AMERICAN LIBERALISM, synonymous today with big government, the exact opposite of the liberalism of Edmund Burke and other British champions of individual liberty, arose essentially from the use of the state to alleviate the most severe economic inequalities in society. In Great Britain this began in the competition between the Liberal and Conservative leaders, William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, between 1865 and 1880, and among major European powers with the quest for an unthreatening working class with the founder and first chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck. Britain had a great battle over pensions under the chancellor of the exchequer just before the First World War, David Lloyd George.
The assassination in 1914 of the distinguished French socialist leader Jean Jaures, for advising against a headlong plunge into general war, was a grim harbinger of what was to come: ineffectual socialist pacifism that facilitated the advance of totalitarian regimes of hitherto undreamed of evil. Between the wars, in the aftermath of the hecatomb of World War I and through the Great Depression, there was a general drift to higher taxes, a more extensive social safety net, and the rise in Britain and France of democratic socialist parties to principal opposition status and a few turns at government (Ramsay MacDonald and Leon Blum).