Liberalism Key themes

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  • Liberalism Main ideas
    • individualism
      • liberals stress the importance of the individual over any collective body (as Thatcher says 'there is no such thing as society'
      • humans are of equal worth and unique - they should not be used as instruments to achieve a goal
      • classical liberals stress  the idea of egotistical individualism (people are self seeking and self-reliant
      • modern liberals downplay self interest by stressing developmental individualism ( individual freedom is linked to the creation of society)
        • They used this as justification for limited state intervention  in society to help the disadvantaged
      • liberals link individualism to tolerence (which they believe is a natural right)
    • freedom and liberty
      • liberals believe the individual has a right and ability to make decisions in their own interests. however this is not absolute and has to be exercised under law.
      • early liberals argue that the human need for individual freedom overrode the claims of the authoritarian government to make decisions for the people  and regulate their lives
      • both main strands of liberalism that freedom is not absolute and must be executed under the laws of the state
      • individuals are able to make decisions based on rational self-interest and human actions are driven by a desire to pursue pleasure and avoid pain
      • Mill (an early liberal) advocated for negative freedom ( individuals should only be subject to restraint {i.e the state} when their actions will negatively affect others.
      • Modern Liberals thought Mill's views too limited as it reduced society to a collection of independent individuals. Green argues that society was organic and people pursue the common good and their own interests.  This led to the idea of positive freedom- individuals should control their own destiny, develop personal talents and reach self fulfilment- Limited state intervention is needed to achieve this
      • property ownership is a fundamental freedom
    • the state
      • the state is needed because it prevents social disorder and the exploitation of the disadvantaged and vulnerable
      • however state power must be limited as human nature is fundamentally self seeking and people may used position of power to benefit themselves as the expense of others
      • the state must be limited only to preserving rights and protecting from invasion. Devolution and federalism can be used to prevent concentrationof state power
    • rationalism
      • humans are (or should be) guided by reason rather than emotion, instinct or prejudice . Rationalism was central to the Enlightenment which rejected absolute acceptance of traditional authority and religion.
      • humans need to be free to make decision without being directed by the state or the church
      • individuals benefit taking responsibility for themselves rather than relying on external guidance
      • rationalism creates a progressive society because personal development creates wider social advancement
      • reasoned discussion and debate should be used to resolve disputes and conflicts
    • economy
      • believe in  a market-based capitalist economy
      • classical liberals support laissez faire economics as it promotes negative liberty and minimal state
      • forms of domestic economic protection such as duties and tariffs should be scraped to promote global free trade
      • modern liberals advocate for Keynesian economics
      • the capitalist economy has to be preserved but the free market is not self-regulating as it is prone to slumps which brings mass employment and loss of individual freedom
      • modern liberals believe that state directed capitalism is required to guide the economy and regulate demand to achieve economic growth and full employment
      • during an economic slump governments should introduce public spending programmes to create jobs and stimulate the economy
    • equality
      • liberals believe that humans share the same essential nature and therefore are equal. Liberals are divided on what equality means in practise with modern liberals assoiating it with justice and a better distribution of wealth
      • equality of opportunity - everyone should have the same chance to succeed or fail in society. humans have different abilities and potential which they should be free to fulfil.
      • formal equality- people should have the same legal and political rights
      • social inequality- liberals believe some inequality is inevitable as people with different talents require different rewards. Society benefits because individuals have an incentive to strive and fulfil their potential creating a meritocracy where social position is achieved by effort and ability


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