Liberal parties

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Liberal parties are as varied as the idea of liberalism is broad and vague. All liberals believe in the freedom of the individual, but that belief takes very different forms, varying from the ‘classic’ liberal belief in natural rights with which the state cannot interfere to the ‘new’ liberalism, which has dominated the English Liberal Party for over a century and which sees an important role for the state in liberating people from poverty, ignorance, and discrimination. There are liberal parties which some liberals would regard as not very liberal, and parties that do not contain a reference to liberalism in their name but which many liberals would recognize as essentially liberal in their aims. The nature of a liberal party in a particular state has very often been determined by the kind of main party to which it has been opposed: those parties which have seen a socialist party as their main rival tend to be more favourable to free markets than those which have opposed a conservative party.

Liberal parties tend to lack both the social base of socialist, communist, conservative, and agrarian parties and the territorial base of regionalist and nationalist parties. In most political circumstances in the twentieth century they have tended to find themselves in a moderate, centre position, typically between socialists and conservatives. For these reasons, their importance has generally declined. Most countries do not now have a recognizable liberal party and only in a tiny minority of states is the liberal party the government or principal opposition. Such countries are, however, an impressively wide variety. They include Australia, Canada, Colombia, Honduras, and Japan. In Australia and Japan the Liberal and Liberal Democratic Parties respectively are perceived as right of centre, in Honduras and Canada the Liberal Parties are left of centre, while the party in Colombia is perceived as holding the centre ground.


Subjects: Politics.

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