A2 Government and Politics : Liberalism Part One

Revision summary for EDEXCEL A2 Government and Politics Liberalism Part One

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Provide the definition and three features of Ratio

  • How do Humans understand the world?
  • What governs humanity?
  • Where does our knowledge come from?

C. F. I

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Definition: the doctrine that knowledge is acquired by reason without resort to experience.

Rationalism implies that human beings possess the capacity to shape their own lives and their own worldIf human beings are reason driven creatures they clearly enjoy free will and self determination. Thus they believe that the world has a rational structure.

Rationalists underline the importance of individual freedom and autonomy over state authority. Individuals have the right to govern themselves and the ability. Liberals believe that humans aren't governed primarily through emotion and biological urges, but through deliberation.

Liberals believe that knowledge comes primarily from human intelligence or reason rather than experience, custom and tradition. Humans are capable of resolving their differences through debate and reasoned discussion rather than bloodshed and war.

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Give an example of Rationalism in practice.


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The enlightenment - The englightenment led Liberals to believe in progress, in their capacity to understand, interpret and ultimately change their world through scientific, philosophical and moral discoveries. Essentially this was a period where intellectuals turned away from religious dogmas and faith.

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Give four implications of Rationalism.


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1. Self reliant (shape their own lives) - Rationalists underline the importance of individual freedom and autonomy over state authority. Individuals have the ability to govern themselves and the ability to do what they like. Modern democracy: Morality/censorship - Humans are guided by intellect and by a process of argument, analysis and debate.

 2. Conflict resolution - Human beings are capable of resolving their differences through debate and reasoned discussion rather than bloodshed or war. International Relations - European Union and UN to prevent wars.

3. Belief in Progress in society - Rationalism leads to a belief in progressin the capacity of humans to understand, interpret and ultimately change through scientific, moral and philosophical discoveries. Tradition - House of Lords is based on ability rather than popularity. 

4. Belief in individual Progress - Strong belief in progress, as human beings are reason driven creatures they enjoy free will and self determination. Crime and Punishment - everyone given a fair trial and jury.                                  

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Rationalism - key theorist and example.


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JS Mill based his theories upon the idea that human beings are rational. This explains why Mill himself placed so much faith in the individual liberty guided by reason where individuals would be able to seek happiness and self realisation. He also argued women, like men were rational and entitled to political influence.

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Explain 5 Liberal views of Human Nature and Societ


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Rational - Individuals have the capacity to use reason to solve problems logically through a process of deliberation and act on these decisions.

Unique - Each human is defined by inner qualities, a personal identity, which is purely their own. Humans are not defined by membership of social groups.

Self reliant - They are capable of looking after themselves without relying on other people or the state.

Self seeking - They are mainly driven by their own rational self interest.

Capable of personal development (Progress) - Individuals are able to improve themselves, learning from their mistakes and progressing through education.

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Give 5 implications of Liberal views of Human Natu


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Rational - Humans are capable of resolving differences through debate and reasoned discussion.

Unique - Individuals should be judged according to their unique qualities as every person has different ideas, views and pleasures.

Self Reliant - Liberals are against any form of paternalism whereby the state helps to look after people.

Self seeking - This could lead to one individual abusing another in the pursuit of his own rational self interest.

Capable of personal development (Progress) - Society as a whole can progress and learn from the errors of previous generations.

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Give three Natural Rights theorists and the names


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John Locke (Two Treatises of Government 1689) - 'No-one ought to harm another in his life, liberty and property'. Society should be constructed so as to afford protection to individual interests and needs. The laws of nature gave man the right to preserve his property, task of government to help him to do so.

Thomas Paine (The Rights of Man 1791) - 'The end of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptable Rights of Man, liberty, prosperity, security and resistance from oppression.'

Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independance 1776) - We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights - the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Give the definition of Individualism and three dif


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Individualism - The belief in the supreme importance of the individual over any social group or collective body. The Liberal view of human nature has a great influence on how they view the nature of society, the concept of the individual suggests rather more.

Methodological Individualism - The perspective of the individual is central in any method to solve a social, economic or political problem. All Liberal theory is built on the belief that humans are naturally rational acting according to personal choice rather than a collective.

Ethical Individualism - Society should be constructed so as to benefit the individual. This gives moral/ethical priority to individual rights, needs or interests, what is good for the individual, not what is good for society or a social group.

Universalism - Human beings share certain fundamental characteristics and rights. Individuals are not defined by their cultural, social or racial background but by the universal unique identity of the individual.

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Give the Classical Liberal view of Individualism/

  • Classical Liberalism...
  • Classical Liberalism political theorist...
  • Implications of Classical view...


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Classical Liberalism (Egotistical Individualism) - Human beings are hedonistic and pleasure seeking creatures. Utilitarianism believed that individuals are motivated purely by self interest and that these interests can be defined as the desire for pleasure, or happiness and the wish to avoid pain. Pleasure or happiness are good and pain or unhappiness self evidently bad.

Jeremey Bentham (Utility Maximiser Utilitarianism) - Just as each individual can calculate what is morally good by the quantity of pleasure an action will produce, so the principle of 'the greatest happiness to the greatest number' is established, these utility maximisers provide Classical Liberalism with a moral philosophy that explains how and why individuals act as they do.

Implications: Free Market (Adam Smith) Possessive Individualism CB McPherson - Adam Smith: In economic terms utility is best described as the pleasure and satisfaction that is gained from the consumption of material goods and services. People should be free to pursue their own rational self interest. Mcpherson: Possessive individualism is defined as a conception of the individual owing nothing to society, placing their own interests before those of their human beings.

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Give the Modern Liberal view of Individualism/ Hum

  • Modern Liberalism...
  • Political Theorist...
  • Implications of Modern Liberal view...


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Developmental individualism - The modern Liberal view of 'developmental individualism'. Modern Liberals such as TH Green and LT Hobhouse accepted the Classical Liberal belief in the importance of the individual but argued that we are not merely driven to pursue our own interest. Individual human nature not as narrowly self interested, but as socially responsible, capable of altruism for fellow human beings. Capacity of each individual to achieve potential.

JS Mill - Mill was critical of Classical utilitarianism and thought the notion of humans as pure utility maximisers both shallow and unconvincing. For JS Mill there were higher and lower pleasures instead of actions that could only be distinguished by the quantity of pleasure or pain they created. He placed emphasis on human flourishing, rather than crude satisfaction of interests.

Implications: Social Welfare Liberalism (Beveridge Report) - Liberal theory of individualism was changed by modern Liberals from a doctrine of individual greed to a philosophy of individual self development. Developmental individualism used to construct arguments in favour of social welfare, promote equality of opportunity, eg: Universal state education + welfare to develop potential.

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Give 3 features that summarise a Liberal view of S


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Atomistic- To the extent that society exists it is purely fashioned out of voluntary contracts or agreements made by rational self interested and largely self reliant human beings. Society is nothing more than a collection of individual units or atoms. The closest example is Classical Liberalism which is committed to the goal of greatest possible individual freedom.

Mechanistic (Human Creation) - Liberals adopt a mechanistic viewpoint; viewing society not as natural but as a human creation constructed by individuals to serve their interests or purposes. In extreme form can lead to the belief of Thatcher: 'There is no such thing as society'

Maintained by self interest- In the extreme form there is the belief held again by Margaret Thatcher. In other words all social and political behaviour can be understood in terms of the choices made by self interested individuals without reference to collective entities such as society.

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Give the two other features summarising Liberal vi


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Meritocratic - Meritocracy is a system of government or another organisation which judges individuals on having certain merits which could range from intelligence to morality to general aptitude to specific knowledge.

Belief in Pluralism/Diversity - In a Liberal view of society there is a general balance of interests that tends to promote harmony and equilibrium. This was expressed in the 18th century by the economist Adam Smith's idea of the 'invisible hand' operating in the marketplace, supported by Thomas Jefferson's motto: 'government is best which governs least'.

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Give six reasons why Liberals support freedom.


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Rational - Individuals have the intellectual capacity to work out the best course of action, to the extent that humans are rational; free to pursue their interests.

Unique - No-one else can know what is good for an individual. The individual is the best judge of their own actions. Anti-paternalism; the state should not interfere with the freedom of the individual.

Self Reliant - Gives individuals the opportunity to pursue their own interests by exercising choice.

Self seeking - Liberty is the only condition in which people are able to develop their skills and talents and achieve their potential.

Capable of personal development (Progress) - Liberty is the only condition which people are able to develop their skills and talents and achieve their potential.

Utilitarianism - Enables people to maximise pleasure/ minimise pain.

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Summarise the views of 5 theorists regarding freed

L, P, J, B, M

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John Locke: Humans have a natural right to maximise utility.

Jeremy Bentham: The result of freedom will be 'the greatest happiness to the greatest number'.

JS Mill: Freedom allows for individuality and is the basis of moral self development. If freedom doesnt exist we lose the power to look after ourselves.

Thomas Paine: 'Imprescriptable rights of man, liberty, prosperity, security and resistance from oppression'.

Thomas Jefferson: 'The right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness'.

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Give three limits that Liberals would place on fre

L. R. H

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Freedom under the law - Liberals believe in freedom under the law and argue that each individual must respect the fact that every other individual enjoys an equal right to freedom. John Rawls (A theory of Justice) - Everyone is entitled to the widest possibility of liberty consistent with a like liberty for all.

Freedom linked to rationality - The freedom of people who are deemed to be irrational (children and the mentally ill) should be restricted from harming themselves physically or morally. JS Mill (On Liberty) - Minimal restrictions are needed to protect the freedom of others.

Actions that would harm others - Self regarding actions: Private matters should be a matter for each individual. Other regarding actions: Public matters should be a matter for state action. JS Mill's Harm Principle - Mill did not believe that individuals should be restricted from pursuing an act which would only harm themselves, physically or morally.

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Give a definition for negative liberty and a polit

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Negative freedom is the absence of external restrictions on an individuals behaviour, you are free unless someone is actively preventing you from doing something. For example if I am prevented by others from doing what I could otherwise do I am to that degree unfree.

Theorist 1. Friedrich Hayek - Someone is free if there is no control of the environment or circumstances of a person.

Theorist 2. Isiah Berlin (Two Concepts of Liberty) - Liberty in this sense is simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed by others. If I am prevented by others from doing what I could otherwise do, I am to that degree unfree.

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Give 4 implications of Negative Liberty

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Minimal State - Definate limits need to be placed upon both law and the state. The state should be restricted to the protection of one persons liberty from the encroachment of others.

Free Market - 'Laissez faire' economics; the economy works best when largely left alone by the state. State intervention will damage the natural balance of the free market.

Strict Public Private seperation - (Family and personal relationships) A realm in which people can be themselves left alone to do, say or think anything they please. Intrusion here is an intrusion of liberty.

Anti-welfare - Inability, disease, old age are nothing to do with Liberty or the business of the state.

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Give a definition for Positive Liberty, explain wh

  • Positive Liberty... when are you considered free?
  • Reason for change...
  • Political theorist
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Positive Liberty- Is the capacity to achieve ones goals and the ability to be ones own master. You are free when you live under the right conditions to pursue your own rational self interest. As freedom is dependant on living under the right conditions it often means an increased role for the state to create them.

Reason for change - Modern Liberals have not abandoned negative freedom - they just think on its own it is inadequate. They still believe that in the vast majority of cases there should be negative liberty (people should be free from outside interference)  e.g morality. However, in key places people need to be provided with the conditions under which to act as a free individual. Most clearly seen in the 19th century when unrestrained capitalism caused widespread poverty.

TH Green - Green rejected the early Liberal conception of human beings as self seeking utility maximisers and suggested people are capable of altruism. That is they have sympathy for one another and possess social responsibilities. In the place of negative freedom Green favoured positive freedom, whereas negative liberty accepts only legal and physical constraints, positive liberty recognises social disadvantage and inequality.

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Give the four main implications of Positive Libert

E. E. P. W

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Enabling State - The state plays a role in intervening in lives of individuals  providing them with minimal conditions to 'enable' them to act as free and rational individuals.

Economic Management - The free market left alone can lead to massive inequality and a restriction on freedom. The state should manage the economy to prevent this.

Greater role for the public sphere - State intervention in the lives of individuals is justifiable to provide the circumstances under which individuals can be free.

Social Welfarism - Poverty, disesae etc are barriers preventing individuals acting as free individuals. The Welfare State should contribute to the lives of the homeless, ill etc enabling them to be free individuals.

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Explain the dispute between Classical and Modern L

(Mention political theorist critic)

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On what ground do Modern Liberals justify state intervention?

State intervention for Modern Liberals is only justified to provide the minimal conditions under which an individual can then look after themselves.

How do Classical Liberals criticise this? (Isaiah Berlin)

Isaiah Berlin disagreed because of the abuses made in the name of this type of freedom by Stalin in the USSR. Berlin feared governments would turn to tyranny, setting a particular goal for society and deciding what they should do as citizens whilst ignoring their actual desires.

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Provide a basic definition for: Power, Authority,

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Power - A measure of an entities ability to control their environment, perceived as legitimate by the social structure and accepted as endemic to humans as social beings.

Authority - An elected legitimate power.

Sovereignty - Absolute, unrestrained power

The State - Power should reside with the individual, limited state intervention.

Government - The organisation through which a political unit exercises its authority.

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Why do Liberals fear Power, authority and the stat

S, S, L

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Clash (Individual Sovereignty and State Sovereignty) - Authority goes against the Liberal belief in individual freedom. The state claims sovereign power BUT for Liberals individual is sovereign.

Self seeking nature of individuals - Liberals fear unrestrained power as it threatens the freedom of the individual. If an individual (or a group of individuals) becomes too powerful, this could restrict the freedom of others.

Lord Acton - 'Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men'.

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Give two reasons why Liberals think Authority/The

E, P

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Clashing freedom due to the unique, self interested nature of humanity - Liberals, unlike anarchists do not believe that a balanced and tolerant society will develop naturally. It may be rational for free self interested individuals to exploit other individuals.

Needed to Protect Life, Liberty and Property - Liberals fear that free individuals may wish to exploit others, steal their property or even to turn them into slaves if it is in their interests. Thus the liberty of one person is always in danger, only a sovereign state could guarantee freedom.

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Explain the three main features of John Locke's so

N. I. B. C

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State of Nature - Many people are unwilling to respect the rights of others in a state of nature; pre-political society before the setting up of a state characterised by unrestrained individual freedom.

Actions of Rational Individuals - An individual can become subjected to the political will of another by obligating to submit to the determination of the majority and to be controlled by it.

Nature and basis of social contract - The government agrees to govern by national law and respect individual rights, while people agree to accept the authority of government and obey its laws.

Limit of Social Contract - Should the government not govern by national law, or should it abuse natural rights of life, liberty and property the people should have the right to cancel the contract and dissolve the government.

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Give the three Liberal solutions to the problem of

B. L. C. L

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Authority must rise from below and be based on consent - The state is created by individuals and for individuals. Individuals accept certain limits to their freedom in order to guarantee order. Government arises out of the individuals consent to be governed. The authority of the state comes from below from the general population.

Limited role of the state - Political authority must be legitimate and acceptable in the eyes of those who are subject to it. Since government arises from the consent of the population support for the state can be withdrawn.

Liberal Constitutionalism (diffuse, decentralise power/ creates checks and balances) - A codified constitution limits the power of government by binding them to an agreed set of laws and practices, thus establishing internal and external checks on government power. This is controversial as it can prevent flexibility but protect fundamental rights.

John Locke (Two Treatises on Government) - In a state of nature rational individuals would enter into an agreement or social contract to establish a sovereign govnernment.

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Fatima Feroz








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