Definition of illiberal in English:



  • 1Opposed to liberal principles; restricting freedom of thought or behaviour.

    ‘illiberal and anti-democratic policies’
    • ‘Both the existing legislation on racism, and that adumbrated by the prime minister on the ‘preachers of hate’, have an illiberal potential - that is, they do restrict freedom of expression.’
    • ‘Even the most liberal society is illiberal when it is a question of survival.’
    • ‘If we must choose between a society that is in fact liberal and an illiberal society that scrupulously avoids formal racial criteria, we can hardly appeal to the ideals of liberal pluralism to prefer the latter.’
    • ‘They exploit the values of an open liberal society to reach illiberal ends.’
    • ‘Instead the recent reaction to these decisions has done little to challenge the illiberal, anti-democratic drift of our time.’
    • ‘But just how far should and may the liberal state go to curb illiberal behavior?’
    • ‘Since our island is in the Auckland City area we get to choose the mayor from among an assortment of National Party have-beens - a liberal one and an illiberal one - and an entrepreneur bent on not upsetting the chicken coop.’
    • ‘And yet Scotland has changed in attitudes in the last 20 years, and is as liberal / illiberal as England.’
    • ‘And one of the key signs that much of today's left is actually, demonstrably illiberal, intolerant and reactionary, is the way in which this is now a common feature of leftist discourse.’
    • ‘Is this state of affairs an acceptable result of a pluralistic liberal system, or is there something fundamentally illiberal about American politics today?’
    • ‘It's time they had the courage to join the Liberal Democrats in opposing this expensive and illiberal measure.’
    • ‘Increasingly, the US has used a combination of punitive and rewarding strategies to spread liberal ideas in previously illiberal parts of the world.’
    • ‘In the increasingly illiberal world of orthodox liberalism, competing ideas are answered not by argument but by a pose of moral superiority and by-the-book invective.’
    • ‘Liberal Democrats have rejected illiberal measures to tackle crime as ineffective and a threat to civil liberties.’
    • ‘However, I think they obscure, rather than remove or defuse, the potential conflicts between liberal principles and illiberal groups.’
    • ‘Trying to bar all acknowledgments of religion by government officials in the name of preventing offense to listeners seems to me more illiberal than liberal.’
    • ‘Far more than wanting smokers to stub their fags out, I want the illiberal liberals now running health policy to butt out of people's personal habits.’
    • ‘But does this say anything about the relations likely to develop between liberal and illiberal states?’
    • ‘Hence, it seems that the appeal to ‘tolerance’ does not resolve the conflict between liberal values and illiberal minorities.’
    • ‘Ours is an age of illiberal liberalism and intolerant tolerance, where we are apparently free to live as we choose - so long as we don't want the right to make ‘wrong’ choices.’
    intolerant, narrow-minded, unenlightened, puritanical, fundamentalist
    reactionary, conservative, hidebound
    undemocratic, anti-democratic, authoritarian, strict, repressive, totalitarian, despotic, tyrannical, draconian, oppressive, fascist
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  • 2archaic Uncultured or unrefined.

    • ‘We are not so much worried about being convicted of being illiberal as having the charge even raised in the first place.’
    • ‘They tend to be illiberal, boorish, uncultured, arrogant snobs.’
  • 3archaic Not generous; mean.

    • ‘He is avaricious and ambitious, I fear ungenerous and illiberal; is destitute of heroic daring.’
    thrifty, economical, frugal, canny, careful, prudent, cautious, abstemious, saving, energy-efficient, energy-saving, fuel-efficient, fuel-saving, scrimping, parsimonious
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Mid 16th century (in the sense ‘vulgar, ill-bred’): from French illibéral, from Latin illiberalis mean, sordid, from in- not + liberalis (see liberal).