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Liberalism can sometimes be a misunderstood concept in contemporary politics, party because modern liberalism can have different meanings, depending on where you are. In the U.S., we are so often accustomed to hearing about the conflict between conservative and liberal political ideas that we assume that the term “liberalism” means something other than what it really means.

Liberalism as a political concept has its roots in seventeenth century England, with the theoretical work of Enlightenment philosopher John Locke.

Locke espoused a form of the “social contract” theory that says that government earns the right to govern by the consent of the people. This was a sharp break from the traditional British way of looking at government—to them the monarchy ruled by divine right, and the people they ruled didn't have much to say about it. This might be the most important principle of Liberalism—the government has to meet with the approval of the people or it will be removed.

Other important principles of Liberalism sound like the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution.

People should be free; free to speak, gather, worship, vote, etc. Liberalism, in its classic sense, is about putting political power in the hands of the people, who possess natural rights that the government may not infringe upon.

What we (in the United States) call “liberals” partly refers to a political philosophy that promotes the idea of using government to solve social problems. Ironically, today's liberals call for a bigger, stronger government than conservatives. That is because they want to use the government to deal with difficult issues, rather than relying on private persons and organizations.