The Contrast Between Liberalism and Socialism in a Democratic State

Political Ideology

Political ideology in social studies is defined as a set of doctrines, ethical ideas, symbols, principles, or myths of a certain social class, movement or institution that offers a cultural and political blueprint of how the society should work (Heywood, 2017). The main concern of any political ideology is how and to what extent allocated power should be used. Some democratic states may follow a certain ideology very closely while others associate themselves with a given ideology but do not practice it. There are various political ideologies which include socialism, liberalism, anarchism, and conservatism. Studies reveal that these political ideologies are always confused by people in the world today (Alexander, 2015). Two terms that are often used and should be differentiated by defining the current ideology in each are liberalism and socialism. Therefore, this paper focuses on comparing and contrasting between liberalism and socialism by a democratic state. It also discusses the shifts in the ideologies within the two terminologies over the past years.


Liberalism is the type of political ideology that ensures maximum freedom of the people and protects their rights in the states (Waldron, 2007). It is an ideology that is suitable for democratic states where the power of the government emanates from the people. Liberalism puts more emphasis on the following views;


The emphasis on freedom implied in liberalism is that every individual should be given the right to make their own choices. Freedom of religion is an important right that emanated from liberalism since in the past most of the states were tied to one particular religious doctrine. For instance, in the United States, every individual has the right and freedom to belong to any religious group of his or her own choice. However, the freedom is not absolute since certain behaviors are not accepted such as murder.


Liberalism provides a situation where every individual the state puts there priorities first before those of the community. The people take priority over the entire society.

The free market

Just like in capitalism, liberalism advocates for a free market which it is believed to create more wealth than the traditional economies where there are many regulations on what occupations individuals can do.


This shows the capability of people to think rationally and logically to enable the state in solving existing problems.


Liberalism rejects the existence of hierarchies since it regards every individual equal and nobody is more superior that others.


Liberalism emphasizes that traditions should be done away with unless they have essential values. It encourages new ideas and innovations

These attributes of liberalism create a basis of the argument for the liberals in support of the limited democratic state whose power is drawn from the people (Waldron, 2007).


Socialism, on the other hand, is a form of political ideology which is concerned with the general welfare of the society and not individuals (Kardelj, 2000). The main desire of the socialists is to improve the quality of life and the living standards of all the members of the society. The strongest belief of the socialism theorists is that a political system should be characterized by economic and political policy directed by a strong state. Socialism creates more emphasis on the following issues;


Socialism emphases that individualism is poisonous and that the society should respect the fact that human beings in the universe are social by nature (Baker et al. 2007).

Economic equality

Socialism encourages the same level of citizens' prosperity. This implies that no citizen should be wealthier than the others in the state.

Central economic Planning

Socialism emphasizes the existence of a central planning authority in the state which is the government.

Public ownership

Socialism states that the society and not certain individuals should own the property especially the factors of production

The Contrast between Liberalism and Socialism

The main difference between liberalism and socialism is that the former advocates for collectivism while the latter advocates for individualism. Liberalism illustrates that individuals have the right to make themselves following the choices they decide to make. Every individual is believed to inhabit a particular sphere of their own. In some democratic states like the United States, liberalism is widely practiced regarding individualism where everyone is allowed to flourish and develop to their fullness depending on their potentials. Thus, this form of liberalism can only be limited by the individual's inabilities and incapability of expanding and improving (Alexander, 2015). On the other hand, socialism emphasizes the power of the community or society than individual efforts. The socialists believe that the nation can overcome its economic problems using the unifying vision since the human beings are viewed as social beings. The socialism ideology discourages people from striving as an individual for personal self-interests. Instead, it focuses on improving the collective working of the people in the society in pursuit of different goals (Baker et al. 2007). The basis of collectivism in the socialist ideology is that human beings are not an island and that as human beings we cannot be self-contained or self-sufficient. The human kind being inseparable implies that minding about the collective welfare of the society at large is, therefore, a sufficient and a necessary condition.

Another difference between liberalism and socialism is regarding the property ownership. In liberalism, a property is privately owned by individuals in the state while socialism advocates for joint ownership of the property. The socialists including Karl Marx blame the liberals for supporting private ownership of property since they argue that it is the leading cause of inequality and competitions in a state. Community ownership of property is believed to reduce the existence of envy and greed which have several impacts on the society. Greed and envy are the main reason for political assassinations in different democratic states such as United States, German, and New Zealand. Moreover, the socialists believe that all services should be run and all wealth is owned by the society for the benefit of all individuals in the community and not just for individual profits. On the contrary, the liberals argue that the individuals should be free to own properties especially the factors of production. The citizens should enjoy the benefits of their labor and control their properties to gain profits (Festenstein & Kenny, 2005).

Also, the two ideologies differ regarding government interventions. Liberalism ideology does not recognize the need for the government interference in the activities of the citizens. The classical liberals emphasize that the government should only intervene to ensure that the public services are rendered to the people. They also discourage the use of taxation on citizens as it preserved to be unfair to the citizens. In contrary to the liberals, the socialist advocates for the existence of the government to intervene in the economy to reduce inequality in wealth distribution. The taxation mechanism is often used to promote equality in the society (Croll, 2013).

Moreover, liberalism and socialism differ in such a way that the liberalism ideology encourages meritocracy and competition in a state while socialism promotes empathy and cooperation. Since in liberalism, individuals are allowed to own and control their means of production without the interference by the government, the presence of competition between individual which may create rivalry among themselves. Economic rivalry in a state is dangerous as it may interfere with the peace within the state and also lead to wars or clashes. Most democratic states that incorporate liberalism ideologies always enter into wars frequently hence hindering economic growth. For instance countries in the Middle East which uses liberalism as a political ideology often face an economic crisis due to a rivalry. Socialism leads to cooperation since the human beings are social. Therefore, a natural relation between them cannot be that of competitions. Also, socialists view completions as being negative since it encourages aggressiveness and selfishness.

The Liberalism ideology bases focus on individual liberty while socialism is majorly concerned with the equality in the society. Liberalists argue that there should be a free market system as one way of expressing freedom where the prices are set by the forces of demand and supply and not the government. A free market also allows for free trade without limitations and restrictions by the law. Socialism on the other side is mainly concerned with the society welfare concerning equality, but the only way to attain this goal is to allow for government interventions to control everything including the market systems (Horowitz, 2002).

Similarities between Socialism and Liberalism

Despite the difference that is exhibited by these two political ideologies, liberalism and socialism, there are some various attributes they share in common that make them alike. One of the similarities between the two terms is that both are internationalists' ideologies having a general optimistic perception of humanity. The two doctrines ensure empowerment of citizens in an economy despite their different dimensions. Countries such as Netherlands and Germany have exercised the liberalism over the past years and successfully enhanced the freedom of its citizens. Liberalism has ensured that there is no any form of discriminations or privileges that are based on sexuality, color, gender, and disability. Equality has also been fostered through liberalism by ensuring that every individual enjoys the same rights and entitlements in a state. This is shown by the common rights and freedoms of a country, and the limitations of the rights apply to every citizen in the state.

Socialism also strives to promote humanity through its emphasis on equality. This theme of equality in the society is viewed as the most important political value. Socialists argue that every citizen is born differently with different capacities and abilities hence they need the society for their survival. Socialism makes this interdependence of individual in the society to be possible.

Another similarity between liberalism and socialism is that they both view progress in history as it can move forward to something better. However, liberals see reasoned arguments and negotiations which may lead to better future while socialism emphasizes the need for a revolution into the better future. The importance of debate, arguments, and discussion are significantly highlighted by reason according to the liberals. The liberals understand that individuality may create conflicts in the future, but they advocate for debates and negotiations for the better future.

Shifts in Socialism

Socialism came about as a response to the industrial revolution that started in England in the nineteenth century. The industrial revolution led to many upheavals which made people abandon agriculture and start to live in modern mechanized life of factories. After the industrialization expanded, there emerged social theorists such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels called for a revolution. According to these theorists, liberalism had failed to address freedom and equality and that they had failed to explain why the free market system had failed to explain the economic depression of the 1930s. Initially, communism as a form of socialism was used where members of a society jointly shared the output and means of production. Russia and China embraced this ideology until when the democratic socialism come into place up to date. Unlike the communism-socialism, democratic socialism uses democratic and peaceful processes to attain its goals. Countries such as German, Britain and Western Europe have continuously embraced democratic socialism (Jones, 2017).

Shifts in Liberalism

The liberalism ideology dates back in the 1500s when the classical liberalism came into existence. The classical theorists led to the rise of free market systems and Protestantism. This liberalism began in England and was developed by John Locke who advocated for the rights of an individual. The modern liberals who are also referred to as neo-liberals changed the thinking of the classical liberals and emphasized that the intervention of the government was necessary for directing the society into prosperity and promoting pain-free lives.


From the discussion of the contrast and comparison between socialism and liberalism as forms of political ideologies, it is clear that liberalism and specifically classical liberalism was founded on the idea of liberty and freedom of an individual in a state. The liberalism principle covers a wide range of aspects, but the liberal supports programs and ideas such as freedom of speech, free markets, gender equality, freedom of religion, and civil rights. According to the liberals, all groups and associations exist around and for an individual. Therefore, the individual is the focus. The socialist ideology, on the other hand, was founded on the idea of equality in the society. According to the socialist, there must be a planning authority which controls the outputs and the means of production to ensure the best use of resources for the best of the society and not individuals.


Alexander, J. (2015). The major ideologies of liberalism, socialism and conservatism. Political Studies, 63(5), 980-994.

Baker, D., Köhler, H., " Stock, M. (2007). Socialist ideology and the contraction of higher education: Institutional consequences of state manpower and education planning in the former East Germany. Comparative Education Review, 51(3), 353-377.

Croll, E. (2013). Feminism and Socialism in China (Routledge Revivals). Routledge.

Festenstein, M., " Kenny, M. (2005). Political ideologies: a reader and guide. Oxford University Press.

Heywood, A. (2017). Political ideologies: An introduction. Palgrave Macmillan.

Horowitz, G. (2002). Conservatism, liberalism, and socialism in Canada: An interpretation. Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science/Revue canadienne de economiques et science politique, 32(2), 143-171.

Jones, L. E. (2017). German liberalism and the dissolution of the Weimar party system, 1918-1933. UNC Press Books.

Kardelj, E. (2000). Democracy and socialism (Vol. 11). Summerfield Press.

Waldron, J. (2007). Theoretical foundations of liberalism. The Philosophical Quarterly (1950-), 37(147), 127-150.

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