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Origins and development

  • a breakdown in feudalism in Europe resulted in the formation of liberalism
  • they advocated constitutional and representative government
  • liberal ideas of economy being free from government interference triumphed as industrialisation spread
  • has undoubtedly been the most powerful ideological force in shaping western political tradition
  • the early liberals wanted government interference to be as little as possible and seeked to maximise individual action by establishing a minimal state and a reliance on market economics
  • modern liberals believed that government should be responsible for delivering welfare services such as health, housing and education as well as trying to regulate the economy
  • liberalism can be seen to be dominating political and social development in the West with Fukuyama saying 'Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government'
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Core values

  • the individual: as feudalism was displaced the individual was faced with a broader range of social possibilities and came the creation of a society where each person was capable of developing their full potential
  • freedom:believe in individual liberty being able to act and think as one wishes but not asbolute freedom with a right to abuse others. Mill accpeted minimal restrictions on freedom in order to prevent harm on others. All must respect that all should enjoy an equal right to freedom
  • reason: liberlaims remains part of the enlightnement project having a strong bias aganst paternalism. Reason gives humns the ability to make thier own destiny and so promotes personal development
  • justice:moral judgement and distribution of reward and punishment. commitment to foundational equality as we are all born equal and formal equality where we should enjoy the same status in society disapproving of social privileges or advantages. Equality of opportunity but not outcome
  • toleration: willingness to accpet and celebrate moral, cultural and political diversity with the acceptance of pluralism. Voltair 'I detest what you say but will defent to the death your right to say it'. Mill desired toleration as it kept society changing and avoided dull conformism of democracy
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Types of Liberalism

Early Liberalism

  • natural rights theroy supported by Locke and Jefferson. Citizens have certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the persuit of happiness. These need to be protected by the state and formed an important social contract
  • government cannot interfere with people's rights and if this continued the people caan dissolve the government
  • people must give their permission before the government can exercise power which is the beginning of liberal democracies

Classical Liberalism

  • based on the idea of freedom promoted by Mill as it would maximise human progress which he saw happening through minimal state and the individual should have sovereignty over mind and body
  • led to political tolerance and the idea of respecting everybodys freedom however Mill did say that speech/freedom should be limited as to not cause harm on others
  • belief in free markets to prevent monopolies
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Types of Liberalism cont.

New Liberalism

  • developed inthe 1870's the idea fought to be different from the dominant idea that the selfish persuit of the individual were of paramount importance
  • TH Green called for a social conscience as there needs to be an understanding of our impacts on society
  • capitalism and industrialisation had caused many social problems that needed tacklng and large parts of society could benefit from classical liberal economic ideas
  • New liberals such as Lloyd-George and Asquith pushed for change through emphasis on pension and national insurance
  • it was a movement away from a small state to one where they had a positive influence on people's lived with an attempt to ensure greater equality


  • as part of the coalition government of 1940 Beveridge was given the job of creating a welfare state which extended the equality of opportunity and positive freedom through the state maximising potential
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Positive and Negative freedom

  • Isaiah Berlin distinguished between negative and positive freedom, portrayed as ‘being free to do something’ and being ‘free from doing something’.
  • Classical liberalists tend to endorse negative freedom and modern liberalist support positive freedom. Both modern and classical liberalists prioritise freedom and wish that individuals enjoy maximum liberty similar to everyone else.
  • The long term goal of both groups is to promote individual autonomy and do not believe in unlimited freedom as it may abuse other peoples liberties.
  • Liberalist thinking that there should be an enabling state rather than a nanny state; not controlling everything but give management to ensure individuals become autonomous.
  • Under negative freedom there should be an absence of external constraints on the individual and people should be able to act in the way they want; freedom of speech for example.
  • Negative freedom leaves the individual ‘at liberty’ to act as they wish whatever the consequences.
  • Hobbes defined freedom as ‘the silence of the laws’ showing the key concept of negative freedom. Freedom is therefore expanded by rolling back the state, encouraging individuals to take greater responsibility for their own lives and circumstances.
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Positive and Negative freedom cont.

  • Negative freedom promotes a survival of the fittest system which undermines equality of opportunity and social justice.
  • The flaws of negative freedom led modern liberalists to redefine freedom in order to remain true to the core liberalist’s principles and values.
  • Positive freedom is concerned with the opportunities available for people to realise their true potential.
  • This belief states that people should have the ability to grow, have personal development and self mastery.
  • They believe that freedom ultimately means being free from the social evils that can harm human existence.
  • Positive freedom argues that social disadvantage, along with law and physical restraint, is the enemy of freedom.
  • Positive freedom holds different views on the link between the individual and the state.
  • Critics of positive freedoms have claimed that it leads to a nanny state allowing our interests to be defined for us and so robbing the responsibility we have over our own lives.
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