Introduction notes to Liberalism and the Enlightenment

The origins of liberalism

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A2 Government & Politics Liberalism
Introduction of Liberalism
Origins in Enlightenment
Central value ­ individuals have personal freedom
Liberals accept liberty entails responsibility
Actions of an individual should not harm others or curtail the individual's own freedom
Support existence of state, must be formed by popular consent
Liberal state should be limited in its scope, only acting to advance freedom and opportunity
Attachments to equal rights for all groups, tolerance, diversity and equality of opportunity
Recently embraced idea of social justice, accepting people are unequal
Liberalism has been the dominant ideology in Western Society since 1900s
Liberal governments were not regularly formed but liberalism has become core identity of
modern democracies
Liberalism does not work well in less economically developed countries
Conservatives see liberalism as a threat to the preservation of order social responsibility
Socialists associated it with capitalism equality of opportunity
Doctrine: Strongly held single view or collection of connected views. It is less comprehensive
than an ideology in that it does not encompass a complete vision of a desired
society. Liberalism can be described as a doctrine in that it includes closely connected
beliefs that all liberals believe in strongly.
The Enlightenment
18th Century
Didn't create it, made liberalism possible
New philosophies challenged assumptions about nature of human nature
Significant new philosophies:
o Each person is born a free, rational individual
o Individual does not have to accept judgement of rulers or established church
o Each individual is best judge of own interests
o Individual is not subject to forces beyond his control, including will of God, but
instead possesses free will
o Society does not have preordained order that consigns each person to a fixed status
o We are born fundamentally equal
1689 ­ John Locke wrote Two Treatises of Government
Thomas Jefferson in 1776 helped write the American Declaration of Independence ­
liberalism entrenched in the American Constitution
Unit 3 ­ Introducing Political IdeologiesPage 1

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A2 Government & Politics Liberalism
The phrase `the pursuit of happiness' implies that individuals are the only judge of what is
best for them
Jean-Jacques Rousseau had already argued humankind was being unjustifiably controlled by
social and political restraints
o "Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains" ­ The Social Contract (1762)
o He implies that natural rights exist for all
Rationalism: New mode of thinking associated with Enlightenment. It proposes that there are
rational explanations for all phenomena.…read more


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