Liberty and individual responsibility linked?
- New Liberals: individuals could not consider themselves to be completely free merely to pursue their own interests.
- T.H. Green and New Liberalism:
- Individuals have a social obligation and responsibility to consider the needs and welfare of others
- Industrialisation and capitalism saw a rise in iliteracy, poor health and bad housing
- New Liberals argued that the poorer sections of society were unable to benefit from the economic freedoms that the classical liberals were committed to- Lassiez faire
- Individuals could only prosper and progress if they had the opportunity to do so.
- Liberty depended on wealthy individuals contributing to such policies via taxation
- Liberty for all could only be achieved if the state served as a responsible vehicle for the enhancement of liberty.
- Individual responsibility of all to ensure equality of opportunity and a humane society
- Samuel Smiles and Classical Liberalism:
- Classical liberals held firms views regarding responsibility
- Individuals make what they want and what they can of their own lives
- Those with ability and a willigness to work will prosper, whilst the incompetent and lazy will not
- Samuel Smiles book (Self Help): 'Heaven will help those who help themselves'
- Responsibility of the individual to prosper, not the states
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Importance of Meritocracy
- Literal meaning: rule by those with merit; merit equals intelligence plus effort; a meritocracy therefore means a society in which social position is determined by ability and hard work
- Classical liberals:
- Percieve a meritocracy to be socially just: individuals not judged by their gender, the colour of their skin or religion, but they are judged according to their talents and willingness to succeed
- Social equality is unjust, as it treats unequal individuals equally
- Classical liberal endorsed meritocracy on both econonmic and moral grounds: A meritocracy is essential economically as their is a need for incentives; a meritocracy is important on moral grounds as justice requires that not all individuals are treated equally i.e. a murderer is not treated equally to a law abiding citizen
- Modern liberals:
- Modern liberals believe some measure of social equality is required, and a classical liberal meritocracy does not provide such equality
- John Rawls: economic inequality is only justifed if it still benefits the poorer sections in society
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How Liberals perceive Natural Rights
- Natural Rights: God-given rights that are fundamental to human beings and therefore inalienable (they cannot be taken away)
- Jefferson (17th century): rights are 'natural' in that they are invested in human beings by nature or God
- 'inalienable' because human beings are entitled to them by virtue of being human: cannot be taken away
- natural rights establish the essential conditions for leading a truely human existence
- American Declaration of Independence: Jefferson described inalienable rights as 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'
- John Locke (18th century): three such rights: 'life, liberty and property'
- Government is established to protect natural rights, however it is formed via a social contract: when the state protects natural rights, citizens should respect government and obey law
- Locke believed in limited government, as its only purpose was to protect natural rights
- The realm of government should not extend beyond its three minimal functions: to protect 'life, liberty and property'
- Richard Dworkins (more recently): Dworkin argues, considerations of rights claims must take priority over alternative considerations when formulating public policy and distributing public benefits.
- Example: a minority’s possession of rights against discriminatory treatment should trump any and all considerations of the possible benefits that the majority would derive from discriminating against the minority group.
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- Libertarianism refers to an ideological stance that gives strict priority to liberty/freedom
- Understood in terms of negative liberty, which means freedom from external constraints
- Libertarians seek to maximise individual freedom and minimise the the scope of public authority- view the state as a threat to liberty
- Libertarianism in rooted in the idea of:
- Individual Rights: Robert Nozick argued for the complete abolition of the state, no taxation, no welfare, and almost no laws on human behaviour. Believed property rights should be upheld providing it was purchased or justly transferred from one person to another. Advocates a minimal state
- Laissez-faire economics: Friedrich von Hayek believed the state should not interfere with social and economic affairs as the free market has the capability of solving social and economic problems. Libertarians regard economic intervention as totalitarian and contravening the liberty to fail or succeed in the free market
- Higher level analysis: difficult to place on the political spectrum
- Libertarian associated with liberalism and more specifically classical liberalism, due to its emphasis on free market economics
- Anarchism also champions values associated with libertarian, for example Anarchists regard the state as harmful, undesirable and unnecessary
- However, anarchism believes in a stateless society whereas libertarians see the need for a minimal state in order to defend the people, and sometimes refer to themselves as 'minarchists'
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Why is liberalism Pluralist? (Pluralism)
- belief in diversity of opinion and freedom of choice
- a society made up of many competing groups;
- society power should not concentrated in the hands of an elite or ruling class
- under pluralism the state functions as a neutral institution which does not operate in favour of single groups;
- it acts as a referee between competing groups and individuals.
- Alexis de Tocqueville regarded pluralism as an essential requirement for true democracy, and was characterised by a flourishing collection of groups
- Such political pluralism is widely regarded as the key feature of a liberal democracy in that it both allows electors to express independent views and gives them a mechanism through which they can remove unpopular governments.
- The diversity which exists in such pluralist systems is healthy and desirable in itself because it usually safeguards individual freedom and promotes debate, argument and understanding.
- Helps control the power of the state
- Contrast with elitism: elitism may be used to describe a situation in which power is concentrated in the hands of a limited number of people
- elitism believe a select group of people with higher intellect, wealth, specialised training or experience, or other distinctive attributes, are those whose influence or authority is greater than that of others
- Different to pluralists who believe in a society made up of competing groups opposed to one select ruling elite
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- Individualism refers to the belief of the supreme importance an individual holds over any social group or collective body
- Each human is seen by liberals as unique, with the capacity to work out what is best for themselves.
- This core value can be traced back to John Stuart Mill, who claimed ‘over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign’.
- Society is viewed as an aggregation of individuals rather than a cohesive community where the emphasis is on the group.
- Emphasised individualism as, for classical liberals, the basic purpose of politics is to provide organisational structures which allow individuals to develop and prosper
- Classical liberals believe in a limited state which strives to reconcile the rights of individuals with the will of the majority, protecting the individual in the spheres of both social and economic activity in a climate of tolerance and mutual respect.
- Enlightened pursuit of self-interest (egoistical individualism) became a central liberal idea as it co-existed well with free-market capitalism and classic liberals emphasis on an individuals right to succeed or fail in the free-market
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