When you hear the term classical liberal, it’s generally used to talk about Libertarians today. Even though Libertarians are right-wing, center-right depending on what type of Libertarian they are. And Liberals are left-wing, the center-left on the American political spectrum. And then there are people who are called modern liberals and these people are supposed to be the Liberals of today. Even though in Canada or Europe they would be described as Social Democrats or Democratic Socialists or Progressives.
Because that's what so-called Modern Liberals are. It’s Social Democrats who have built their philosophy around the state. And what the state can do for the people and tend to be skeptical about what the people can do for themselves. And want a big state to be there to take care of everyone so no one get’s left behind. But these people in America tend to be called Modern Liberals, or even Liberals when they actually have more of a socialist mindset than a liberal mindset. Liberalism or classical liberalism is not about the state and is not against the state.
Liberalism is in favor of the individual and empowering people to be able to do everything that they can for themselves and is against big government. Big government being government that tries to do too much for the individual. Or trying to run their life and even protecting people from themselves. Which is why Liberals tend to be against prohibition whether it comes from the Right or Left. Prohibition is a statist idea, a progressive idea that "the people aren’t smart enough to make some decisions for themselves and we need government to do that for them even if that means locking people up".
Even criminally punishing people when they make unhealthy decisions with their own lives. Liberals and I’m one of them believe that the individual should be able to live their own life as they see fit. As long as they aren’t hurting innocent people with what they are doing. Because we know ourselves and our own lives better than government. And have to do deal with the consequences of our own decisions. Liberals believe in both economic and personal freedom that one is not worth much without the other.
Today we now have Progressives who are paternalists who not only believe in the welfare state, but prohibition as well. As we see with these bans on soft drinks to use as examples. To go along with tobacco and other products. These people aren’t Liberals even in a modern sense and perhaps not even Progressives. But paternalists who believe they know better how individuals should live their own lives and they have a right to believe that, but they aren’t Liberals.
Wendell Willkie was a true Liberal Democrat before the New Deal and left to become a Republican. Because he believed that President Roosevelt was moving the Democratic Party and the country in a more socialist direction. But Willkie wasn’t against government, but believed that government should be there to serve us not run our lives. Do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, that government get’s it’s power from us, not that it decides what we can do with our own lives.
When I think of Liberals, I think of Wendell Willkie, John Kennedy and today people like John Kerry, Bill Clinton and Dick Durbin. People who believe in both economic and personal freedom and that these things should be for everyone. That we are all entitled to have a shot at living a successful life and living in freedom. And that’s where government comes in, but not creating a government to take care of everyone and show us how to live. Which is what separates liberalism from today's progressivism and libertarianism. One philosophy being all about government and the other philosophy being almost completely against government.