From Niebuhr's article "Liberalism: Illusions and Realities" (Published July 4, 1955):
It is obviously necessary to make the most careful distinctions between the conservatism and liberalism which are merely moods or ideologies according to which one defends a status quo or seeks to leave it behind, and the conservatism and liberalism which are cogent political philosophies. We can dismiss the sort of conservatism and liberalism which are dispositions toward some status quo very simply by giving a priori preference for liberalism over conservatism on the grounds that it is not reasonable to defend any status quo uncritically; and that it is certainly not reasonable to do so in the rapidly changing conditions of a technical society in which "new conditions teach new duties and time makes ancient truth uncouth." If being for or against change were the only issue involved, any critical person would be bound to be "liberal."
If we study the various meanings of "liberalism" and "conservatism" in Western and particularly American social history, it soon becomes apparent that "liberalism" in the broadest sense is rightly identified with the rise of a modern technical society availing itself of democratic political forms and of capitalistic economic institutions. This "liberal society" came to birth in Britain, France and America in opposition to the feudal aristocratic culture of the European past. "Liberalism" in the broadest sense is therefore synonymous with "democracy." Its strategy is to free the individual from the traditional restraints of a society, to endow the "governed" with the power of the franchise, to establish the principle of the "consent of the governed" as the basis of political society; to challenge all hereditary privileges and traditional restraints upon human initiative, particularly in the economic sphere and to create the mobility and flexibility which are the virtues and achievements of every "liberal society" as distinguished from feudal ones.
But liberalism has more distinct connotations; and upon them hang all the issues of contemporary political controversy. One of these connotations arises out of the history of technical societies; the other arises out of the peculiar philosophy of the French Enlightenment and the French Revolution. In the first instance, the narrower connotation of liberalism is identified with the peculiar and unique ethos of middle-class life. But since the middle classes soon found the laboring classes to the Left of them, liberalism soon ceased to be the exclusive philosophy of democracy. Even without the rise of labor as a political power, modern democracies, as they developed from commercialism to industrialism, found that the freeing of economic initiative from political restraint was only one side of the problem of justice. The other side was placing restraints upon initiative in the interest of security and justice.
Thus in every modern industrial nation the word "liberalism" achieved two contradictory definitions. It was on the one hand the philosophy which insisted that economic life was to be free of any restraint. In this form it was identical with the only conservatism which nations, such as our own, who had no feudal past, could understand. It was the philosophy of the more successful middle classes who possessed enough personal skill, property or power to be able to prefer liberty to security. On the other hand the word was also used to describe the political strategy of those classes which preferred security to absolute liberty and which sought to bring economic enterprise under political control for the sake of establishing minimal standards of security and welfare. It has been rather confusing that both of these strategies go by the name of "liberalism."