Difference Between Liberalism and Neoliberalism

Main Difference – Liberalism vs Neoliberalism

The term “Liberal” has been derived from a Latin word which gives the meaning “free”. Liberalism is a political ideology which emphasizes the freedom of individuals regarding many things such as religion, individuality, politics, thoughts etc. Neoliberalism, on the other hand, mainly refers to economic freedom and this concept came into being in the 20th century. The main difference between the two is that liberalism is mainly a political theory whereas Neoliberalism is an economic concept.

In this article, we are going to look at 

1. What is Liberalism?
      – Definition, Characteristics, Features

2. What is Neoliberalism?
      – Definition, Characteristics, Features

3. What is the difference between Liberalism and Neoliberalism?Difference Between Liberalism and Neoliberalism - Comparison Summary

What is Liberalism

Liberalism can be identified as a political philosophy which emphasizes the idea of being free and liberate. This idea of being free could be applied to many concepts and situations but liberalists focus more on democracy, civil rights, property ownership, religion etc. in general. It was during the period of Enlightenment that this philosophy of Liberalism came into the field and a philosopher called John Locke is said to have introduced this concept. According to him, an individual has a birthright to freedom, to inherit property and lead a free life. Thus, this right should not be violated depending on the individual’s social connections.  Liberalists rejected the absolute monarchy, the state religion and the immense power and authority of kings etc. Instead of the monarchy, liberalists promoted democracy. Liberalism gained much attention after the French Revolution. Europe, South America, and North America established liberal governments in the 19th century; this concept also became a key component in expanding the welfare state in Europe and North America. Today it is a powerful influencing political force throughout the world.

Difference Between Liberalism and Neoliberalism

Philosopher John Locke

What is Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is an economic concept which promotes free trade and economy. This concept came into being in the 20th century. The main idea connoted by this concept is that free economic policies should be given prominence and government spending should be reduced in order to increase the private sector intervention in the economy. This was a massive change in the existing economic policies and neoliberalism mainly focused on issues like privatization, cutting down the economic regulations, free trade, etc. Private investments in the market were seen as one of the most influential forces by the neoliberalists. They pointed out the importance of the private sector involvement in a free economy. However, the implications of neoliberalism have been changed over the time. First, this philosophy was developed in order to avoid the repeating economic failures but in later periods, this concept was developed as a social market theory with the support of the state as well.

Main Difference - Liberalism vs Neoliberalism

Difference Between Liberalism and Neoliberalism


Liberalism: Liberalism is a political philosophy.

Neoliberalism: Neoliberalism is an economic philosophy.


Liberalism: Liberalism mainly focuses on individual freedom of thought, religion, life, property ownership etc.

Neoliberalism: Neoliberalism focuses on the free trade and privatization etc.

Time period

Liberalism: Liberalism came into being in the age of Enlightenment.

Neoliberalism: Neoliberalism came into being in the 20th Century.

Current usage

Liberalism: Liberalism is popular even today in many nations.

Neoliberalism: The usage is declined and the term is now rarely used.

Image Courtesy:

“John Locke” By Sir Godfrey Kneller – 1. Unknown2. derivate work of File:Godfrey Kneller – Portrait of John Locke (Hermitage).jpg (from arthermitage.org) (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

“SLECO chart” By Bburgersjr – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Chathu

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