The term "social liberalism" is used to differentiate it from classical liberalism, which dominated political and economic thought for a number of years until social liberalism branched off from it around the Great Depression.
By the end of the 19th century, the principles of classical liberalism were challenged by downturns in economic growth, a growing awareness of poverty and unemployment present within modern industrial cities and also by the agitation of organized labour. A major political reaction against the changes introduced by industrialisation and laissez-fairecapitalism came from conservatives concerned about social balance, although socialism later became a more important force for change and reform. Some Victorian writers—including Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle and Matthew Arnold—became early influential critics of social injustice.
John Stuart Mill contributed enormously to liberal thought by combining elements of classical liberalism with what eventually became known as the new liberalism. The new liberals tried to adapt the old language of liberalism to confront these difficult circumstances, which they believed could only be resolved through a broader and more interventionist conception of the state. An equal right to liberty could not be established merely by ensuring that individuals did not physically interfere with each other or merely by having laws that were impartially formulated and applied, as more positive and proactive measures were required to ensure that every individual would have an equal opportunity of success.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, a group of British thinkers known as the New Liberals made a case against laissez-faire classical liberalism and argued in favor of state intervention in social, economic and cultural life. What they proposed is now called social liberalism. The New Liberals, which included intellectuals like Thomas Hill Green, Leonard Hobhouse and John A. Hobson, saw individual liberty as something achievable only under favorable social and economic circumstances. In their view, the poverty, squalor and ignorance in which many people lived made it impossible for freedom and individuality to flourish. New Liberals believed that these conditions could be ameliorated only through collective action coordinated by a strong, welfare-oriented and interventionist state.
Although still partially informed by older Liberal concerns for character, self-reliance, and the capitalist market, this legislation nevertheless, marked a significant shift in Liberal approaches to the state and social reform, approaches that later governments would slowly expand and that would grow into the welfare state after the Second World War. What was new in these reforms was the underlying assumption that the state could be a positive force, that the measure of individual freedom... was not how much the state left people alone, but whether he gave them the capacity to fill themselves as individuals.
However, their ideas found relatively few supporters among the liberal politicians. The main objectives of the "left-liberal" parties—the German Progress Party and its successors—were free speech, freedom of assembly, representative government, equal and secret suffrage, free trade and protection of private property while they were strongly opposed to the creation of a welfare state, which they called "state socialism".
One of the first German authors to propose the term and concept of "social liberalism" (Sozialliberalismus) was the historian and economist Ignaz Jastrow. He published the manifesto "Social-liberal": Tasks for Liberalism in Prussia" ("Sozialliberal": die Aufgaben des Liberalismus in Preußen) in 1893. Jastrow, who was a member of the Verein für Socialpolitik, and his supporters tried to found a social-liberal party, aimed at bringing together liberals who supported social reform and the reformist/revisionist wing of the Social Democrats, which should be a "workers' reform party" and "action group for people's right and people's welfare" (Waffenbund für Volksrecht und Volkswohlfahrt). However, this project was rejected by Social Democrats and failed.
A similar project was the National-Social Association founded and led by the Protestant pastor Friedrich Naumann, who maintained close contacts with Brentano and Schulze-Gävernitz as well as Max Weber who supported the party that was influenced by his political theories. It tried to draw workers away from Marxism by proposing a mix of social liberalism, nationalism, a non-Marxist variant of "socialism" and Protestant Christian values to overcome class antagonisms by non-revolutionary means. Naumann called this a "proletarian-bourgeois integral liberalism". Among other things, the new group advocated increased social welfare legislation, the right to strike and profit-sharing in industry. Although the party was unable to win any seats and soon dissolved, the theories it developed would remain influential in German liberalism.
In France, social liberal theory was developed in the Third Republic by solidarist thinkers, including Alfred Fouillée and Émile Durkheim, who were inspired by sociology and influenced radical politicians like Léon Bourgeois. They explained that a greater division of labor caused greater opportunity and individualism, but it also inspired a more complex interdependence. They argued that the individual had a debt to society, promoting progressive taxation to support public works and welfare schemes. However, they wanted the state to coordinate rather than to manage and they encouraged cooperative insurance schemes among individuals. Their main objective was to remove barriers to social mobility rather than create a welfare state.
The welfare state grew gradually and unevenly from the late 19th century, but became fully developed following the World War II along with the mixed market economy. Also called "embedded liberalism", social liberal policies gained broad support across the political spectrum, because they reduced the disruptive and polarizing tendencies in society, without challenging the capitalist economic system. Business accepted social liberalism in the face of widespread dissatisfaction with the boom and bust cycle of the earlier economic system as it seemed to them to be a lesser evil than more left-wing modes of government. Social liberalism was characterized by cooperation between big business, government and labor unions. Government was able to assume a strong role because its power had been strengthened by the wartime economy, but the extent to which this occurred varied considerably among Western democracies.
Most of the social democratic parties in Europe (notably including the British Labour Party) have taken on strong influences of social liberal ideology. Despite Britain's two major parties coming from the traditions of socialism and conservatism, most substantive political and economic debates of recent times were between social liberal and classical liberal concepts.
Alexander Rüstow, a German economist, first proposed the German variant of economic social liberalism. In 1932, he applied the label "neoliberalism" to this kind of social liberalism while speaking at the Social Policy Association, although that term now carries a meaning different from the one proposed by Rüstow. Rüstow wanted an alternative to socialism and to the classical liberal economics developed in the German Empire. In 1938, Rüstow met with a variety of economic thinkers—including the likes of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek and William Roepke—to determine how liberalism could be renewed. Rüstow advocated a strong state to enforce free markets and state intervention to correct market failures. However, Mises argued that monopolies and cartels operated because of state intervention and protectionism and claimed that the only legitimate role for the state was to abolish barriers to market entry. He viewed Rüstow's proposals as negating market freedom and saw them as similar to socialism.
Following the Second World War, Rüstow's "neoliberalism", now usually called ordoliberalism or the social market economy, was adopted by the West German government under Ludwig Erhard, who was the Minister of Economics and later became Chancellor. Price controls were lifted and free markets were introduced. While these policies are credited with Germany's post-war economic recovery, the welfare state—which had been established under Bismarck—became increasingly costly.
Rest of Europe
The post-war governments of other countries in Western Europe also followed social liberal policies. These policies were implemented primarily by Christian democrats and social democrats as liberal parties in Europe declined in strength from their peak in the 19th century.
American political discourse resisted this social turn in European liberalism. While the economic policies of the New Deal appeared Keynesian, there was no revision of liberal theory in favor of greater state initiative. Even though the United States lacked an effective socialist movement, New Deal policies often appeared radical and were attacked by the right. The separate development of modern liberalism in the United States is often attributed to American exceptionalism, which kept mainstream American ideology within a narrow range.
John Rawls' principal work A Theory of Justice (1971) can be considered a flagship exposition of social liberal thinking, advocating the combination of individual freedom and a fairer distribution of resources. According to Rawls, every individual should be allowed to choose and pursue his or her own conception of what is desirable in life, while a socially just distribution of goods must be maintained. Rawls argued that differences in material wealth are tolerable if general economic growth and wealth also benefit the poorest.A Theory of Justice countered utilitarian thinking in the tradition of Jeremy Bentham, instead following the Kantian concept of a social contract, picturing society as a mutual agreement between rational citizens, producing rights and duties as well as establishing and defining roles and tasks of the state. Rawls put the "equal liberty principle" in the first place, providing every person with equal access to the same set of fundamentalliberties, followed by the "fair equality of opportunity" and "difference principle", thus allowing social and economic inequalities under the precondition that privileged positions are accessible to everyone, that everyone has equal opportunities and that even the least advantaged members of society benefit from this framework. This was later restated in the equation of Justice as Fairness. Rawls proposed these principles not just to adherents of liberalism, but as a basis for all democratic politics, regardless of ideology. The work advanced social liberal ideas immensely within 1970s' political and philosophic academia. Rawls may therefore be seen as a "patron saint" of social liberalism.
Following economic problems in the 1970s, liberal thought underwent some transformation. Keynesian economic management was seen as interfering with the free market, while increased welfare spending that had been funded by higher taxes prompted fears of lower investment, lower consumer spending and the creation of a "dependency culture". Trade unions often caused high wages and industrial disruption, while full employment was regarded as unsustainable. Writers such as Milton Friedman and Samuel Brittan, who were influenced by Friedrich Hayek, advocated a reversal of social liberalism. Their policies, which are often called neoliberalism, had a significant influence on Western politics, most notably on the governments of United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and United States President Ronald Reagan, who pursued policies of deregulation of the economy and reduction in spending on social services.
Part of the reason for the collapse of the social liberal coalition was a challenge in the 1970s from financial interests that could operate independently of national governments. Another cause was the decline of organized labor which had formed part of the coalition, but was also a support for left-wing ideologies challenging the liberal consensus. Related to this was the decline of working class consciousness and the growth of the middle class. The push by the United States, which had been least accepting of social liberalism, for trade liberalization further eroded support.
Social liberal parties and organisations worldwide
Giving an exhaustive list of social liberal parties worldwide is difficult, largely because political organisations are not always ideologically pure. Party ideologies often change over time. However, the following parties and organisations are usually accepted by peers[nb 1] or scholars as following social liberalism as a core ideology.
Social liberal parties or parties with social liberal factions
This list presents some notable scholars and politicians who are generally considered as having made significant contributions to the evolution of social liberalism as a political ideology. Ordered by date of birth
^ abcdefghOrtiz, Cansino; Gellner, Ernest; Geliner, E.; Merquior, José Guilherme; Emil, César Cansino (1996). Liberalism in Modern Times: Essays in Honour of Jose G. Merquior. Budapest: Central European University Press. 185866053X.
^Peter Weiler, "New Liberalism" in Fred M. Leventhal, ed., Twentieth-century Britain: an encyclopedia (Garland, 1995) pp 564-65.
^Peter Weiler, The New Liberalism: Liberal Social Theory in Great Britain, 1889-1914 (2016) excerpt
^Inho Na (2003). Sozialreform oder Revolution: Gesellschaftspolitische Zukunftsvorstellungen im Naumann-Kreis 1890–1903/04. Tectum Verlag. p. 27.
^Derman, Joshua (2012), Max Weber in Politics and Social Thought: From Charisma to Canonization, Cambridge University Press, p. 25
^Mommsen, Hans (1996). The Rise and Fall of Weimar Democracy. University of North Carolina Press. p. 58. ISBN0-8078-2249-3.
^Kurlander, Eric (2006). The Price of Exclusion: Ethnicity, National Identity, and the Decline of German Liberalism, 1898–1933. Berghahn Books. p. 197. ISBN1-8454-5069-8.
^Van De Grift, Liesbeth (2012). Securing the Communist State: The Reconstruction of Coercive Institutions in the Soviet Zone of Germany and Romania, 1944-48. Lexington Books. p. 41. ISBN978-0-7391-7178-3.
^Contemporary political ideologies (1999) Roger Eatwell, Anthony Wright, pp. 35–36
^Commager, Henry Steele, ed.; Lester Ward and the Welfare State. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967
^The party became infused with social liberalism in the 1940s and 1950s. Law Commission of Canada (2011). Law and Citizenship. UBC Press. p. 6.
^Prentice, Susan (2004). "Manitoba's childcare regime: Social liberalism in flux". Canadian Journal of Sociology. 29 (2): 193–207. doi:10.1353/cjs.2004.0029.
^Prince, Michael J. (2012). "Canadian disability activism and political ideas: In and between neo-liberalism and social liberalism". Canadian Journal of Disability Studies. 1 (1): 1–34. doi:10.15353/cjds.v1i1.16.
^Miriam Smith says, "The Liberal Party of Canada, the party that championed the Charter, is strongly identified with the document and uses the social liberalism of the Charter as a distinctive badge of party identification. " Smith, Miriam (2005). "Social movements and judicial empowerment: Courts, public policy, and lesbian and gay organizing in Canada". Politics & Society. 33 (2): 327–353. doi:10.1177/0032329205275193.
^Movement genesis: social movement theory and the 1980s West German peace movement by Steve Breyman As quoted in the text: "The Liberal Democrats (Liberale Demokraten or LD) split from the FDP to create their own social-left liberal alternative."
^De Lucia, Dario (2017). Dal PCI al PD. Imprimatur editore. Le culture di riferimento dei politici appartenenti al Partito democratico sono: la socialdemocrazia, il cristianesimo sociale e il liberalismo sociale (The reference cultures of politicians belonging to the Democratic Party are: social democracy, social Christianity and social liberalism)
As stated in the text: "South Korea's main opposition social-liberal party is reeling (again) from intraparty factional struggle. Rebranded earlier this week "the Minjoo Party of Korea" (formerly New Politics Alliance for Democracy), the party is searching for a new identity and direction after high profile and popular assemblyperson Ahn Cheol-soo defected on 13 December."
^Wolfram Nordsieck. "SPAIN". Parties and Elections in Europe. Retrieved 12 January 2015. Unión, Progreso y Democracia (UPD): Social liberalism
^Grigsby, Ellen (2008). Analyzing Politics: An Introduction to Politics Science. Florence: Cengage Learning. pp. 106–7. ISBN0495501123. Its liberalism is for the most part the later version of liberalism—modern liberalism.
^Arnold, N. Scott (2009). Imposing values: an essay on liberalism and regulation. Florence: Oxford University Press. p. 3. ISBN0495501123. Modern liberalism occupies the left-of-center in the traditional political spectrum and is represented by the Democratic Party in the United States.
^Globalization, democratization and development: European and Japanese views of change in South East Europe edited by Vojmir Franičević and Hiroshi Kimura. As quoted in the text: "Towards the end of the 1990s the social-liberal Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan, DPJ) consolidated and replaced Shinshinto as a rival of LDP."
^Till van Rahden; Marcus Brainard (2008). Jews and Other Germans: Civil Society, Religious Diversity, and Urban Politics in Breslau, 1860–1925. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN9780299226947.