Liberalism is commonly described as a political and moral philosophy based on liberty and equality. But, because there is no common agreement about what concepts like liberty and equality should mean, this description tends to create confusion about what liberals actually stand for.
For example: Many understand the “liberty” of liberalism to mean that we think people should be free to do whatever they want. Because of this, we are often blamed for really stupid ideas that I think have nothing to do with liberalism, and worse, ones that actually conflict with liberal values. Such as, the idea that parents should be allowed to give their children sex change operations; and … really gross notions that I can’t bring myself to write out loud.
I think that this type of unrestrained “liberty” is better attributed to ideologies that believe in unrestricted societies… ideologies like anarchism or libertarianism. Especially since liberalism actually does advocate for societal restrictions. In particular, we favor rules that prevent people from taking advantage of those in weaker positions.
Liberals are so fond of such rules that some are under the impression that we would like to (or should) abolish politically incorrect speech for the sake of “coddling” (or protecting) society. But I think that those who run around trying to shut down offensive or hateful speech should stop calling themselves liberals, because freedom of speech is a core liberal principle. In my opinion, the only liberal way to defend against what we think are bad ideas is to counter them with what we think are better ones.
Besides… the politically incorrect “Free Speech Movement” is all about framing societal pressure against habits of inequality as if it was a nefarious conspiracy to promote conformity. While liberalism certainly does take up issues against inequality, we must not help them frame the “equality” of liberalism to mean that we want everyone to think, behave, and be the same. We must not forget that liberalism, in all its various forms and throughout its history, draws the conclusion that no one is truly free if we are not allowed to be individuals.
I think it is difficult to fully understand what liberals stand for, without also considering what we stand against. We stand for individual liberty, but not at the expense of others. We stand for equality, but not at the expense of individuality. Ultimately, we stand against oppression.
With this in mind, liberalism would be better described as a political philosophy that focuses on matters of individual liberty, based on the political theory that freedom cannot thrive in systems of inequality, and that it should be practiced with the moral imperative of overcoming master-slave dichotomies.