A2 Government & Politics Unit:3b, Topic:1 (Liberalism)

Condensed notes on Liberalism 


Liberalism Part 1

  • Product of the breakdown of feudalism (system of agrarian-based producton characterised by fixed hierarchies) 
  • Reflected the aspirations of the rising middle classes (embourgeoisement) 
  • Liberal ideas were formely considered radical 
  • Was put in the place of absolutism (form of gov't in which political power is concentrated,an asbolute monarchy) 
  • Nineteenth century was the liberal century 
  • Liberals advocated an industrialised and market economic order free from gov't 
  • Undoubtdely been the most powerful ideological force shaping western political tradition 
  • Liberalism now has become increasingly conservative due to this - as it is already in place, so merely wants to conserve 
  • Desire to minimise gov't - limited gov't (classical liberalism)
  • Modern liberalism - welfare provision and economic managment 
  • Seen as an incoherent ideology in some ways as it embraces some contradictory beliefs 
  • Influenced by the Englightenment belief in universal reason 
  • Liberalism has fashionably been seen as morally neutral 
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Liberalism Core Values

  • Individualism 
  • Freedom 
  • Reason 
  • Justice 
  • Toleration 
  • Rational and scientific explanations gradually displaced traditional religious theories 
  • Individualism - supreme importance of the individual over any social group or collective body
  • Can be associated with atomism (belief that society is made up of a collection of self-interested and largely self-sufficient individuals not social groups) 
  • Liberty and freedom are interchangeable - and also supreme political value 
  • Radical libertarians defend the view of addictive drugs being legalised - as only damaging yourself, whereas smoking has been denied - as it harms others too 
  • Liberals give priority to freedom 
  • Categorised as positive (ML) and negative (CL) freedoms 
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  • Rational and scientific explanations have gradually displaced traditional religious theories 
  • Immanuel Kant - Dignity and equal worth of human beings - his conception of individuals as "ends in themselves" and not merely means for the achievement of the ends of others 
  • Equated with atomism - belief that society is made up of collection of self-interested and largely self-suffiecient inds.) 
  • C. B. Macpherson - "possessive individualism" - proprietor of own person or capacities "owing nothing to society for them" 
  • Optimistic view of human nature 
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  • Liberty and freedom are interchangeable 
  • Freedom is the supreme political value 
  • J. S. Mill - freedom so long as it does not cause "harm to others" Positive freedom 
  • E.g. addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine are okay as they only do harm to the individual, but smoking is not as it damages those around through second hand smoke 
  • J. Rawls - Everyone is entitled to the widest possible liberrty 
  • Isaiah Berlin - distinguised between negative and positive freedoms. 
  • Negative - no restrictions - no constraints 
  • Positive - self-mastery, achievement of autonomy - development of the human personality 
  • T.H. Green - Negative freedom is to do as I like, positive is to do what I like 
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  • "Age of reason" under the Enlightenment 
  • Key thinkers include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham 
  • Human beings are rational, thinking creatures 
  • Strong bias against paternalism 
  • View human history in terms of progress not defeat 
  • Seldom subscribed to the utopian creed of human perfectibility 
  • Believes in self-interest and egoism 
  • Believe that force can be justified on the grounds of self-defence or as a means of countering opperssion, but always and only after reason and argument have been exhausted 
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  • Denotes a particular kind of moral judgement 
  • Belief in equality 
  • Strong commitment to oundational equality
  • Equality before the law as an element of judicial neutrality - "one person, one vote; one vote, one value" and udnerpins the liberal commitment to democracy 
  • Belief in equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. E.g. LibDems increasing amount of bursaries on offer while in the coalition 
  • Leads to a belief in meritocracy 
  • People should be judged by their talents not race or anything else, Martin Luther King - "the content of their character" 
  • John Rawls - economic inequality is justifiable if it works ot the benefit of those poorest in society 
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  • Acceptance of pluralism 
  • Toleration been attributed to Voltaire - "I detest what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it" 
  • Leads to a goal of personal autonomy 
  • Toleration should lead to a balanced society 
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The liberal state

  • Liberals do not believe that a balanced tolerant society will simply develop naturally - fear that humans will want to exploit others. Our liberty rests upon them being refrained from encroaching on our freedom 
  • This is where liberals highly differ from anarchists - who believe that law and gov't are unnecessary 
  • John Locke - "where there is no law there is no freedom" 
  • Hobbes - "Social contract theory" - agreement by individuals to form a state in order to escape from the chaos of the "state of nature" 
  • The state acts as an umpire or a neutral referee in society 
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  • All gov'ts are potential tyrannies against the individual 
  • Egoism plus power equals corruption 
  • Principle of limited gov't 
  • First written constitution - USA Constitution written in 1787 
  • The Bill of Rights was also a liberal step - establishing entrenched liberties for American citizens 
  • Montesquieu "Power should be a check to power" 
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Liberal Democracy

  • Liberal democracy is the dominant pollitical force in the developed world 
  • Its 'liberal' features are reflected in a network of internal and external checks on gov't that are designed to guarantee civil liberty and ensure a healthy civil society (seen esp. in the USA) 
  • 'democratic' features are seen in a system of regualr and competitve elections
  • 19C liberals often saw democracy as threatnening or dangerous
    • Echoed the ideas of Plato and Aristotle
  • 'Democratic solution' to conflict is a recourse to numbers and the application of maj. rule - the will of the maj. should outweigh the min. 
  • Alexis de Tocqueville - "Tyranny of the majority" 
  • James Madison - Consitutitional Convention 1787 checks and balances are the best defence against majoritarianism and protecting minorities 
  • J.S. Mill stated that the make-up of society means that political wisdom is unequally distributed due to educaton - still applies today 
  • SO elected pols should speak for themselves rather than reflect the views of their electors 
  • 20C - Libs see democracy as a virtue - earliest justification was consent of democracy 
  • John Locke then extended this that voting rights should be extended 
  • American Revoltuion - "No taxation without representation" 
  • 20C - need for consensus in society was the reason for democracy 
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Classical Liberalism

  • High point during 19C - can be referred to as "nineteenth-century liberalism" 
  • Cradle of clas lib was the UK 
  • Deeply rooted in Anglo-Saxon countries - UK and USA 
  • Modernly referred to as neoclassical liberalism or neoliberalism 
  • Beliefs: 
    • Egoistical liberalism - humans are rationally, self-interested creatures 
    • Negative freedom 
    • State is a 'necessary evil' - Paine, "nightwatchman" - Locke 
    • Civil society needs a self-regulating market economy 
  • Core values: 
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Natural Rights

  • Theorists: Locke and Jefferson 
  • Jefferson: 'inalienable rights' that cannot be taken away = "life, liberty and property" 
  • Locke - argued against arbitrary or unlimited gov't - if gov't violates the rights of its citizens, they in return have the right of rebellion
  • Main functions of the state: 
    • Maintaining public order and protecting property 
    • Providing defence against external attack 
    • Ensuring that contracts are enforced 
  • Jefferson - "That gov't is best which governs least" 
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  • "Greatest happiness for the greatest number" - Bentham 
  • Notably Bentham and Mill in this area
  • Measure the 'rightness' of an action 
  • Human beings are rationally self-interested creatures - they can decide what choice to make to benefit themselves the most 
  • No one else can judge the quality or degree of their happiness - LIMITATION 
  • also - someone is going to be unhappy by this, only appeasing the majority, minorities are left out LIMITATION 
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Economic liberalism

  • Based on Smith and Ricardo 
  • Wide-ranging gov't restrictions upon economic activity 
  • Smith - economy operates as a market 
  • Economic theory therefore drew on utilitarianism in constructing the idea of 'economic man' - that humans are egoistical and bent on material acquisition 
  • Smith - "invisible hand" of the market 
  • Free-market beliefs - laissez-faire economics 
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Social Darwinism

  • Samuel Smiles - "Self-Help" - used the phrase "Heaven helps those who help themselves" 
  • Cobden - "Look not to Parliament, look only to yourselves" 
  • Spencer - highlighted survival of the fittest
  • Sumner - "the drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be" 
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  • 'Thatcherism' and 'Reaganism' - neoliberalism formed part of a larger, new right ideological project - seeking lairssez-faire economics with a cons. social policy 
  • Amounts to a form of market fundamentalism (absolute faith in the market) 
  • von Hayek and Friedman attacked the economic role of the gov't 
  • Smith - "invisible hand" 
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Modern liberalism

  • '20C liberalism' 
  • Classical libs argued mod libs have broke with principles such as individualism 
  • Libs say they have not betrayed - they have built on ideas 
  • Modern lib ideas; 
    • Individuality 
    • Positive freedom 
    • Social liberalism 
    • Economic management 

J.S. Mill - described as the "heart of liberalism" - bridge between clas lib and mod lib 

Mill - "the individual is sovereign" 

T.H. Green - positive freedom - egoism is restrained by a degree of altruism - 'socialist lib' 

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Social Liberalism

  • Growth of state intervention 
  • Social welfare increasing 
  • Modern states become welfare states 
  • Promoted by mod libs 
  • Defended on the basis of equality of opportunity 
  • Welfare rights are positive rights 
  • Rawls developed a defence of redistribution and welfare based on the idea of 'equality as fairness' 
  • If people were unaware of their social position and circumstances they would view an egalitarian society as 'fairer' than an inegalitarian one 
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Economic management

  • Abandonment of laissez-faire 
  • Great Depression 1930s , Wall Street Crash 1929 - high levels of unemployment 
  • Large extent the interventionist policies that followed were guided by the work of UK economist John Maynard Keynes 
  • Gov't spending is an 'injection' of demand to the economy, and taxation is a withdrawal from the economy 
  • Unemployment could therefore be solved, not by capitalism, but by gov't intervention 
  • Gov't 'overspending' will do well for the economy 
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  • Commercial liberalism - Ricardo - free trade is important 
  • Republican liberalism - Woodrow Wilson - autocratic or authoritarian states are inherently aggressive, democratic states are naturally peaceful 
  • Humanitarian intervention - e.g. Iraq 2003 - debateable 
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Key Figures / Examples

  • J. Locke - Constitutionalism, limited gov't 17C/18C 
  • A. Smith - 'Invisible hand' of the market, economic importance - 18C 
  • I. Kant - Treat others as ends not merely means 18C/19C 
  • T. Jefferson - Natural aristocracy, limited gov't and laissez faire economics 19C 
  • J. Bentham - Utilitarianism 19C 
  • J. Madison - Checks and balances - 19C 
  • J.S. Mill - "Heart of liberalism" - 19C 
  • T. H. Green - Positive freedom 19C 
  • J. Rawls - Justice = fairness 20C 
  • 1994 - lost the right to remain silent when arrested and it not to mean guilt - anti-freedom 
  • 2015 - attempts to put no income tax on anyone earning under £10,000 p.a. economic freedom
  • Freedom - attempts to reduce voting age to 16 - Clegg 
  • Pluralism AV referendum 2011 
  • Civil Liberties protected - Same Sex Marriage Act 2013 and Human Rights Act 1998 
  • Checks and balances e.g. Judicial Review 
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Classical liberalism..................................................Modern liberalism 

economic liberalism....................................................social liberalism 

egoistical individualism................................................developmental individualism 

maximise utility..........................................................personal growth 

negative freedom.........................................................positive freedom 

minimal state..............................................................enabling state

free-market economy..................................................managed economy 

rights-based justice....................................................justice as fairness

strict meritocracy.......................................................concern for the poor 

individual responsibility...............................................social responsibility

safety-net welfare.......................................................cradle-to-grave welfare 

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