberalism is gradually adopting more and more liberal values.
The four central areas in which liberalism and neoliberalism overlap are human rights, non-discrimination, education and the media, freedom of speech and opinion.
Liberalism is a philosophical approach to human interaction.
It is also a social force.
The basic premise of liberalism is the equality of individuals before the law.
In this respect, liberalism links up with critical race theory, critical theory and feminism.
Liberalism is associated with relativism through its relativist conception of rights.
It accuses other paradigms of being relativist to proclaim its own relativism as universalism.
For example, liberal relativism is sometimes rather a neo-colonial tactic designed to maintain the exploitation of developing countries by developed former colonial powers, or new powers taking over the role of colonial power under the guise that they are helping the needy country to grow.
Liberalism is associated with radicalism because both support the struggle for democracy, specifically campaigning for the right to vote, welfare reform and public services, with radicalism adopting a more aggressive stance than liberalism.
Liberalism is in opposition with some values of critical race theory and colonialism because of its favoritism towards the elite, the rich and the noble.
Some academics still associate ‘liberal’ with unrestrained and undisciplined attitudes and behavior.
The strength of liberalism is said to be its most serious weakness.
This is its commitment to emancipation.
Throughout history, liberalists claimed their love for liberty while demonstrating contempt for people of the colonies and for women.
Liberalists are of the opinion that they are entitled to enforce ‘democracy’ upon the ‘less enlightened’.
Because of its authoritarian stance, liberalism cannot be equated with democracy and liberty is not the same as equality.
The second weakness of liberalism is that there is hardly any consensus of what it means.
People’s thoughts about and understanding of liberal concepts such as human rights largely depend on who is in charge, whose side you are on, what you stand to gain or lose because of your point of view if your point of view is legal and politically correct and your position in a social group or community.
A negative consequence of the liberalism paradigm claiming to favor the needy while discriminating between the informed, rich and educated on the one side and the uninformed, poor and uneducated on the other side, is that research on the former often follows an emic approach while research on the latter follows an etic approach.
The informed, rich and educated are regarded and treated as participants in the research while the uninformed, poor and uneducated are regarded as subjects upon whom research is done.
Summary of Liberalism
Is a philosophical approach to human interaction.
Is a social force.
Advocates tolerance, progress, humanitarianism, objectivity, reason, democracy and human rights.
Offers a valuable field of research.
Uses observation and experience as data or data collection methods.
Supports the equality of individuals before the law.
Is associated with constructivism, neoliberalism, critical race theory, critical theory, feminism, relativism and radicalism.
Is in opposition with some values of neoliberalism, critical race theory and colonialism.
Criticism against liberalism includes:
Supporters of liberalism accuse other paradigms of being relativist to proclaim its own relativism as universalism.
It favors the rich, the elite and the noble.
Some associate liberalism with unrestrained and undisciplined attitudes and behavior.
Its commitment to emancipation is a strength but also a weakness.
Liberalists sometimes adopt an attitude of contempt for people of the colonies of old and for women.
There is a lack of consensus amongst academics about the meaning of liberalism.