The political spectrum contains more philosophies and viewpoints than simply left and right.
Within each side are various political leanings and beliefs.
On the left side, you have everything from left-moderate to liberal to leftist.
All of these terms may seem confusing to someone who considers themselves either left or right.
You may be leftist without even realizing it.
You could be liberal and not a leftist.
Here’s what you need to know about liberal vs. leftist and what the differences are between them.
Liberal Vs. Leftist (What’s The Difference?)
While both liberals and leftists are on the left side of the political spectrum, there is a key difference between them.
The key difference is that liberals believe in more conservative practices when it comes to the economy.
Leftists believe the government needs to play more of a role in the economy.
For example, liberals believe that there should be more tax breaks for the wealthy and less government oversight overall.
Leftists believe that the wealthy should pay higher taxes to fund other social programs designed to help those not benefiting from capitalism.
How Did Liberalism Begin?
To understand the difference between liberalism and leftism more easily, it’s a good idea to understand the history of each of these ideologies.
Liberalism can trace its roots back several centuries, but in terms of modern-day politics, the key point of time to examine is 19th-century England.
In England, there were two major political parties.
The Tories primarily expressed the interests of the Crown and those in the countryside.
The Whigs expressed the interests of the merchants and aristocracy.
In the mid-1800s, concepts like left and right didn’t exist.
Neither of those parties would exactly fall into either of those categories today.
When the 1840s rolled around, however, the Tories and Whigs no longer did an accurate job of representing the people.
That’s because Britain was industrializing.
It needed new thinkers to contend with the new problems that society was facing.
These new thinkers proposed ideas that gave them the label “new liberals”.
Liberals wanted to know if capitalism worked for workers as well as those who owned factories.
They believed in the idea of the Invisible Hand introduced by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations.
This Invisible Hand would steer the market in the workers’ favor.
The idea was that a factory would open and hire new workers.
The worker would then be able to buy more goods with their wages.
To accommodate those needs, a new factory starts production, and more workers start working.
The cycle continues harmoniously.
The belief that was if they got this idea working fast enough through low taxes and free trade rules, the system would increase the value of the worker while keeping the price of goods low.
The problem is that the society that existed in the 1800s isn’t the same as a modern society.
In the 1800s, taxes were only raised when wars started.
Because of that, wars were generally avoided whenever possible.
That’s a stark difference from today in which ongoing wars create extraordinary wealth for certain members of society.
The Whigs fell out of power and this new party, called the Liberal Party, took center stage.
The role of the Liberal Party was to keep the cycle of the economy going with very little involvement.
This practice continued for over 70 years until World War 1.
That all changed in the early 20th century when a new party emerged.
Called the Labour Party, this political group called into question whether the liberals were doing enough for society.
Thus began the concept of leftism.
How Did Leftism Begin?
Leftism began with roots in the Labour Party in England.
They saw the poverty that had grown worse over the years due to the liberal system of capitalism.
They believed that Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand tended to profit industrialists more than the workers.
This wasn’t what the country had in mind when it adopted the concept.
It ended up leaving the poor behind and struggling to survive while the state did nothing to help them.
The Labour Party would go on to replace the Liberal Party.
They introduced policies that many consider leftist today.
Some of those policies include disability insurance, the National Health Service, and old-age pensions.
They also expanded income taxes.
These ideas made their way across the ocean to the United States.
Amid the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was looking for ideas to help save the country from poverty.
Part of the reason he won his office was a leftist idea called The New Deal.
His main opponent at the time was Republican Herbert Hoover.
FDR championed liberal ideas about the market and the government’s role in society.
The New Deal promised a stimulus package for everyone in the country.
It was the first time that the country’s residents would receive direct financial aid from the government they paid their taxes to.
Roosevelt would also go on to create several other social welfare programs designed to help and protect the working class.
These programs would continue to be a part of the political sphere into the second World War.
Even 40 years later, Presidents would take certain parts of leftism and use them as part of their political platform.
President Dwight Eisenhower, for example, expanded Social Security and helped low-income families with financial support.
Although he ultimately failed to get it through Congress, President Richard Nixon also tried to expand federal support for child welfare.
It was during the 1970s when leftism fell out of popularity.
Certain economists in the 1970s called for a return to a liberal market.
This was also trumpeted by then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.
He wanted to remove all the restrictions that the government had placed on the market.
In so doing, he believed the market would be able to release its magic and benefit everyone.
He strongly believed in Adam Smith’s idea of the Invisible Hand steering the market and society as a result.
He wasn’t the only political figure wanting to return to a liberal economy either.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was also voicing her opinions on the matter.
Between the two of them, they fought against the formations of unions, and unions in general, and also reduced taxes for the wealthy.
They also cut the budgeting of several social programs if not eliminating them entirely.
Utilities and various industries that were once run by the government were also privatized and run by corporations instead.
Thus began an age called neoliberalism.
Although these tactics started with the Republican side of the spectrum, they were also used by the left side of the political spectrum.
President Bill Clinton saw the popularity that neoliberalism had and promised to reduce further welfare programs.
He also finished the North American Free Trade Agreement that George H. W. Bush started in his presidency.
Clinton brought together a new form of democrats that he called the New Democrats.
Tony Blair, also left-leaning, wanted to continue Thatcher’s work in terms of freeing up the market.
He wanted to modernize the welfare system by reducing it and keeping government involvement out of the economy as much as possible.
All of these changes led to the current economic state as it is today.
Liberalism And Leftism Today
That brings both concepts to the present time.
You can see elements of liberalism in certain political figures and leftism in other political figures.
Joe Biden, a Democrat, is also a liberal.
He supported NAFTA as a bill and also pushed for the Affordable Care Act.
The ACA is market-based rather than true universal healthcare.
During his candidacy as president, however, he did adopt many leftist ideas for his platform.
That’s because he was aware that many Democrats have an interest in leftist philosophies championed by other political figures.
To bring everyone together to defeat incumbent President Donald Trump in the election, he needed to bridge liberal ideas and leftist ideas about the country.
At his core, however, Biden is a liberal.
A major leftist political figure is Bernie Sanders.
He’s in favor of universal healthcare which is funded through taxes from the wealthy and other sources.
He’s also in favor of several other welfare programs designed to help the working class or those who cannot participate in capitalism.
Leftists today also believe in regulating the banks and lending processes.
They want corporations to pay their dues to help the society that buys their products.
Today, liberalism versus leftism all comes down to the economy and how the government uses those funds.
Liberals want free trade and few taxes.
Leftists want regulation that taxes the wealthy and helps fund social programs for the working class and vulnerable members of society.
It’s important to understand the key differences between them to help distinguish between future presidential candidates.
Someone may call themselves a Democrat or a Republican, but it can be extremely helpful to know what kind of politician they are by determining whether they’re a leftist or a liberal.
Once you understand that, you can predict the types of bills they’ll introduce or deny and the kind of changes they’ll make to the country.
Which Political Figures Are Liberals?
Regardless of whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, members of both sides of the aisle can be liberals.
Here are some top political figures who are liberals.
1. Rudy Giuliani
Because he’s Republican, many do not consider him a liberal.
That’s because the American language uses the word liberal to also describe anyone who belongs to the Democratic party.
However, Giuliani is a liberal.
In looking at his past record, he regularly cut taxes for businesses.
His ties with Donald Trump and big businesses also put him squarely in the liberal camp.
2. Newt Gingrich
Gingrich is also a Republican who’s a liberal.
He was part of the Republican party in 1994 that championed having a smaller government involvement in various aspects of society.
He also voted for welfare reforms to reduce them.
He also supported lowering taxes on businesses and the wealthy.
Although many consider him one of the titans of conservatism, he is a liberal at heart.
3. Mitt Romney
Romney has traits of being both a leftist and a liberal.
Many within his own party accuse him of being a liberal Republican, but they mean it in the sense that he’s more of a Democrat.
Romney is liberal because of his background as a businessman.
When he was governor, he also implemented and pushed for laws that reduced taxes on businesses and the wealthy.
4. Mike Pence
Before being Trump’s Vice President, Mike Pence worked in congress and served as Indiana’s governor.
He’s a staunch conservative Republican but has liberal ideas about the economy.
In particular, he believes in having a small government and reducing taxes on the wealthy and businesses.
5. Bill Clinton
Once the Democratic President of the United States, Clinton is responsible for bringing liberal Democrats into congress.
With a focus on continuing Reagan’s liberal economics, he didn’t do much to change the policies.
If anything, he embraced a liberal economy even more by reducing funds for welfare programs and instituting tax reforms.
Although Clinton is a Democrat, he’s a liberal one.
6. Hillary Clinton
Not unlike her husband, Hillary Clinton is also a liberal Democrat.
She shares the same views as her husband when he was president.
In particular, she tends to support centrist bills, at the very least.
Clinton also supported tax breaks and welfare reform.
7. Nancy Pelosi
Similar to Mitt Romney, Nancy Pelosi is another political figure who is both leftist and liberal.
In many ways, she supports leftist ideas, but there have been times when she has supported the liberal agenda, too.
Part of that may be due to her tendency to do the work to push things through Congress.
She has needed to make sacrifices to get other things that she wants.
Regardless, her support of bills that reshaped welfare and prompted higher taxes on working families makes her a liberal.
8. Barack Obama
Another famous political figure who’s a liberal is Barack Obama.
There’s a lot of debate over whether Obama was more of a Republican or a Democrat.
That confusion likely stems from his liberal standpoints.
Although he has pushed for leftist ideas like universal healthcare, the strategy he used to support it was more liberal than leftist.
He was also liberal in terms of bailing out banks and businesses during the 2008 financial crisis.
He helped free up the market and reduce taxes to keep businesses alive.
However, one might argue that all that freedom is what caused the problem in the first place.
Obama may have been a leftist in many aspects of his political viewpoints, but he also had liberal leanings.
9. Evan Bayh
The former governor of Indiana is also a liberal.
Although he campaigned to be the 2008 Democratic nominee for president, he ultimately stepped out of the race.
Bayh is a centralist Democrat.
He believes in certain welfare programs, but not at the expense of the wealthy.
His time as governor of Indiana saw many tax breaks for Indiana residents.
In fact, he’s responsible for the biggest tax cut in the state’s history.
Bayh’s beliefs make him a liberal.
10. Donald Trump
There’s no question that Donald Trump is a liberal.
From the very start, his platform has been about cutting taxes for the wealthy and slashing welfare programs.
He’s also tried to keep the government out of other industries.
He even pushed the country back towards an isolationist state by removing itself from the UN.
These are all the hallmarks of a liberal.
What Political Figures Are Leftists?
While there are clearly a lot of famous politicians who are liberals, there are also a good deal of politicians who are leftists.
As the progressive party continues to build up more steam and attract more people to it, more politicians with leftist leanings are entering the mainstream.
Here are a few political figures who are leftists.
1. Mitt Romney
As mentioned before, there are certain cases in which Mitt Romney expresses leftist leanings.
He supported gay marriage and abortion, for example.
He was also for gun control for several years.
These beliefs are leftist in nature which makes Romney both a liberal and a leftist.
2. Barack Obama
Although many of his policies were liberal, he also had a few leftist ideals that put him in that camp, too.
The Affordable Care Act in its infancy was pretty leftist.
It turned out to be more liberal.
One of the strongest pieces of evidence that indicate Obama’s leftist nature is his support of gay marriage.
It was through his presidency that gay marriage became legalized.
This is another leftist ideal in which the government inserted itself in marriage rights.
In matters of economics, Obama tended to lean more liberal, but in everything else, he tended to lean more leftist.
3. Nancy Pelosi
Another political figure who tends to straddle both sides is Pelosi.
Although she isn’t completely a leftist, she has supported many leftist ideas.
Gay marriage was something she supported as well as abortion rights.
When the political climate is right, Pelosi also supports taxing the wealthy and canceling student loans.
All of these ideas are leftist in nature.
4. Bernie Sanders
You can’t discuss leftists and leave out Bernie Sanders.
Arguably, Sanders is one of the main reasons leftism has seen such popularity as of late.
With an emphasis on targeting Wall Street and taxing the wealthy, Sanders is most definitely a leftist.
He believes in funding several welfare programs to help bolster society.
To fund those programs, he believes the government needs to take more active control of the economy.
That includes taxing the ultra-rich more.
5. Elizabeth Warren
Another leftist is Elizabeth Warren.
Although generally more outspoken than Sanders, she still shares the same leftist ideals.
She’s very anti-Wall Street and believes they should pay higher taxes.
The funds from those taxes should then go towards welfare programs.
Warren is often among those on the far-left of the political spectrum.
6. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Besides Sanders, another vocal voice of the leftists is Ocasio-Cortez, commonly known as AOC.
AOC is best known for her usage of Twitter to make her followers aware of the issues in Congress.
She regularly voices her belief in taxing the ultra-rich to support communities.
She’s a supporter of universal health care and other social programs.
She, along with Sanders, is primarily the face for politicians with leftist leanings.
7. Ayanna Pressley
Finally, another leftist, although certainly not the last, is Ayanna Pressley.
She’s focused her leftist ideals on bettering the workplace and eliminating violence against women.
She also believes in reforming criminal justice and placing an emphasis on the voice of those most impacted by injustice.
She, like other leftists, also believes in having more governmental control over the economy.
The use of the word liberal in the American language is abundant.
It covers those who are Democrats, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all Democrats are liberals.
Some of them are leftists.
Liberals believe in little government oversight in the economy whereas leftists believe in a regulated economy.
Both Republicans and Democrats can be liberal, leftist, or some combination of both.