Written by Dr Hannes Nel, MBL; D. Com; D. Phil
In our current day and age neoliberalism largely rendered liberalism obsolete. Even so, liberalism is still a relevant paradigm.
Liberalism advocates tolerance, progress, humanitarianism, objectivity, reason, democracy, and human rights. To this can be added a host of other positive attributes dealing with human rights, social interaction and freedom. This, amongst other things, implies that all individuals in a country possess an equal status as legal subjects, regardless of other inequalities and differences that might divide them.
Liberalism, thus, is a philosophical approach to human interaction and also a social force. The basic premise of liberalism is the equality of individuals before the law. In this respect, liberalism links up with critical race theory, critical theory and feminism.
All the elements of liberalism offer valuable fields for research. In a constructivist spirit, research should utilise observation and experiences to reflect on and evaluate previous perceptions in the hope of understanding the situations and phenomena being investigated. Understanding should lead to change and reform.
Constructivism is a variant of liberal theory if issues like human rights, freedom of social interaction, etc. are investigated.
Neoliberalism also supports or extends some elements of liberalism, for example, private property rights, a classically minimal liberal state, and the efficiency of the free market system. In other respects, neoliberalism is in opposition with liberalism, although neoliberalism is gradually adopting more and more liberalist values. The four central areas in which liberalism and neoliberalism overlap are human rights, non-discrimination (ethnicity and gender), education and the media.
Liberalism is associated with relativism through its relativist conception of rights – it accuses other paradigms of being relativist in order to have its own relativism accepted as universalism. For example, liberal relativism is sometimes rather a neo-colonial tactic designed to maintain the exploitation of developing countries by developed former colonial powers, or new powers taking over the role of colonial power under the guise that they are helping the needy country to grow.
Liberalism is associated with radicalism because they both support the struggle for democracy, specifically campaigning for the right to vote, welfare reform, and public services, with radicalism adopting a more aggressive stance than liberalism.
Liberalism is in opposition with some values of critical race theory and colonialism because of its favouritism toward the elite, the rich and the noble.
Some academics still associate ‘liberal’ with unrestrained and undisciplined attitudes and behaviour. The strength of liberalism, namely its commitment to emancipation, is said to also be its most serious weakness. Throughout history, liberalists claimed their love for liberty while demonstrating contempt for people of the colonies and for women. Liberalists are of the opinion that they are entitled to enforce ‘democracy’ upon the ‘less enlightened’. Because of its authoritarian stance, liberalism cannot be equated with democracy, and liberty is not the same as equality.
The second weakness of liberalism is that there is hardly any consensus of exactly what it means. People’s thoughts about and understanding of liberal concepts such as human rights largely depend on who is in charge, whose side you are on, what you stand to gain or lose because of your point of view, if your point of view is legal and politically correct, and your position in a social group or community. Most citizens of the USA probably felt that they were protecting human rights when they invaded Iraq in 2003, whereas most Iraqi citizens probably felt that they were robbed of their human rights.
A negative consequence of liberalism claiming to favour the needy while discriminating between the informed, rich and educated on the one side and the uninformed, poor and uneducated on the other side, is that research on the former often follows an emic approach while research on the latter follows an etic approach. The informed, rich and educated are regarded and treated as participants in the research while the uninformed, poor and uneducated are regarded as subjects upon whom research is done.
 W. Davies in A. Abraham-Hamanoiel, D. Freeman, G. Khiabany, K. Nash, and J. Petley (Editors), 2017: 15.
 A. Abraham-Hamanoiel, D. Freeman, G. Khiabany, K. Nash, and J. Petley (Editors), 2017: 11.
 Ibid: 2.
 A. An-Na’im in A. Abraham-Hamanoiel, D. Freeman, G. Khiabany, K. Nash, and J. Petley (Editors), 2017: 55.
 A. Abraham-Hamanoiel, D. Freeman, G. Khiabany, K. Nash, and J. Petley (Editors), 2017: 1.
 Ibid: 4.