A2 Political Ideologies - Liberalism

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  • Created on: 15-06-14 18:01
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While liberalism undoubtedly favours openness, debate and self-determination, it is
also characterized by a powerful moral thrust. The moral and ideological stance of
liberalism is embodied in a commitment to a distinctive set of values and beliefs. The
most important of these are the following: individualism, freedom, reason,
justice and tolerance.
Very little idea of individuals having own interests in feudal period, confined to
social groups such as the family, village and/or social class.
Feudalism displaced by market-orientated societies, more choice and
Think for themselves and of themselves.
Rational and scientific explanations of individuals emerged (the
Enlightenment) ­ individuals possess personal and distinctive qualities, each
of special value. Kant expressed this through individuals being `ends in
themselves' and not merely as means for the achievement of ends of others.
Primacy of the individual is characteristic theme of liberal ideology,
interpreted in different ways. Some view as atomism, `society' does not exist
but is merely a collection of self-sufficient individuals.
C.B. Macpherson (1973), early liberalism as `possessive individualism',
individual regarded as `the proprietor of his own person or capacities, owing
nothing to society for them.'
Later liberals hold optimistic view of human nature, egoism tempered by a
sense of social responsibility.
Whether egoism is unrestrained is qualified by a sense of social responsibility,
liberals united in a desire to create a society in which each person is capable
of developing to the fullness of his/her potential.
Natural link between individualism and freedom. Supreme political value for
liberals, the unifying principle within liberal ideology.
Early liberals viewed this as a natural right. Individuals given opportunity to
pursue own interest by exercising choice.
Later liberals see liberty as the only condition in which people are able to
develop their skills and talents and fulfill their potential.
However, no absolute entitlement to freedom. If liberty is unlimited, it can
become `license', the right to abuse others. `The only purpose for which
power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community
against his will is to prevent harm to others.' ­ JS Mill
`Self-regarding liberty' only has an impact on ourselves, `other regarding'
restricts the freedom of others or does them damage.
Individual may be sovereign over his/her body and mind, but each must
respect that each other individual enjoys an equal right to liberty, upheld by
modern liberal John Rawls.

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Liberal belief in freedom is closely related to the belief in reason.
Reason largely influenced liberalism arising during the Enlightenment, key
figures of which were Rousseau, Kant, Smith and Bentham.
Central theme of the Enlightenment was the desire to release humankind
from bondage to superstition and ignorance and unleash `age of reason'.
Strengthened faith in both the individual and freedom, human beings are
rational creatures, capable of reason and logical enquiry.…read more

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It is right to reward merit and hard work (meritocracy) and this naturally leads
to inequalities.
These inequalities are only because everyone competes on a level playing
field. Nobody is denied equality of opportunity, therefore liberals believe in
meritocracy in that social position is determined by ability and hard work.
Uneven distribution of wealth and resources should be solely a consequence
of uneven distribution of talent.…read more

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The state
Law and government are necessary because liberals fear that free individuals
may exploit others for their own interest and advantage.
Thus, the liberty of one person is always in danger of become a license to
abuse another, each person is both at threat and under threat from every
other member of society.
Our liberty requires individuals are restrained from encroaching on others
freedom and in turn their liberty requires that they are safeguarded from us.…read more

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Rules that seek to allocate duties, power and functions amongst various institutions of
government. It therefore constitutes the rules that govern the government itself. It
defines the extent of government power and limits its exercise.
All liberal political systems exhibit internal fragmentation, achieved by applying the
doctrine of separation of power proposed by Montesquieu.
Separation of power: legislative, executive and judicial powers of government
should be exercised by three independent institutions, preventing individuals or
small groups from gaining excessive and dictatorial power.…read more

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The problem is rooted in the competing implications of individualism that
both embodies a fear of collective power and leads to a belief in political
19th century: Liberals saw democracy as threatening or dangerous.
Plato and Aristotle viewed democracy as a system rule of the masses at the
expense of wisdom and property.
The central liberal concern has been that democracy can become the enemy
of individual liberty.…read more

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Economic liberalism Social liberalism
Egoistical individualism Developmental individualism
Maximize utility Personal growth
Negative freedom Positive freedom
Minimal state Enabling state
Free-market economy Managed economy
Rights-based justice Justice as fairness
Strict meritocracy Concern for the poor
Individual responsibility Social responsibility
Safety-net welfare Cradle-to-grave welfare
The state is necessary to establish order and security, but contained within that
necessity is potential for evil as it implies a collective will upon the individual and
limits freedom.…read more

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Locke saw the contract between state and citizen as a specific and limited
one: to protect a set of defined nature rights. As a result, he believed in
limited government, with the legitimate role of government limited to the
protection of `life, liberty and property'.
Therefore the realm of govt. should not extend beyond its three `minimal'
functions of maintaining public order and protecting property, providing
defence against external attack and ensuring that contracts are enforced.…read more

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Those with a willingness/ability to work will prosper whereas
those who are lazy will not.
Herbert Spencer drew on Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection
and applied this to the social sphere. Society and the distribution of social
rewards are a just reflection of each individual's efforts. Thus wealth creation
and its distribution are unequal.
There should be no attempt by govt. to interfere with these laws of nature
simply because some are in poverty.…read more

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Liberals found it increasingly difficult to maintain that capitalism had brought with it
general prosperity and rising living standards for all. Unrestrained pursuit of wealth
had not produced a just society and the minimal state seemed incapable of rectifying
the injustices and inequalities of civil society. As a result of this, modern liberalism
reflects an increasing willingness to accept a more interventionist role for the state.
J.S. Mill provided the bridge between classical and modern liberalism.…read more


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