Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Liberal And Progressive



The terms liberal and progressive, both have connotation of free thinking, bereft of conservatism, communalism, prejudice and false pride. The ideology behind the terms is conducive to the idea of modernity. People use the terms to identify themselves with a social brand that occupies an esteemed position in the societal psyche. Different societies conceive the terms differently, depending upon the social structure and the values that prevail in the particular society. Many a time the terms are used interchangeably. Yet there exist some differences between the two. This article is an attempt to throw light on some of pronounced differences between the two.

Difference in origin and evolution


The term liberal, evolved from the Latin word Liber was first used in 1375 to mean liberal arts as would fit to free thoughts of people. The idea of liberal thought that had existed among few people in ancient Greece, began to find mass taker during the English civil war in 1640s between the parliamentarians and the Royalists over the issue of the way of governance, that resulted in execution of King Charles I, exile for his son King Charles II and abolition of monarchy with establishment of the first common wealth of England. The radical political movement spearheaded by the Levelers was instrumental in ensuring suffrage, religious tolerance and equality in the eyes of law for the people of England. John Locke (1632 – 1704), designated as the father of classical liberalism and famous for his Social Contract Theory was the first English philosopher and political thinker to give these liberal ideas of the levelers a definitive shape. Locke propagated the radical notion that the government must take consent from the governed to govern and the government remains legitimate till that consent is there. The glorious revolution in the 17th century England that saw over-throw of the kings of England, Scotland and Ireland, solidified the idea of liberalism. During the 18th century, the idea of liberalism proliferated into many European countries. Many monarchies all over Europe were threatened by proliferation of the philosophy of liberalism in the middle class society. Baron de Montesquieu (1689 – 1755), the noted French philosopher was the champion of the philosophy of liberalism with his writings that had tremendous influence in and out of France on the prevailing concept about the nature of government. The idea of liberalism passed through the era of American Revolution in late 1760s that culminated into establishment of the Constitution of United States. The French Revolution in 1789 leading to the storming of Bastille is considered by many noted historians as the triumph of liberalism. In 18th century, several powerful and influential writers like Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Matthew Arnold wrote profusely in support of social liberalism and against injustices in the society. John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) the noted British economist, philosopher and political thinker was a vociferous supporter of social liberalism.

During the 19th century many parts of Europe and America saw the establishment of governments with liberal ideas. The two world wars are also viewed by historians as victory of the states with liberal political ideology. The fall of Berlin wall and disintegration of the Soviet bloc reinforced penetration of liberal ideas among the mass. Most of the modern states in the world are now ruled by parties with liberal manifesto.


German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), also known as father of modern philosophy is presumed to be the first writer to raise the idea of progress as being the movement from barbarism to civility. Nicolas de Condorcet (1743 – 1794) the famous French philosopher, mathematician and political scientist further consolidated the idea behind progressivism. During 19th and 20th century, many writers and political thinkers wrote in favor of progressivism as the basis of modern economy and society. German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1770 – 1831) was instrumental in spreading the idea of progressivism throughout Europe, which later influenced Karl Marx in shaping his political ideology. In 19th century, rise of capitalism, inequality in income among people and violent conflicts between capitalists and working class in the western world gave rise to widespread apprehension that social progress was stifled by the capitalists and pro-capitalist governments. In Germany and England governments enacted some progressive social welfare measures. The period from late 19th and early 20th century is called the progressive era of America, when progressivism got transformed from social movement to a political movement. It was widely believed in America that social maladies like poverty, illiteracy, violence and other evils could be eradicated by injecting progressive ideas in education and employment relations. American Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson embraced philosophy of progressivism. Gradually the idea of progressivism spread to South America, Europe and Asia.

Difference in concept


Liberal is a person who supports the underlying idea of liberalism which is ‘liberty and equality’. As liberalism has different connotations, so has liberal. A politically liberal person may support a liberal political party which is secular and does not make a religious issue election manifesto. Similarly an economically liberal person may support laizzes faire policy of the government when it comes to controlling the market. In the same way a socially liberal person may support inter-religion marriages. All these views however converge into the very fundamental idea of liberty and equality for every human being, and no institutional force would be allowed hurt these ideas for the sake of peace and dignity of human beings. An all round liberal is one who supports laissez faire in market control, rescue sinking companies and also sponsoring private pharmaceutical companies’ research on less expensive medicines with tax payers’ money as regards government policies, secular political practices and fair election, no interference in an individual’s religious beliefs and practices, gender equality in all spheres of life, and above all adherence to human right and dignity.


Progressive is an ideology that reflects more pro-active attitude on the part of the person who supports it. A progressive person would strive for changes and reforms in all spheres of human lives, social, political, economic, and personal. A progressive person would oppose government’s spending from tax payers’ money to save a sinking company; rather suggest that the assets of the company should be otherwise used to produce goods and services. In the same way a progressive person would support the proposal of government funding to political parties for elections and auditing of funds of political parties, abolish government subsidy and class-based reservation in education. When it comes to education a progressive is a person who would support sex education in school curricula. All these views taken together equate to the underlying concept of advancement or progress of the human society. Broadly speaking, the subscribers to the progressive ideology think and work for social justice, empowerment of poor and weaker section of the society, providing legal help to people oppressed by government and other organized forces. A progressive person believes his/her thinking is conducive to social development.


  1. Liberal is much more older concept as compared to progressive
  2. The idea of liberalism evolved through centuries and revolutions; the idea of progressive came into lime light after the renaissance.
  3. Progressives take more pro-active stance in comparison to liberals.

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  1. Excellent information.

  2. Whoever wrote this certainly took several swipes at Liberals. The whole point of an “educational” article is to educate, not spout more bias.

    • A quick read of the summary will tell you all you have to know about this so-called educational article. It is riddled with errors in grammar and usage to say nothing of the generalizations and baseless opinions.

  3. Progressivism and liberalism in the United States today are increasingly hard to distinguish apart and also are tending rapidly toward Marxism. It’s way too easy today to see the influence of American Fabianism. William Ayers decided to make the classroom the frontline of his revolution. He learned it from his predecessors. Ayers, formerly of the SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. SDS, which split from the League for Industrial Democracy. The League for Industrial Democracy, which is simply the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, renamed.
    John Dewey was a Fabian Society member. W.E.B. DuBois was a socialist who joined the American Communist Party late in life. Howard Zinn: America’s leading revisionist historian, a poor scholar and an ardent communist. Gloria Steinem: Member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Most people today would call all of them progressives or liberals.

  4. This would benefit greatly from having a ‘Liberals believe in: a, b, c vs. Progressives believe in: x, y, z’ bulletpoint overview, followed by a explanation by of their stances on issues – economic, political and social –
    rather than the history of the ideas.

    The differences between historiacal and contemporary positions might also be worth considering, as well.

  5. The affectations evident in the author’s writing style obscures the information thereby interfering with the author’s main objective, which (presumably) is to communicate. While I’m sure there is good information here, it is too tedious to read because the author appears to have prioritized pretense over clarity.

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