A2 Politics Liberalism Notes

These are a set of notes on all the key concepts and content summary within the AQA A2 Unit 3B Ideologies specification on Liberalism. It includes up to date examples of modern liberalism and distinguishes the knowledge needed to do well in the exam. 

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Ideologies Revision
Key Concepts
1) Human Nature
o Classical liberals ­ human beings are hedonistic and pleasure seeking creatures that are
o Modern liberals ­ JS Mill places emphasis on the human flourishing, rather than the crude
satisfaction of personal interests. Individual human nature is not as narrowly self-interested.
o Currently Liberal Democrat Party ­ Nick Clegg's Spring Conference Speech 2013 suggests
that liberalism has now adapted and accepted the need of a welfare system in that "a fairer
society" is spoken of to enable "everyone in Britain to get on in life".
o Liberals believe that humans are capable of resolving differences through debate and
reasoned discussions by their rationalism i.e. promotion of a referendum to be held before
the end of 2017 on Britain's EU membership.
o Individuals should be judged according to their unique qualities as every person has
differing ideas, views and pleasures.
o Liberals are against any form of paternalism whereby the state helps the people as it leads
society to become self-reliant on the state. "Dependency culture" ­ contrast to socialisms
core values of equality and redistribution of wealth.
o Believe that some individuals may be self-seeking as this could lead to one individual
abusing another in the pursuit of his own rational interest.
o Belief that society as a whole can progress and learn from the errors of previous generations,
and that society is capable of personal development.
2) Individualism
o "Individualism refers to the belief of the supreme importance an individual holds over any
social group or collective body".
o Methodological individualism ­ Individual is central to any political theory or social
o Ethical individualism ­ Society should be constructed to benefit the individual, moral
priority to individual rights, needs or interests. This could be seen as an acceptance of the
welfare system, or a less aid-focused equivalent.
o Utilitarian tradition of liberalism held, as a fundamental belief, that each individual is the
best judge or his/her own interests.
o For Jeremy Bentham ­ being allowed to make decisions for ourselves and to act on them was
the essence of freedom. He argued the role of government should not prevent us from
following our own self-interest, unless in doing so we prevent others from pursuing theirs.
o The enlightened pursuit of self-interest became a central liberal idea and it co-existed well
with free-market capitalism.
o Modern liberals ­ developmental form of individualism that prioritizes human flourishing
over the quest for interest satisfaction.
3) Natural Rights
o Philosophers developed this concept in the 17th and 18th centuries. It asserts that all
individuals are born with rights that are granted by God or nature.
o The main natural rights specified are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
o The theory of natural rights implies that such rights may not be removed or reduced except
by the consent of the individual.
o Thomas Hobbes ­ is often viewed as the first major theorist of natural rights, but the liberals
who followed him such as John Locke and Thomas Paine are more closely associated with the
o Jean-Jacques Rousseau had already argued that humankind was being unjustifiably
controlled by social and political restraints ­ `man is born free, but is everywhere in chains'.

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The Enlightenment opened people's minds to new possibilities. It enabled political
movements to challenge the existing order including; absolute monarchy and to establish
forms of government that would free humankind rather than enslave it.
o It could be recognized that this basis of natural rights has led to the modern promotion
within liberalism of freedom and liberty.…read more

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In a free-market economy, it was understood that some companies might be so successful and
grow so large that they would be in a position to exploit both workers and consumers.
o It was a legitimate function of the state, therefore, to control such economic power.
o Those who wish to see the deregulation of economic activity in other areas have supported
`competition policy'.…read more

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o `A moral standard of fairness and impartiality; social justice is the notion of a fair or
justifiable distribution of wealth and rewards in society'
o Giving each personal what he or she is due, a moral punishment.
o Refers to the distribution of material rewards and benefits in society, such as wages, profits,
housing and medical care.
o Legal justice ­ consists of the equal application of the law to all citizens. This conforms to
liberal's attachment to equal rights.…read more

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Equality of opportunity ­ government intervention is accepted by modern liberals if it will
aid individuals to pursue their individual goals ­ for example the Pupil Premium
10) Libertarianism
o This term refers to an extreme form of liberalism.
o Emerged in the latter part of the 19th century, and has become more popular since the
o Though they are ideologically closer to liberals, most modern libertarians have seen
themselves as part of a conservative movement.…read more

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This is because the common law tradition embraces individual rights and protection from
excessive state power; British media is remarkable free, widespread artistic freedom,
freedom of speech and press.
o There is a strong claim to be made that Britain is not just a liberal democracy, but also a
liberal society.
o Neither conservatism nor socialism has ever overshadowed the fundamentally liberal spirit
of the country.…read more

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The meaning of liberalism ­ liberal ideas and values about the individual, capitalism and
Liberalism is a commitment to the individual and the desire to construct a society where people can
satisfy their own interests and achieve fulfillment. It is closely associated with ideas of freedom and
Human beings are first and foremost individuals endowed with reason that implies individuals
should enjoy the maximum possible freedom consistent with a like freedom for all.…read more

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Liberals original fear of the state was that it might seek to interfere with aspects of peoples lives
that were private. Mill believed that intervention in economic markets would inhibit innovation,
enterprise and dynamic progress.
Early utilitarian's had been concerned that government intervention should always consider the
interests of society as a whole, but classical liberals considered the interests of individuals.
For classical liberals if individuals could flourish free of state interference this would create social
progress.…read more

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Representative - Tolerant social
democracy law and order
- Support for a
Neo-Liberalism and its relationship to the New Right
Neo-liberalism ­ during the late 1970's and in the 1980's interest in classical liberal ideas enjoyed a
major revival.
It was not a feature of liberal parties but of the new style of conservatism known as the `New Right'.
Margaret Thatcher was happy to admit she was at heart a `classic' liberal.…read more

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The party was always committed to parliamentary democracy, but from the 1950's onwards it was
associated with pluralist politics and a determination to tolerate alternative doctrines.
Labour focuses also on minorities and presided liberal reforms such as changes to laws on
homosexuality, legislation of abortion, equal pay for women and the outlawing of racial
discrimination in the 1960's and 1970's.
The arrival of New Labour in the 1990's introduced even more liberal values.…read more


Old Sir

A useful and detailed set of notes covering the fundamental aspects of liberal philosophy, these will be helpful to students embarking upon preparation for A2 synoptic discussions. Students might follow this by referring to evidential case studies in order to gain marks in Assessment Objective 2.

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