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Socialism and Liberalism Comparison Essay

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Updated: May 16th, 2022


Socialism has for many years been closed linked and confused with liberalism. However, liberalism and socialism are different ideologies although they share some grey areas of similarities. Liberalism is a philosophy of being open-minded, tolerant and exercising individual liberty. Liberalism is ideally based on individual freedom; liberty of private property ownership but whatever is done by liberals must be within the law (Carter, 2003).

On the other hand, the term socialism refers to an economic system where wealth is systematically shared and distributed throughout a population where members of the society are presumed equal and should have equitable claim of the pool of resources. According to Carter (2003), socialism assumes that people should be in a classless society and should not be discriminated against by the leaders. Initial advocates of liberalism did not support the privileges that were accorded to the members of upper class who were also barriers against acquisition of possessions by private individuals. These activists of liberalism succeeded in convincing the masses and people in leadership positions, that wealth was meant to be shared among all the people. Socialism and liberalism has been used by subdued groups of people to fight for their freedom from their tormentors.

These are philosophical ideals that have come in conflict with totalitarianism and aristocracy. While socialists consider it right for everybody to have full control to what belongs to him as well as the means of its fabrication, liberalists believe that individual freedoms should be exercised within the law. Socialism is as old as human kind and many revolutions in the world have been started by people who believed in social ideologies. There are many forms of socialism: ranging from social democracy to anarcho-socialism.

Forms of Socialism

In social democracy the populace vote for their leaders and give them power to control production and distribution of resources while anarcho-socialism is when the people own companies that would compete or cooperate in production in a free market economy without any control from centralized government (Henderson, 1912).

While liberalism seeks to give people the freedom to do what they want to do most, socialists believe that the employees or the majority should have the power to control and manage the drivers of the economy. The question of who should be in control of the economy or what is called means of production has been explained by historians through different political ideologies ranging from aristocracy, capitalism to socialism.

Other Political Ideologies

Aristocracy was a system of government where a few members of the ruling elite manage and control the land and wealth while the majority had to serve them so has to earn their livelihood. Capitalism abolished the control of the means of production by the members of the ruling class to allow other private persons to possess and manage their wealth. This brought about competition and unfair means of competition as individuals tried to maximize the wealth at the expense of the many who did not have similar opportunities. Capitalism therefore bore liberalism that advocates individualism and respect for private property.

While capitalism tried to broaden the base of the people controlling the means of production, exploitation and unequal distribution of resources did not stop as the very people who the system wanted to redeem were oppressed by the few who could access productive wealth. Capitalism was a system that favoured the middle class while those from the lower levels were ignored and oppressed.

Capitalism is liberalism; meaning it favours private individuals to own productive wealth and choose their management teams and set their own standards of production and workers’ terms of engagement. Liberals, however, control the excesses of capitalism through clear system of checks and balances through strong labour unions and relevant labour legislations.

The third approach was socialism, which has been defined as collective ownership, management and control of the factors of production (wealth) (Frankel, 1996). Socialism therefore ensured more people owned and controlled not only their wealth but also wealth owned by the state. This system allowed people to own their country and subject leadership to public scrutiny. From aristocracy (where few people own property and control the masses) to socialism (where everyone owns the wealth collectively), equality and equitable distribution of wealth has been the reason for conflict between the masses and their leaders.

Unlike other systems, socialism has no central controlling point (central government) but people (worker ownership) control means of production.

In the true nature of socialism, it is a system that has not been completely tested on the people as the governments that have claimed to be socialists have always suppressed the workers negating the same principles they are expected to preach. Socialism enhances strong principles of democracy through which injustices of slavery and discrimination based on race or creed should not be practiced.

Principles of Democracy

Principles of democracy range from perfect democracy to representative democracy. However the two systems allow the workers or the people to elect their representatives and control the way they are governed.

In direct (perfect) democracy the populace is allowed to vote on the laws that govern them. The work of the government is to carry out the mandate and wishes of the people through the laws of the land. On the other hand, representative democracy (or republics) the people elect representatives through popular suffrage, who legislate laws for them. However, the system has been abused where the elected people actually end up making laws that favour them hence subduing the people they govern. By making the electorate poor, many modern republics today have been converted into silent dictatorships. Therefore a well functioning organization or republic must not live on the extremes of both ends but should try to strike a balance between the principles of the two systems (Frankel, 1996).

These ideologies notwithstanding, other schools of thought say that many workers are at the mercy of their employers. Workers organizations can do as much, as they also limited by laws designed by the same people who own these companies. In business corporations, orders flow top-bottom and there is little room for feedback in the ladder as the workers and their masters or supervisors are at different levels of social cycle. While social democracy seeks to have workers elect their representatives and eventually their leaders, scholars have questioned the practicability of this ideology (Shearmur, 1995). Whatever level one is in, the organization’s orders are taken from above and passed on to the people below. This way, workers become implementers of orders which they did not take part in formulating.

Liberals therefore ensured measures were in place to control the powers exercised by the business owners by allowing workers to belong to strong trade union organizations. Fighting for workers rights then brought the necessity to balance personal freedom and social responsibility: doing what you want, as long as it as within the law (Henderson, 1912). Every person must be responsible of their actions within the law. Liberalism has tried to bring this balance between freedom and responsibility.

Liberalists and socialists agree that corporate totalitarianism should be prevented. However the two ideologies differ on how to ensure that business corporations stay within the law as they practice and pursue their goal to maximize profits at minimum costs and losses. While socialism argues that workers should be allowed to own, manage and control the instruments of production, liberalists say that what is done should be done within the law. These instruments of production include factories, mines, roads, roads, industries, etc. Socialism seeks to satisfy human needs but capitalism seeks to maximize profits. While workers would prefer social system in their workplace (where they elect their leaders, representatives and supervisors), business owners would prefer the opposite system of totalitarianism (maximizing profits at the lowest cost while controlling the management of the company).

In socialism, workers would want to be involved in every level of decision making. This means that even the management is responsible for the workers’ welfare. This allows the workers to oust their managers when they deem necessary and appropriate if their interests are not articulated. This gives more powers to workers or the people; a thing that the ruling elite do not want.

Similarities of socialism and liberalism

Unlike other systems like totalitarianism and aristocracy, socialism and liberalism systems advocate for equitable distribution of resources and the ability of people to share in resources of their organizations. These two systems are co-joined at the social liberalism point. Both systems are opposed to people’s oppression by aristocrats (or small group of people). This forms the basis of both systems giving focus to welfare of the people as opposed to the focus of the leaders.

Socialism with its democratic principles expects that the interests of the people are taken care of through elected representatives. These people are not allowed to front their own selfish interests but the wishes of the people who elect them. In this system therefore the ‘orders’ emanate from the ruled to the leaders. This bottom-up system allows the people to be in control of the leaders who rule them. The elected leaders should be able to front the interests of the people who elect them into office (Frankel, 1996).

This gives the people who are electing their leaders freedom and freewill to elect the people of their choice. Freedom is the fulcrum of liberalism. Liberalism allows for individual ownership of property (Ellen et al, 2003). While ownership of property and election of leaders are ideally different, both ideologies are opposed to the suppression of the masses by the aristocrats or business totalitarians.

Both liberalism and socialism support system of free and fair elections. Democracy is anchored on the ability to elect leaders. Socialism as well as liberalism advocate for leaders elected on popular suffrage through the power of ballot. Many established democracies are based on these two systems of governance and economic management. As John Locke, who is credited for the conceptualizing the theory said, liberalism is a system that employs the rule of law in observance of natural rights and social contracts.

Socialism on the other hand argues that leaders should be elected to represent the people’s interests in legislation and governance. In old democracies, rulers had the consent of the governed to make laws based on their interests. Many violent revolutions around the world were sparked by oppression of the people. The leaders who guided these revolutions like the French Revolution were informed by the need for equality and end to oppression of the masses (Carter, 2003). Both systems are opposed to government control of the resources. Socialism allows for the representatives to control the resources while liberalism allows for individual ownership (or capitalism to control the economy). This enhances competition and innovation which forms the basis for socialism and liberalism.

Differences between socialism and liberalism

Liberalism is ideally focused on the benefits of the individual while the socialism is focused on the good of the society. The focus of liberalism is the freedom of the individual while the focus of socialism is the entire society and how the resources can be shared equitably (Shearmur, 1995). After people elect their leaders they may not be in control of the decisions made by the leaders on their behalf. This means that personal liberty to do what ones wish within the law is curtailed by this bottleneck.

The leaders who are elected through different shades of democracy are also mandated to make decision on behalf of the electorate. As human beings, these decisions that they make may not strictly represent the interest of the people who elect them. Socialism also assumes that equality is a reality. However, human beings are as different and therefore trying to bring people to the same level would be in conflict with reasoning of people who would want to do more and benefit more (Frankel, 1996). Socialism rewards sluggards while taking away benefits from deserving people. This is unfair.

While socialism focused on welfare of all the people irrespective of their class, liberalism was focused on the middle class and their enjoyment of their individual rights to own property. Not everybody in the society has the opportunity and chance to own property. This is a premise assumed by proponents of socialism that all people in the society are equal; which is not the case in a normal society. Liberalism was supported by the middle class in the society who ended up benefiting from the system through political representation, civil liberties and constitutions to protect their rights and property. Socialism on the other hand does not value class but tries to treat all people equally.

During the fight for liberation in middle Nineteenth Century, there political conflicts which led to fight for the rights of workers through trade unions. Elected union leaders were the drivers of socialist ideology that argues that workers should enjoy equal rights with other people in organizations (Mises, 1951). All decisions made in the organization or in the country should have the approval of the workers or electorate respectively. Socialism which was supported by the working class was opposed to capitalism which advocated for private ownership of property.

Liberalism was as well an ideology that generally supported the private ownership of property hence conflicting with tenets of socialism. This brings to the fore the main difference between socialism and liberalism. While the initial idea of socialism was classless society, liberalism allows individuals to exercise their freedom and hence the ability to acquire and amass wealth without bothering about other people in the society.


While it is essentially difficult for these two systems to be practiced absolutely, they represent principles that can lead to equitable society. Allowing people to do (giving them necessary freedom) gives them the ability to become more creative to the society and are able to exploit their potential; in their own benefit and the benefit of the society.

Socialism on the other hand ensures that people are not oppressed by establishments and their leaders. The organizations or the country is governed on the basis of equality, equitable representation and enjoyment of equal natural rights. This enhances democracy as a system that is more anchored on the both liberalism and socialism.

However, in both systems there is need for everything done to be done within the law. Liberalism, as is capitalism, can become very dangerous especially when it comes to competition and wealth acquisition (Frankel, 1996). It is therefore necessary for the respective governments to be able control excesses that can come with these two systems. One of the techniques that can be used is price control and regulated legislation. However some liberals in position of leadership are converted to aristocrats and therefore need to control them. Both liberalism and socialism are level systems of government whose cardinal aim is the welfare and benefit of the masses. The strength of any society is measured by the way it treats its own less fortunate people.

List of References

Carter, M 2003. Green and Development of Ethical Socialism, London: Imprint Academic Press.

Ellen F. P., Miller F. D. and Jeffrey P. (2003). After Socialism, Part 1. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Frankel, P 1996. Problems of marketing liberalism: Social philosophy and policy Socialism: London: Cambridge University Press.

Henderson, F. 1912. Liberalism Versus Socialism, 3rd Edition, London: Jarrold & sons.

Mises, L.V 1951. Socialism: An economic and sociological analysis, New York: Yale University Press.

Shearmur J. (1995). Liberalism versus democratic socialism, London: Centre for independent studies.

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