Image credit. I use the term liberalism to refer to political schools that like classical liberalism, libertarianism, and anarcho-capitalism, do not or hesitate to recognise that freedom is of necessity productive of a highly politicised society. Only a narrow view of liberalism creates the impression of a monolithic ideology as the one true faith. Liberalism is not a voice, but a many-voiced choir within a much larger choir of innumerable choirs, all of which are legitimate participants in the process of political competition, unless ... Well, see below:
Freedom is ultimately a political phenomenon, for she is uniquely characterised by the possibility of political participation by every citizen who chooses to take part in politics. (For special cases like Hong Kong, see section 1 here.)
(1) The Pluralist Proviso and the Limits of Liberalism
Any citizen is entitled to participate in the political competition of a free society, with the exception of those who undermine this pluralistic condition of liberty ("the pluralist proviso").
In an open society, a communist is perfectly entitled to join the political race, but he is not allowed to hinder others from participating in that race or obstruct or even abolish open political competition.
This being so, liberalism faces natural limits to its ambitions. And these limits are set by liberty herself.
Liberals will tend to condone a set of policies that is only partially, perhaps even hardly congruent with the set of policies approved by other partisans equally entitled to pursue their policy variants under the pluralist proviso.
If a party B campaigns under the slogan "no welfare state," whereas another, ultimately victorious party A promises to introduce the welfare state, A is perfectly entitled to implement her campaign promise, as long as A does not violate the pluralist proviso. This is a fundamental and unalienable requirement of freedom.
Non-liberals tend to dominate the corridors of political power for at least two reasons:
(2) Freedom Demands, Enables, and Protects Political Action
The pluralistic proviso, i.e. freedom herself, admits far more political action than is palatable to the classical liberal. Within that margin people will try out all sorts of policies rejected by the classical liberal. In this manner, not only will they discover popular and successful arrangements, but they will also create a delta of path dependency in such a way that soon novel political action will be genuinely needed to react upon past political action.
The simple fact of the matter is that the number of people expecting politics to take action is larger than the number of people who reject such action on classical liberal grounds. So the experimental work of politics will be dominated by non-liberals. They will tend to build the political order, the infrastructure of political participation that freedom demands and protects.
Sure enough, there are policies that are blatant dangers to freedom, but it simply is not true that all or even most of the policies not condoned by liberals are in that class. Furthermore, (a) the political system has safety arrangements to deal with severely malignant policies, (b) notably a robust pluralism, and, not least, (c) there is freedom's corridor of success, which is difficult to leave once the institutions of liberty have taken root:
(3) Freedom as Method and Mean Reversion toward Liberty
Most likely, freedom survives - with or without the support of the classical liberal - because civil society as it has emerged in some 25 countries or so in the last 300 years is
(a) hard-wired to grow around the rough contours of freedom, and
(b) in an open society we have grown accustomed to practice freedom as method as opposed to relying on her in the form of a monolithic and socially predominant political creed.
[C]apitalism-and-freedom survive because they work so much better than anything else. Sooner or later, people find out about it, adapt to this condition, and avoid the pain that afflicts them when they move away too far from robust conditions of freedom. In this way, we travel within a corridor of success whose middle lane may be thought of as its most workable and efficacious part. The farther you veer away from the centre section, the more the deviation begins to hurt - and people tend to return to the middle, as the Germans did after 1945.
Liberalism, as I absorb it into my world view, is not a doctrine whose adepts know all the answers to everything, including a perfect blueprint of the way the world should be. My liberalism is perhaps best described as the application of Sir Karl Popper's critical method to societal affairs. My liberalism is thus rather a way of questioning and probing into claims of how society works or should be run. My liberalism is a method by which we test policy proposals by investigating their remoter consequences. The more people revert to such testing, the better the outcome, that is: the lesser the damage from zealotry, myopia, and superficiality.