Core Ideas and Principles

  • Emerged in reaction to monarchy and arbitrary aristocratic privilege
  • Reflected views of educated middle class who wanted more opportunities
  • Part of the enlightenment, an intellectual movement that rejected traditional, social, political and religious.
  • It stressed rationality, tolerance, and freedom from tyranny.
  • Thinkers wanted to abolish traditional restrictions on individual freedom imposed by the church and/or state
  • Believed everyone was born with different potential but should be subject to the same equal and innate rights
  • People should be free to make their own decisions and make the most of their talents and opportunities 
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  • Liberals stress the importance of the individual over social groups and collectives
  • Kant argued all individuals are unique and have equal worth; they should always be used as 'ends' and never merely; 'means'.
  • People should not be treated as instruments to achieve goals but possess their own intrinsic value otherwise known as 'categorical imperative' by Kant - an absolute moral requirement to perform an action for its own sake, rather than for any gain.
  • Individualism:
  • Egotistical Individualism - held by classical liberalists, people are self-seeking and self-reliant, minimizes the importance of society over the individual seeing it as just a collection of individuals. Thatcher believed this saying there is no such thing as society is just individuals and their families.
  • Developmental Individualism - held by modern liberalism, plays down the pursuit of self-interest and is used to justify some paternalism and state intervention
  • Tolerance - a natural and innate right present in everyone, originally in relation to religious beliefs now is extended to ethnicities and sexuality 
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Freedom or Liberty

  • One of the most important liberal values it originally was in opposition to authoritarian governments making decisions for people.
  • This developed to mean freedom exercised under the law rather than absolute freedom, therefore protecting people from interfering in each other's rights.
  • Locke - "The end of law is not to abolish or restrain but to preserve and enlarge freedom where there is no law there is no freedom"
  • A branch of liberalism, utilitarianism was invented by Bentham, he argued each individual can decide what is in his or her interests, each human action is therefore motivated by maximizing pleasure and limiting pain. His main argument was that governments should not limit a person in any action except where their actions will threaten others' ability to do the same for themselves.
  • A mechanist's view of human nature, it sees people as driven by rational self-interest. In wider terms, it means policies should, therefore, be created to maximize the greatest happiness for the greatest number. The only issue arises from the fact that tyranny of the majority is exacerbated and the interest of minorities may be disregarded and even oppressed if that is what is deemed as bringing the most 'happiness'
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Freedom or Liberty Cont.

  • Stuart Mill - originally studying under Bentham he found his ideas too simplistic and instead developed the idea of negative freedom; individuals should only be subject to external restraint when their actions affect others not just themselves.
  • This was seen as too limited as it simply viewed society as a collection of atmos Green instead argued people pursue both their own interests as well as the common good they are both social and individual creatures.
  • Positive freedom was therefore created, individuals should be able to pursue their own destiny and achieve self-fulfillment which may need some government intervention.
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The State: a 'Necessary Evil'

  • Liberals accept that the state is needed to avert disorder and prevent people from interfering with each others rights as well as protect vulnerable people.
  • However, because of the fundamental belief that humans are essentially self-seeking and therefore will abuse their positions to pursue their own interests at the expense of others the antithesis of the liberal ideology.
  • They are against centralized power believing that this will give people more mandate to benefit themselves over others.
  • Lord Acton summed this up in the quote 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'
  • They argue for limited government and for a constitution, with checks and balances that stop power from not only being centralized but also to stop corruption.
  • Liberal constitutions often include separation of powers usually; judicial, executive and legislature.
  • They also often support a bill of rights as well as a constitution to ensure not only to protect the institutions from corruption as well as people's innate rights from government tyranny.
  • Devolution to regional bodies is a common liberal refrain in the UK this led to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland parliaments being created an alternative to this is federalism
  • In terms of economics, liberals favor Lassez-Faire capitalism as expressed by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations 
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  • The heart of Enlightenment thinking is belief in human reason, it expresses that individuals should be free to exercise their judgment about their own interests without needing external control.
  • People will not always make correct decisions but it is better for them to take responsibility for themselves than take advice from above
  • This is encouraged by the scientific and technological advancements which helped liberate people from superstition and established arbitrary authority.
  • Faith in reason is linked to the idea of a progressive society which helps promote wider social advancement
  • While liberals are aware competition will lead to conflict between groups but they favor reasoned debate tor resolve these issues
  • Liberals were are the forefront of developing industrial arbitration methods.
  • This was in an effort to avoid clogging the court system up and still ensure justice
  • Liberals view war as a last resort and should be avoided at all costs and were instrumental in creating the League of Nations and eventually the UN and are the biggest proponents of diplomacy over conflict.
  • Many also support the EU as a regional government that involves some sacrifice of sovereignty for benefits such as access to a large trading area and protection of rights under the ECHR
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