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Leftist vs Liberal: What’s The Difference?

It is very common that people think that liberals and leftists are the same groups, but they are not. It’s important to know the difference between them both in this world where politics is so fundamental to our lives. After all, if we want to complain about something, we need to know it, right? And if we want to stand by something, we need to know what it is.

In the United States, you probably heard “liberal”, “leftist” and “democrats” as synonyms, but this is wrong on so many levels. First of all, liberals are people that believe in the political and moral philosophy based on equality before the law, liberty, and consent of the governed. Most countries have their own vision of what being liberal means. Leftists are people who sided with left-wing politics, that supports social equality, and egalitarianism.

These are not simple concepts and is okay to be confused with them. What is not ok is to pretend that you know everything about liberalism or left-wing politics. If you want to understand more about these two concepts that are so important in our contemporary society, just keep on reading this article.

The Real Difference Between Leftist And Liberal

During the Age of Enlightenment, a little thing called “liberalism” became really popular among Western philosophers and economists.

During that time, liberalism was against most of the things that ruled the society, such as hereditary privilege, the divine right of kings, the rule of law, absolute monarchy, state religion, and the traditional conservatism with representative democracy.

In economics aspects, the liberals were big fans of free trade and marketization, being totally against royal monopolies, mercantilist policies, and anything that was a barrier to trade.

John Locke is considered the one behind liberalism’s principal ideas and concepts. As you may know, his ideas were fundamental to the creation of the United States of America.

Some of the most important revolutions in the Western world used liberalism’s ideas, such as the American Revolution of 1776, the French Revolution of 1789, and the British Glorious Revolution of 1688.

All of them used liberal philosophy to engage the people and justify a violent overthrow of royal tyranny. After the French Revolution, liberalism spread like fire through the world. Adam Smith was the one that inspired liberalism’s economic vision.

The modern liberalism in the United States came to life with the figure of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the one who initiated the New Deal in response to the Great Depression of 1929.

The British economist John Maynard Keynes was responsible for Keynesian economics, which is a liberal economic theory, not a leftist economic theory.

Well, overall, the liberal people believe that private property, capitalism, hierarchy, individualism, market economy, democracy, secularism, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, civil rights, and human rights are good things.

Yellow is the political clour most commonly associated with liberalism, which is important for liberalists.

Leftists are people who sided with left-wing politics. These left and right conceptions were coined during the French Revolution of 1789, because of the seating arrangement in the French Estates-General.

Those who sat on the right side were supportive of the traditional institutions of the Old Regime, and those who sat on the left side were supportive of the French Revolution, being absolutely against the Bourbon monarchy and the Ancien Régime.

The people that sat on the left side wanted the creation of a democratic republic and the secularization of society.

The most known movements inside the left side of politics these days are: Marxism, anarchism, social democracy, socialism, communism, the labor movement, syndicalism, feminist movement, LGBT rights movement, civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, environmental movement, and many others.

Each leftist movement has its own beliefs and ways to change the world. Social progressivism is a very important concept in most movements inside the left side of politics.

  • Leftists are people sided with the left-wing politics;
  • There are a lot of left wings movements;
  • Every left-wing movement has its own way of seeing the world;
  • Overall, leftists support social equality and egalitarianism;
  • Feminism, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, and the environmental movement are some of the most important movements inside of contemporary leftism;
  • Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy;
  • It supports liberty, equality before the law, consent of the governed, free market, individualism, free trade, marketization, freedom of religion, private property, and more;
  • Many political movements are based on liberal philosophy;
  • Every country in the world has its own vision concerning liberalism;
  • You can see liberal politics on the right and on the left side of politics;

Are Libertarians Left Or Right?

Well, first, I need to make this as clear as it is possible: libertarianism is not liberalism. These are different things that deserve an article of its own. Libertarianism is also a political philosophy that upholds liberty as its core principle.

Libertarians support liberty above everything. And you can see left-libertarian ideologies, as well as you can see right-libertarian ideologies. So, libertarianism is a very complex theme.

In the United States, people started to think that libertarianism was a synonym for liberalism because of the words of the writer Dean Russel, a classical liberal. He wrote:

Many of us call ourselves “liberals”. And it is true that the word “liberal” once described persons who respected the individual and feared the use of mass compulsions.

But the leftists have now corrupted that once-proud term to identify themselves and their program of more government ownership of property and more controls over persons.

As a result, those of us who believe in freedom must explain that when we call ourselves liberals, we mean liberals in the uncorrupted classical sense.

At best, this is awkward and subject to misunderstanding. Here is a suggestion: Let those of us who love liberty trade-mark and reserve for our own use the good and honorable word “libertarian”.

As you may have noticed, Dean Russel did not understand much about left-wing ideas or liberalism and libertarianism. Anyway, after him, many United States people started to think that they were libertarian, but in reality, they were liberal. By the way, in the United States, libertarianism is seen as conservative on economic issues, but liberal on personal freedom.

What Is The Far Left In Politics?

This is something hard to answer because there are many different representations of what is left and what is right. Overall, there is not a general agreement on what is far left.

You may think that the far left is called radical because of violence, but actually far left is called radical because it wants radical changes in the capitalist socio-economic structure of society. In this case, you can call the radical left the revolutionary left because it wants to change completely an established system.

Some of the core characteristics of far-left politics are internationalism, the complete rejection of contemporary capitalism, the support of redistribution of resources from the political elite, and more. When you talk about the far left, you can think of groups that are highly against capitalism and the capitalist system.

Leftist Vs Liberal Political Compass

A political compass, or a political spectrum, is a system to characterize and classify different political positions in relation to one another. It is also known as a political map. If you are interested to have a general idea of what is your position on the political map, take this quick test on The Political Compass website.

You have a lot of different political maps out there, so when you are talking about political position, it is important to make sure that you know which political map you are using. Anyway, what is fundamental to know is what are the things that you believe and support.

I have explained earlier in this article what leftists support, and what liberals support. If you allow me to be very honest with you, is not an article that you will teach you the entire difference between left-wing ideology and liberalism.

You need to study more, read more, get in movements to understand the difference between these concepts. Don’t be afraid of not knowing, be afraid or think that you know everything because you don’t.

It is impossible to know everything. Everyone needs to study when they have to deal with things that they don’t know, so don’t be afraid of studying politics.

James Smith

James is a passionate explorer and the creative mind behind, a platform dedicated to unraveling captivating distinctions. With an insatiable curiosity, he uncovers hidden nuances in various aspects of life, from cultural traditions to scientific phenomena. James believes that appreciating differences fosters personal growth and societal empathy.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Noah Edelson

    I should point out that socialists- often tied with leftists, actually did not bring about the elimination of private property during their rise in Finland, Russia, and Germany, and the USA. In actuality- socialists and their feminist allies championed voting rights for women- and achieved it, thus enabling actual Democracy in each country (except the USA, where you still couldn’t vote if you were Black due to Jim Crow laws.) Later, they championed the Civil Rights movement- names like MLK Jr, Albert Einstein- and George Orwell. Those three were die-hard socialists. And they actually didn’t want more gov’t control over people. They considered the gov’t to be working on behalf of your Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, George Soros types. (well, in their day: Henry Ford. Adolf Hitler’s self-described “inspiration.”, according to an interview he had in 1931 with Detroit News) Some people get confused about the Nazis, think that they were socialist. I suggest they google “Britannica were nazis socialist”, or read up on the Rohm Purge, or Pastor Martin Niemoller. Einstein, a socialist, was dubbed “Hitler & the Nazi’s Public Enemy #1” by the British press in 1933. AKA *not* a Nazi. =P

    A good article, though. Neutral for the most part (far more than I am)- although statements like “leftists have now corrupted that once-proud term … government ownership of property and more controls over persons” certainly comes from a right-wing, libertarian, or anarchist POV. …[Anarchists are just extreme libertarians, I believe. In terms of government size- you can’t get smaller than ‘0’. Somehow that gets confused with ‘punks with mohawks’ in the USA. ] I apologize for my own partisan narrative. I just get tired of people on the right trying to appropriate Orwell and even Einstein to combat their political ideology, which is classic doublethink, or doublespeak. (I call it Goebbelspeak.) As Orwell wrote in his _Why I Write_ essay, “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose.” Source: OrwellFoundation [dot] com [slash] orwell [slash] why-i-write …(no spaces)

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