In oral discussion, the ideological designations "new liberal" and "neoliberal" are easily confused. Do one or both of these two ideologies have alternative names that are more easily distinguished, thus avoiding the potential for confusion?

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    Just so it's said, group names are usually well defended. If there is any notable confusion, groups will take pains to distinguish themselves from each other. Trying to give a group a different name is likely to produce more confusion and irritation than it relieves. Jan 14 at 14:23
  • @TedWrigley I don't know... I ask the question as someone who considers myself a new liberal, but can't readily identify myself as such in conversation, for fear of being mistaken for a neoliberal with whom I have nothing in common. Jan 14 at 14:31
  • ... and of course, no politician in a democracy wants to identify their ideological position clearly, because winning elections depends critically upon getting votes from people who don't share one's own ideological position. Jan 14 at 14:34
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    Well, the problem you're facing is that you've chosen an old and somewhat disused ideology. The typical approach there would be (1) to make a point of reaffirming the original movement label (e.g., say: "new liberalism in the vein of Hobhouse"), or (2) make up a new and more distinct label. Jan 14 at 17:40
  • @TedWrigley The name is certainly "somewhat disused", but I'm not convinced the ideology itself is: I'd say it's the ideological label that most closely describes the positions (at least on domestic issues) of the current presidents of the US and France, for example. Jan 14 at 17:55

2 Answers 2


Neoliberalism is focused on "Free Market Capitalism" and that would be an acceptable term in general use.

"New Liberalism" is an historical term, and nowadays would be in a region of political space close to "Social democracy", which would be fairly well understood.

In countries in which a party either has the word "liberal" in its name, or describes its policies as "liberal", then "liberal" will be understood to refer to the policies of that party, whatever they may be. So in the UK, "liberal" means "pro-EU", "pro-reform", and "a bit wishy-washy, in-the-middle politically". In Australia it means "free market conservatism", and in the US it means "socialism/social democracy".

  • It's certainly true that new liberals have a lot of policy positions in common with social democrats, but they reason to those policies from a starting point of very different core values, which it seems to me may mean the similarity is historically contingent, not permanent. Jan 14 at 14:28
  • There's some truth in the party thing, although here in the UK political parties, including the Liberal Democrats, have a remarkable ability to shift their ideological position dramatically overnight, depending who's in the leader's chair at any given time. Jan 14 at 14:51
  • @DanielHatton, actually the LibDems and their predecessors have been remarkably consistent about being ideologically liberal, although the capture of the Tories and Labour by liberals (in the 70s and 80s respectively) has rendered their offering as a party somewhat redundant, and they are often having to find either spurious and unprincipled grounds on which to distinguish themselves, or they have to take relatively unpopular liberal positions which the main liberal-run parties cannot politically afford.
    – Steve
    Jan 14 at 15:19
  • @Steve In under two years, the LibDems went from being led by social democrat Kennedy, to new liberal Campbell, to classical liberal Clegg, and the parliamentary party was fanatically loyal to each one in turn. (The same applies to the other big parties, e.g. new liberal Blair/Brown- > social democrat E Miliband -> fabian Corbyn -> communitarian Starmer (well, maybe not quite so fanatically loyal to Corbyn), or classical liberal Cameron -> nativist populist May -> cult-of-personality Johnson -> neoliberal Truss -> religious conservative Sunak.) Jan 14 at 16:08
  • @DanielHatton, it's easy to make more of their differences than their similarities. The defining feature of LibDems is that they aren't socialists and they reject any control by workers, which is what distinguishes them traditionally from Labour, and it was why Labour was formed to replace their Liberal predecessors. The LibDems formed from the residual Liberal party and the unelectable rump of liberals who (like the so-called Tiggers more recently under Corbyn) walked out of Labour in the 80s under Michael Foot.
    – Steve
    Jan 14 at 16:37

In my view, it would be better to distinguish them in context than seek a universal name, as different written works or thought-schools can vary by many more details than can possibly be all encoded in distinct names of reasonable length.

These two examples do not appear to be wholly distinct ideologies but mere variants of "liberalism", and liberalism has resurged several times under variations or re-packagings which were each "new" in the context of the time they first appeared.

Your link on "new liberalism" suggests it is not nowadays "new" at all, but is a 19th century term associated with a proponent called Hobhouse.

You might then choose to refer to it as "Hobhouse's new liberalism" when distinguishing it in context from other variants of liberalism.

The confusion only arises in the specific context where you are referring to both neoliberalism (a fairly well-known term today, and still regarded as the "newest" liberalism) and Hobhouse's new liberalism.

  • There's something to be said for the use of a personal name, although when I've done it I've been inclined to say "Lloyd George" rather than "Hobhouse", because of the former's higher public profile. Jan 14 at 14:40
  • If you consider social democracy and free market capitalism to be "mere variants of liberalism", then liberalism for you is a label so broad it's completely useless. Jan 15 at 20:21

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