The terms socialist and liberal get thrown around often in political rhetoric, but not everyone actually understands what those terms mean.
There are often negative connotations included in both terms.
As with any political philosophy, however, there are several branches within both socialism and liberalism.
Many politicians choose to lump all the branches together under a single umbrella to demonize it.
The problem with this is that it confuses the general American public and makes them wary of any new political philosophy that emerges.
Here’s what you need to know about the terms socialist and liberal and how they differ.
Socialist Vs. Liberal (What’s The Difference?)
Socialism refers to a political philosophy that emphasizes a strong government.
To be socialist means that you support a strong government.
In particular, a socialist believes that the government should own and operate certain industries for the betterment of society.
For example, instead of having private businesses that set their own wages, the government would own the business and set the wages for them.
This might be a great thing for businesses that tend to pay their employees meager wages.
However, those who have special skills and thus receive high pay for them will likely experience a negative relationship with socialism.
Their pay may be lower, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
It comes down to what the government decides to pay its workers instead of a private CEO.
Many conservatives, in particular, see socialism as the death of capitalism since it removes a free market.
Business owners are no longer able to set prices or wages to make a profit.
Instead, the government regulates everything to ensure everyone benefits.
It doesn’t tip the scales towards any one group.
Instead, the whole group benefits.
People tend to be wary of socialism because they’re wary of the government.
If corruption sets in, for example, then there are few ways to correct it.
However, capitalist societies can be just as corrupt and just as difficult to correct.
Socialism, and thus socialists, are the complete opposite of libertarians.
Liberalism, on the other hand, is similar to socialism in many ways.
The biggest difference between them is that liberals prefer less control in the economy by the government.
They still want to maintain a capitalist society, but they believe that the government should regulate certain aspects of it.
As its name might suggest, liberalists have a concern over the individual liberty, or freedom, of an individual.
Where Did Socialism Come From?
The roots of socialism extend as far back as Ancient Greece.
Plato, the famous philosopher, described a type of collective society when he wrote his famous Republic in 30 BC.
In England, Thomas More wrote a famous piece called Utopia.
In the story, the inhabitants of an island decided to abolish money.
Instead of working for money, they worked for the benefit of the community.
They also lived as a community.
While these thoughts were always there, it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that they came to the forefront of society.
The Industrial Revolution launched several developing countries onto the world stage.
Steam engines allowed for further travel at faster rates.
New machines sped up industry which meant business owners could earn more profits.
The result was a society in which business owners became exceedingly wealthy and factory workers barely made enough to feed themselves and their families.
To combat the disparity that capitalism was creating, socialism emerged.
Instead of private ownership, socialism introduced the idea of public ownership.
Its goal was to improve the lives and wealth of the working class to eventually form an egalitarian society.
An egalitarian society is one in which everyone is socially equal.
It means that it sees everyone as equal, and everyone has the same equal rights and opportunities as one another.
Perhaps the most influential thinker on socialism is Karl Marx.
Famous for penning The Communist Manifesto, Marx argued that society had several classes.
He believed that an egalitarian society could only emerge after the working class rose and took control of the production and distribution of the economy.
This idea then became adopted by other thinkers and leaders like Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin.
While the fight between labor and capital classes is the most remembered of socialist thought, there are several branches within it.
For example, Christian Socialism emerged which believed in collective societies based around Christian beliefs.
Anarchism was an extreme of socialism that saw the government as unnecessary and even harmful.
Social democracy, which has been becoming more popular in modern society, argued that society could change for the better through gradual political reform rather than revolution.
Socialism launched itself in the world of politics following the Russian Revolution in the early part of the 20th century.
Two major schools of political philosophy emerged from the revolution.
The first was social democracy whereas the other was communism.
Lenin and Stalin embraced communism, but this political thinking collapsed over the years.
Only a few countries practice communism today.
- North Korea
Social democracy, on the other hand, found itself embraced in European countries.
Their ideas revolved around universal healthcare and public education.
Socialism In Modern Times
While social democracy flourished in Europe, it didn’t have as much success in the United States.
Certain socialist programs like social security and Medicare/Medicaid have seen a lot of use and approval, however.
Even public education is something that’s embraced.
In today’s political sphere, social democracy has evolved into something called democratic socialism.
It takes its basis from the European examples in Great Britain, Scandinavia, and even Canada.
In particular, it argues for universal healthcare in the form of single-payer healthcare, higher taxes on the wealthy, and free college tuition.
Its goal is to give access to basic rights to everyone regardless of their wealth status.
Some political analysts call democratic socialists something else to avoid the negative connotation of communism.
They often refer to them as progressive.
Progressives fall in line with other liberal ideas, but they are more left-leaning than liberals are.
They are in stark contrast with conservatives and especially far-right conservatives.
Where Did Liberalism Come From?
The term liberalism is also quite old.
For a while, it existed without any political affiliations.
For example, liberal arts and liberal education were terms that existed without any political attachments.
It was in the year 1769 when the word liberal started to transform into political philosophy and identity.
Perhaps the most famous philosopher to use this term was Adam Smith.
As an economist, he used the word “liberal” to describe the market.
He believed that a liberal society, referring to a political group in this case, was necessary for a free market to grow.
With little regulation on the part of the government and moral business owners as private owners, the economy would flourish, and society would follow.
Since Adam Smith was Scottish, many believe that the roots of liberalism stem from Scotland.
It was a popular way of thinking and spread quickly throughout the greater European continent.
It even made its way across the ocean to the United States.
After Adam Smith’s death, the term liberal grew.
The addition of the suffix, “-ism,” transformed the word into a political identity or group.
In the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, liberalism was catching fire.
It often became a response to the other growing political philosophy of socialism.
Whereas socialism deemed that the public should own the production and distribution of the economy, liberalism deemed that it should belong to private owners.
Business owners tended to gravitate toward liberalism over socialism.
That said, liberalism did adopt some of the thoughts that socialism started.
In particular, liberalism sought better working conditions for the poor.
The idea was that because the private owner of the business was gaining wealth, they should use that wealth to benefit their workers.
Liberalism argues that private individuals should be able to help their workers without the involvement of the government.
As with socialism, liberalism eventually branched off into several different political philosophies.
One of those became libertarianism.
This political identity called for the reduction of the role that the government played in society.
The identity believed that everyone should be able to make their own decisions and face the consequences of those actions and decisions without the government steering them.
Classic liberalism eventually formed the Labour Party in England.
It also shared many similarities to socialism in that it focused on the needs of the workers.
However, they differed in their methods.
Liberals often supported tax cuts for business owners since they wanted to support a free market.
Socialists prefer to tax the wealthy to benefit the entire society.
Liberalism In Modern Times
Because liberalism has so many branches and subcultures within it, it’s difficult to determine what liberalism is in today’s society.
Classic liberals tend to support a minimally regulated economy.
They believe that the government should step in on certain matters, but it should otherwise allow the market to struggle and thrive on its own.
Those who simply call themselves liberals likely believe in a mixture of classic liberal and socialist ideas.
Liberals who tend to be further left than their peers often see themselves adopting more socialist ideas and consider themselves progressives.
However, the majority of liberals who make up the Democratic party in the United States are still classic liberals in the sense that they want only mild government control and a free market.
They don’t want to sacrifice individual freedoms for communal equality.
They also believe in a capitalistic society.
What Are The Similarities Between Liberals And Socialists?
Although there are a few key differences between liberals and socialists, they actually have quite a few similarities.
Here are some similarities between liberals and socialists.
1. Believe In Universal Healthcare
Both liberals and socialists believe that there should be some form of universal healthcare.
Socialists believe that everyone should have access to the same quality of care no matter their status or wealth.
Liberals believe that a healthier society means a happier and more profitable society.
While they both believe in universal healthcare, they differ on how to fund it.
Socialists believe that the funds accrued through taxing the wealthy are enough to fund universal healthcare.
They also believe in decreasing certain spending within the government to support its healthcare system.
Socialists tend to believe that those who make the most money have a larger responsibility for the rest of the population.
Since they’ve benefited from the labor of those poorer than them, then they can help keep them healthy.
Liberals are often split on how to pay for universal healthcare.
Some believe that increasing taxes on the wealthy might be a good method.
Others want to use a portion of all the taxes to pay for it rather than just the wealthy.
Some want to allow private healthcare alongside universal healthcare to give the community a choice.
Although their specific arguments for funding universal healthcare are different, both political philosophies believe that universal healthcare is necessary for the betterment of society.
2. Free College Tuition
Both socialists and liberals believe that college tuition needs to change.
Socialists believe that college should be free.
Everyone should have the same opportunity to receive a college education that can better their lives and society as a whole.
They tend to believe that the funds for college should also come from taxpayers with the wealthy paying the brunt of the tax.
Liberals also believe that it should be easier for everyone to attend college.
Many support free college, particularly free community college.
However, not all liberals support free college tuition for universities.
Some believe that college tuition forgiveness, instead, should be available for more people or easier to achieve.
They tend to believe that an individual should benefit the community through their work or service before receiving debt forgiveness.
This is different from socialists who believe that everyone has a right to free education simply because they’re human.
3. Higher Wages
Socialists and liberals also tend to agree that workers need higher wages.
The federal minimum wage, for example, is a socialist idea.
It sets the minimum that a private business owner can pay their worker.
This ensures that the worker receives a livable wage.
This wage is standard for all federal employees.
Each state has its own minimum wage for its state employees, too.
However, there is nothing that forces certain business owners to match the federal or state wage.
Certain industries, like restaurants, rely on tips instead of an actual wage to pay their workers.
Socialists prefer the government to play a more integral role in enforcing wage disparities.
They want to ensure that all workers are receiving a livable wage.
Liberals also want to cut down on wage disparities, but they tend to support different methods on how to achieve it.
4. Lessening Voter Restrictions
Both socialists and liberals believe in the sanctity of voting and voting integrity.
They also believe that every American citizen deserves the right to vote in an election.
That means making it as easy as possible to vote while still maintaining voter authenticity.
Both socialists and liberals tend to walk hand-in-hand in how to decrease voter restrictions.
One of the major methods they support is widening absentee ballots and absentee voting.
That’s because many American citizens are unable to vote on a single Election Day.
Their work schedules and life schedules prevent them from arriving at a voting booth in time.
Absentee voting grants them the ability to vote during their spare time.
Since there are several security checks involved in absentee voting, it’s still a reliable and authentic method for voting.
Both philosophies also stand against gerrymandering and other attempts to change voter jurisdictions to benefit one political party over another.
While liberals have used these tactics in the past, socialists stand firmly against them.
Socialists also seek to abolish the Electoral College.
Liberals are often split on the issue.
Many support the abolishment of the Electoral College but haven’t put much effort into actually abolishing it.
Both socialists and liberals generally agree that the Electoral College conflicts with an individual’s personal freedom to vote since it essentially takes away their vote and discounts it.
5. Term Limits
A final area in which both socialists and liberals are similar is their stance on term limits.
To create a better representation, both socialists and liberals believe in term limits in Congress.
Whether it’s the Senate or the House of Representatives, both believe that Congress members should only be able to serve for a certain number of years.
This, in turn, can help cut down on corruption since it’s less likely that politicians are going to attempt to make a career out of being a Senator or Representative.
It’s also more difficult for lobbyists and corporations to form a long relationship with someone since they’re only there for a few years.
One area that socialists tend to support more than liberals is term limits for the Supreme Court.
At present, when a judge joins the Supreme Court, they’re there until they die or choose to retire.
That can become a problem when the judges clearly have a political ideology that shapes their decisions.
The Supreme Court Justices have to be above political beliefs.
Setting term limits can help remove justices over time and lower their impact on the law, overall, which can be beneficial.
In particular, it’s beneficial by preventing them from acting according to a particular political ideology.
Instead, they focus solely on the law and their interpretation of it.
Socialists and liberals are often clumped together in the same category.
While they share many beliefs, they often differ in the methods they wish to use to make those beliefs a reality.
Liberals also tend to support a capitalistic economy whereas socialists support a community-owned one with government oversight.NEXT: What Is Anna Duggar’s Net Worth? (Updated 2023)