Differences Between Liberals and Leftists

Can the two sides come together?

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Photo by frankie cordoba on Unsplash

family, like the rest of the United States, is split about 50/50. Half are voting for Biden, half are voting for Trump, and this is why we don’t discuss politics at Thanksgiving.

These differences are more familiar than they are unusual or startling, since I grew up in a family of Southern Democrats and my husband’s family consisted of active Republicans. (His parents hobnobbed with the likes of Bob Dole and his mother was a delegate.) Maybe that’s why he and I vote for the candidate rather than the party and gravitate toward a diversity of friends who accept each other’s beliefs without rancor.

“Sadly, the world is a divided place despite the fact that we live in the 21st century. It seems we are divided from one another these days more than ever: whether politically, religiously, or in the workplace. If we cannot come together on even the closest of our relationships, how do we expect to find kindness and common ground towards others?” Dr. Nikki Martinez

In the not-too-distant past, liberals and conservatives were able to discuss politics, sometimes passionately, then go to dinner together. Hard feelings over a heated political debate were unheard of. “Crossover” voting wasn’t unusual if the candidate from the “other” party lined up more with our ideals, and the divide between Republicans and Democrats was not so earth-shattering, since both sides figured the country would survive whichever candidate happened to occupy the White House for the next four years.

But in more recent history, a divide has yawned, not only between conservatives and liberals, but between liberals and leftists. And it grows more glaring as leftists veer further and further away from the party of John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. It could be this divide, rather than the differences between Republicans and Democrats, that ultimately splinters the Democrat party.

Leftist Ted Rall does not believe there is enough overlap between liberals and leftists to justify cooperation. In his words, “Ultimately, the rulers will have to be removed via revolution, a process that requires violence.”

What are these differences that lead Rall to believe the divide is inevitable and irreversible? Although nothing is cut and dry and there are sure to be people who don’t fit neatly into either camp, here are some of the issues that could splinter Democrats and weaken the party.

Capitalism or Socialism

Liberals believe capitalism is the best economic system, even if it needs major tweaking, with changes accomplished through higher taxation of the wealthy and allocation of more government resources for marginalized groups. Liberals often cite the Scandinavian countries, which have successfully combined capitalism with broad-based social services.

Leftists, on the other hand, believe capitalism is inherently flawed and evil and needs to be eliminated completely, to be replaced by socialism. Socialism would be based on Marxist ideals, with much greater government control over the means of production.

John Broich, PhD, professor of British Empire History, says, “Voters need to understand the fundamental differences between liberalism and leftism. It’s the difference between a candidate who believes capitalism, with just a little refereeing, will eventually provide what working people need, versus a candidate who believes serious intervention in the capitalist economy is necessary.”

Black Lives Matter

Both liberals and leftists support BLM. They believe Blacks have been unfairly targeted and discriminated against and society needs to take steps to remedy systemic racism. But while liberals believe police departments should be more accountable and better trained, leftists believe police should be defunded and replaced with something other than policing. Leftists also subscribe to the BLM move to eliminate prisons and incarceration, while liberals believe sentencing should be more equitable but prisons are a necessary evil to keep dangerous people from harming others.


Both liberals and leftists believe systemic racism has stymied progress of Blacks and other people of color and white supremacism must be denounced. But while liberals don’t believe all whites are racists, leftists believe whites are inherently racist and therefore cannot be equal allies in the fight for social justice. Liberals want a color-blind society, whereas leftists believe race should matter greatly in order to remedy past discrimination.

Free Speech

Liberals believe a free and open exchange of ideas and the opportunity to speak openly are foundational to a free society, even if the ideas expressed conflict with the liberal viewpoint. Leftists believe speech should be suppressed or curtailed if it conflicts with the leftist belief system. The leftist viewpoint has led to those with opposing views being shouted down on college campuses, and to the current cancel culture which advocates ostracism of anyone who doesn’t adhere to a certain belief system in its entirety.

Liberals believe free speech includes the right to protest peacefully, and in some cases, exercise civil disobedience. Leftists believe rioting and looting and property destruction are in some cases justified in order to get the attention of those in power.

Common Ground and Unity

Liberals believe people can find common ground despite political and ideological differences. They are able to remain close to friends and family members who are Trump voters, as long as friends and family do not attack and denigrate their beliefs. Leftists believe they can no longer associate with anyone who expresses conversative opinions or supports Trump, even if this splinters families and ends friendships.

Leftists do not believe in compromise. This was evident when some called for for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s removal from the Senate Judiciary Committee after she shared friendly words and a hug with conversative Senator Lindsay Graham at the recent Supreme Court hearings.


Liberals and leftists believe in full rights and elimination of all discrimination based on sexual orientation, including the right to marry, adopt children, and participate fully in every aspect of society. But leftists and liberals differ on whether those who identify as transgender should participate fully in women’s sports. Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, a liberal, is one of the signers of a letter supporting Idaho’s law barring trans females from competing in women’s and girls’ interscholastic sports.

She came under a firestorm of criticism for comments construed as ant-trans after tweeting, “You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard.”

Although there are additional differences, I have focused on the major ones that threaten to become an unbridgeable divide. But for the sake our our country, I hope we can remember the words of John F. Kennedy:

“The unity of freedom has never relied on the uniformity of opinion.” John F. Kennedy

If uniformity of opinion becomes a litmus test for every candidate, every friendship, ever relationship and every ideal, then the diversity we revere and strive for will be lost to a monotonous conformity that leaves no room for dissension. I don’t believe this is what Jimmy Carter had in mind when he said, “We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”

Written by

Writer, editor, publisher, journalist, author, columnist, believer in enjoying my journey and helping other people enjoy theirs. bknicholson@att.net

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