Video: The Four Stages of Liberalism

By William Gairdner
William Gairdner
William Gairdner
William Gairdner is a best-selling author living near Toronto. His latest book is "Beyond the Rhetoric" (2021). His website is, and on
October 29, 2019Updated: November 7, 2019


The above video is part of a series created by The North Wire.

This video tells the story of how all the liberal democracies of the West have gone through four stages to get to where they are today.

I call the first stage “Virtue Liberalism,” because the pursuit of virtue was the main interest of the Settlers and Pilgrims who came to the New World to escape the religious and social oppressions of the Old World. For them, liberalism was more about the “social freedom” they wanted to enjoy within their own communities than about their own individual freedom.

Most of all, they wanted to create a better world, to be free so they could be good. The idea of pursuing mainly their own personal pleasures and choices—especially those of a sexual nature—would have seemed extremely selfish to them, and possibly a sin.

Stage two may be called “Rights and Property Liberalism,” because, by the middle of the eighteenth century, the ideas of the political philosopher John Locke were very much in the air, and they were displacing the former notion of social freedom. People were beginning to think of themselves more as free individuals living in states whose job it was to protect their natural rights and property.

Human slavery was a reality everywhere in the world at the same time, and in retrospect it was these powerful ideas about individual rights that eventually unlocked the door to civil rights for everyone in the West.

The key point is that it was a start-line philosophy: set the rules, run the race, and let the chips fall where they may. And it did a good job for a very long time.

But, by a century later, all the liberty-loving regimes of the Western world were slowly mutating into the equality-loving regimes we have today, which brings me to stage three, which I call “Equality Liberalism.”

This mutation happened for a very simple reason: Liberty and rights were not producing the perfect society of which those first liberals had been dreaming.

At the end of the day, they saw that some were rich, some poor, some smart, some stupid, some hard-working, some lazy, and some, through no fault of their own, simply fell on hard times.

A permanent underclass was growing in their midst, and a shift was beginning from the idea of personal responsibility for one’s condition in life to blaming “the system.”

So the system had to be fixed. Equality would now have to be forced.

This meant the original start-line philosophy of liberty common to all the Western democracies was being replaced with a new finish-line philosophy of equality, and to ensure this, all of them were becoming “social democracies.” But how can there be such a thing?

“Social” implies socialism, which mandates top-down control to achieve an equality of outcome for all.

But liberalism mandates a bottom-up freedom, with different outcomes as each might choose. A contradiction this deep would eventually mean policy paralysis and decline.

So it had to be resolved.

But the only way to keep the connection between the liberalism and the socialism would be to divide the body politic into two bodies: a private body and a public body, each with its own justifying will and ideology.

And this brings me to stage four, which I call “Libertarian-Socialism”—perfectly neither, but a fusion of both.

In order to fulfill the liberalism mandate, citizens would be allowed a lot more freedom for all things personal and private, especially those having to do with sex and the body, such as, contraception rights, abortion rights, easy divorce, homosexual rights, transgender rights, pornography rights, gay marriage, marijuana rights, euthanasia rights, and more—all made available in the name of personal choice, and many subsidized by the state.

As individuals, we, the people, have never been so open and free, would be the new branding.

But in order to fulfill the equality mandate, our once minimal governments had to begin an aggressive exercise of public will, to be funded by massively increased taxation and public debt, extending themselves into every conceivable aspect of national life.

The result is that libertarian-socialism is now a homogenized regime-type throughout the West, a political form so conducive to the growth of wrap-around government that many of these regimes have already become, what I call, “Tripartite States.”

These are states in which one third of the people are makers, who produce the wealth; another third work for government at some level; and the last third are takers, who receive significant benefits in cash or kind from the state.

Anyone can see that in a democratic system the last two segments will always gang up on the first, like two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

This is now the sorry condition of the Western democracies: All citizens enjoy a maximum of bodily and sexual freedom, in the context of massive over-regulation, taxation, and control by the state of every other aspect of their lives.

And it’s not going to change for the better, nor may we escape it, until citizens become far more conversant with the underlying ideological conditions that led us into it in the first place.

In order to shed light on those conditions, we all need to find out where we stand on the most important moral, social, and economic issues of our time.

Only then, can we begin the crucial discussions and debates with friends and neighbors that will make us a free and responsible people once again.

William Gairdner is an author who lives near Toronto. His latest book is “The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree” (2015). His website is

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Related Topics