The difference between socialism and classical liberalism is not the economic dimension. It is interventionism.
Classical liberalism is rejected as an economic doctrine on the grounds that it favors the rich and oppresses the weak. Except that classical liberalism is not an economic doctrine. The sources of thought for these do not necessarily relate to the economy, whether it be, for example, Étienne de la Boétie, Alexis de Tocqueville, or Benjamin Constant.
And one of the most famous figures of liberalism, because of his Nobel Prize, Friedrich August Hayek, is best known for his books The Road to Serfdom and Law, Legislation and Liberty whose main subject is not economy, not for Prices and Production, one of his main works in economics.
The object of classical liberalism is the principles of a free society. How to organize society so that everyone is free and autonomous. The economy is just a technique. The classical liberals approve of the free market because it works. But they do not condemn anything in the matter. People may well choose collectivism. This is no problem for the classical liberals.
On the other hand, anyone is free to criticize and to come out of collectivism. Collectivism should not be imposed. It must be chosen by whoever engages in it. Everyone must remain free and retain their free will.
It is socialism that focuses the debate on the economy. Socialism rests on three pillars. It’s an economic promise to have more. This promise is totally absent from liberalism. For socialism, this requires a transformation of society. Whether it is Fourierism or Marxism, socialism tends towards the new man. In socialist society, everyone will live in harmony, because everyone will think alike. For Marxism, it is classless society. It is through interventionism that society achieves this ideal world.
Note that this march towards the ideal society can only be done by force. This is the concept of revolution. Socialism justifies force because it considers that there is an ideal world.
The difference between socialism and liberalism is therefore not economic, it is interventionism. Socialism considers that the human being must be ‘led’. Liberalism considers that we must develop individual free will. That everyone should be able to live as they see fit, respecting others, and that is how society is built.
Liberalism therefore questions the rules that should guide society, their source. For example, it considers that a minority, even if it is the largest, should not impose its will on anyone. That even a majority must respect the others. Liberalism is based on the protection of everyone. On the other hand, socialism seeks to impose a behavior, a way of life.
These are two conceptions of the human being. On the one hand, a kind of child, who has to be told what to do. On the other hand, the idea that everyone is a being who has the right to decide his life. And who is responsible for himself.
The first consequence of liberalism is the principle of non-aggression: everyone must respect the freedom of others. From this rule follow the others, and thus society is regulated. For example, respect for the freedom of others implies the prohibition of seeking to obtain anything by force. It implies freedom of expression.
Note that the ideal world of socialism is not specified. Therefore, anyone can seek to impose HIS truth, through public power. Whatever its form, state, local authority, central bank, it acts according to the interests of the faction which has succeeded in asserting itself, and which uses this power to stay in power. These factions can be economic interests, associations, NGOs, etc.
This is what liberalism fights against. No one has the right to impose their will on others. Everyone must pursue their goals while respecting those of others, and respecting others.
We are a far way from such a world. In the name of democracy, it is accepted that public power controls everything – as legislative and regulatory inflation clearly shows. There are just a few questions sometimes. Are the parties representative, aren’t they too far removed from the people? Or when some wonder why the state wants to impose the absurd social doctrines of gender.
It is therefore absurd to accuse liberalism of being an economic doctrine of exploitation. Because the subject is not economics. The subject is the idea we have of the human being. Should he be led, formatted, for his own good, by a higher elite, whether dictatorial or elected?
Or is he a thinking, autonomous being, capable of making choices, taking decisions, and whose nature should be respected by society ? The subject, ultimately, is the nature of the human being.