lib·er·al·ism | \ ˈli-b(ə-)rə-ˌli-zəm \

Definition of liberalism 

1 : the quality or state of being liberal

2a often capitalized : a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity

b : a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard (see gold standard sense 1)

c : a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy (see autonomy sense 2) of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties specifically : such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (such as those involving race, gender, or class)

d capitalized : the principles and policies of a Liberal (see liberal entry 1 sense 6b) party

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Other words from liberalism

liberalist \ˈli-b(ə-)rə-list \ noun or adjective
liberalistic \ˌli-b(ə-)rə-ˈli-stik \ adjective

Synonyms & Antonyms for liberalism


left, leftism


conservatism, right

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Examples of liberalism in a Sentence

liberalism had always claimed to stand for the greatest social good

Recent Examples on the Web

McConnell tried eating Saturday at the Bristol in the Highlands, a bastion of liberalism in Louisville, and was chased to his car by people chanting at him. Joseph Gerth, The Courier-Journal, "Eat at home, McConnell, until you're ready to listen to all the people," 10 July 2018 But the unrest in New York City is a landmark moment: For all its cultural liberalism, the city is usually a politically rigid place — a tough arena for newcomers, given the party machines and election laws that discourage competition. Alexander Burns, New York Times, "4 Takeaways From Tuesday’s Primary Elections," 27 June 2018 Foreign policy was Krauthammer’s dominant passion, and the struggle against Soviet Communism drew him away from his youthful liberalism. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "Charles Krauthammer was a crucial New Republic voice for nearly a quarter century. RIP.," 22 June 2018 Despite his liberalism on some issues, the current pope has been unwavering on the subject. Ariana Eunjung Cha,, "40 years after 1st 'test tube' baby, science has produced 7 million babies - and raised moral questions," 27 Apr. 2018 More than just numbers, those in the middle often exhibit strong traits of empathy, diplomacy, and liberalism. Katie Kosma, Longreads, "Losing the Middle Ground," 13 July 2018 After Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump, a whole genre of nonfiction literature has emerged, seeking to explain how democracies die, or why Western liberalism is in retreat. Sean Illing, Vox, "Why the death of democracy may be overhyped," 2 July 2018 Free of Stan Lee’s high-spirited, swinging ’60s liberalism, Ditko was more comfortable using comics to assert his belief in Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Steve Ditko’s Ordinary People," 10 July 2018 But the visceral reaction from his progressive buddies not only to Trump but also conservative causes pushed him away from liberalism. Ledyard King, USA TODAY, "One group tries to lower the volume on the high-decibel noise that's further dividing a polarized nation," 17 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'liberalism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of liberalism

1816, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for liberalism

see liberal entry 1

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Last Updated

29 Aug 2018

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Time Traveler for liberalism

The first known use of liberalism was in 1816

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English Language Learners Definition of liberalism

: belief in the value of social and political change in order to achieve progress

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Comments on liberalism

What made you want to look up liberalism? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to deposit or conceal in a hiding place

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