Edexcel A2 Liberalism notes

Just some notes I put together recently for my mock exam, hopefully they're helpful to someone! 

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  • Created by: Monique
  • Created on: 09-12-13 22:24
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Origins and development:
Liberalism was originally viewed as a radical/revolutionary ideology.
Liberal ideas were evident in-
o The American Revolution (1776)
o The French Revolution (1789)
Liberalism challenged existing order and political systems such as
Feudalism, absolute monarchy and the `divine right of kings'.
Liberalism was born out of the enlightenment period. The enlightenment
period took place around the 18th century and although it didn't create
liberalism, it made it possible. New philosophies were being adopted
allowing assumptions about the nature of humankinds and society to be
challenged. Some significant values of the enlightenment include:
o Each person is born a free, rational individual.
o An individual does not have to accept the judgement of rulers or the
established churches to determine what is in his or her best
interests. Rather, each individual is the best judge of their own
o Individuals are not subject to forces beyond his or her own control,
including the will of God, but instead possess free will.
o Society doesn't have a preordained order that consigns each
person to a fixed status. Rather, every individual is free to find his or
her own place in society.
o We are born fundamentally equal. Although we may have different
powers and potential, we do inherit equal rights.
o Human reason has the potential to combat ignorance, superstition
and tyranny to build a better world.
Key liberal beliefs:
Individualism- The belief in the supreme importance of the individual over
any social group or collective body.
o To a liberal society is `atomistic' (a collection of individual parts).
o Individuals are self-interested and largely self-sufficient.
o The rational thing to do is to be self-interested and protect your
own interests and needs.
o Therefore, people should be free to pursue these interests.

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Individuals are unique with specific attributes and abilities.
o Individuals are of equal moral worth.
o Individuals are equally deserving of certain legal and political rights
such as the right to vote (universal suffrage).…read more

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However the state MUST exist.
o The state protects us from each other.
We are sometimes tempted to exploit others using our
rational self-interest.
The rational act may be against another individual.
o The liberty of one person is always in danger of becoming a
licence to abuse the liberty of another; each person can be
said to be both a threat to, and under threat from, every
other member of society.…read more

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Separation of powers leads to checks and balances on government which
liberals support.
The principle that legislative, executive and judicial power should be
separated through the construction of three independent branches of
An example of the separation of powers is the US system: congress,
Supreme Court and presidency.
What is liberal democracy? :
A liberal democracy is a political system in which a `liberal' commitment to
limited government is blended with a `democratic' belief in popular rule.…read more

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Views the state as a `necessary evil' or `night-watchman'. The role of the
state is to protect order in society and protect people from each other.
However, this can lead to limited freedom and responsibility for the
Core principles:
o Humans are rational and self-interested.
o Assert the primacy of the individual over groups, society and the
o Free market `laissez faire' economy.
o Upholding natural rights.…read more

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Interference through a paternalistic state would effectively reward
idleness and incompetence as well as preventing individual
o `The drunk in the gutter is just where he ought to be' ­William Sumner
Neo Liberalism and economic theory
o Influenced by the economic ideas of Adam Smith.
The `invisible hand', market forces
o The economy works best when left alone. `Laissez faire' or `leave to
do' economy.
o Aimed to halt the move towards `big government' and high levels of
state intervention.…read more

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Their opportunity to better themselves was hindered by poverty,
poor health and education, squalid living and working conditions
o Minimal state had actually minimised freedom.
o Liberals began to move away from negative to positive freedom-
the capacity of people to make real choices regarding education,
employment, leisure and so on.
Key thinkers
o T.H. Green
Need for positive action to assist the poor.
o J.M Keynes
Belief in economic management.
o A.…read more

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May be necessary to create a budget deficit for the greater
economic good.…read more


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