A second crack at a definition of liberalism…
Liberals believe in the inherent dignity of each individual human life. Each individual is entitled to freedom – of thought, action, association and conscience. Everyone has the right to the opportunity to become the greatest, most fully developed human being that they can be. Liberalism wants to develop truly autonomous individuals, capable of joining in a meaningful and fair way with other individuals in society.
Liberals believe we have a moral responsibility to care for ourselves and to care for others. We all, together, owe one another a fair shot at a decent life. In turn, we, as individuals, owe everyone else ethical behavior. We must show empathy for one another and take responsibility for ourselves and others.
Liberals believe we have a moral responsibility to see to it that individual’s opportunities in life are not limited by the circumstances of their birth – by sheer dumb luck.
Liberals believe we have a moral responsibility to reduce suffering in the world. We are our brother’s keeper.
Liberals believe in freedom, opportunity, and security for every last person.
Out of these core values, other principles emerge.
Democracy is the best system of government, because it is rule by the individuals who are governed.
Managed Capitalism is the best system of economic organization. Capitalism by itself is capable of bringing people together in remarkable ways to achieve remarkable results. But capitalism by itself can also fail to be moral, stabilize itself, and address human suffering. It’s moral to reduce coercion of individuals to the greatest amount possible – coercion both by government and by economic forces. True freedom is both political and economic.
Truth is arrived at through freedom of thought, reflection, evidence, and argumentation. Free inquiry and argumentation and evidence come out of individual freedom of thought. Once we have freedom of thought and freedom of expression, we have questioning of dogma and a recognition of reason and evidence as a new source of truth.
Most of the public virtues flow from all of these values – freedom, equality, opportunity, fairness, justice, and personal security and economic security. Still, there is a mutual responsibility. Because of these public rights, individuals owe back personal duties, including honesty, integrity, respect, and work.
Liberalism is both idealistic and practical. One important tradition from conservatism that should be acknowledged is a suspicion of idealists and idealism – an awareness of human fallibility. American understand this, but they also don’t give up on the American Dream.