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These learning materials are part of unit 2 of the course Introduction to International Relations


Liberalism seeks to defend and protect individuals' personal, civil, social, and economic rights and freedoms.[1] Often, it is categorized by a laissez-faire style of government.[1] There are two different branches of Liberalism: reform liberalism and classical liberalism.

Classical Liberalism: The key points of classical liberalism are private property, open competition, individual rights and freedoms, self-interest, economic freedom, and rule of law. Remember the acronym POISER.

Reform Liberalism: Reform liberalism is quite similar to classical liberalism; both adopt the belief in private property, open competition for a strong economy, individual rights and freedoms, and rule of law. Reform liberals stray from classical liberals with the notion of equal opportunity (the belief that everybody is entitled to good education and healthcare) and also value collective interest.


Classical Liberalism was started in the mid-1700 as a reaction against absolute monarchy, religious persecution, and feudal economical and social constraints.

Reform Liberalism began in the late 1800s. It was a reaction against the effects of unconstrained capitalism and socialist ideas. Some key thinkers of this ideology include J.S. Mill, J. Dewey, J.M. Keynes, and J. Rawls.


Liberalism in general believes that the rational self interest of people will improve society. It also focuses in limited government, individual rights, free trade, and equality. While both branches of liberalism idealizes these values, they have different views on how those should be achieved. Reform liberalism promotes equality of opportunity and the ability to enjoy rights (positive liberty) as a way to encourage democracy. Government policy should be used to create equality. Classical liberalism discourages government intervention and emphasizes free competition (negative liberty).


  1. 1.0 1.1 Boyd A. Martin (1948). "Liberalism". The Western Political Quarterly: 295-297.