Liberalism - key concepts

key concepts of Liberalism, with quotes from theorists


Human nature is rational

fundamental aspects of Liberalism - both classical and modern

  • rationalism is the belief that knowledge flows from reason rather than tradition or faith
  • emerged during the enlightenment
  • it strengthened the faith in both the individual and freedom:
  • humans are rational, thinking creatures, and so capable of pursuing their own interests
  • opposes paternalism
  • the power of reason - gives humans being capacity to change their own lives
  • rational humans should be able to resolve disagreements through peaceful discussion and debate without resorting to violence
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fundamental aspects of Liberalism - both classical and modern

  • some Liberals believe that society is simply a collection of individuals (atomism)
  • individuals are thought to possess personal and distinctive qualities
  • Immanuel Kant expresses a similar belief in equal worth of humans and that individuals were ends in themselves
  • the rights and interests of every individual is primary
  • society is mechanistic
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fundamental aspects of Liberalism - both classical and modern

  • rational individuals deserve economic, social, and political freedom
  • freedom - the ability to think or act as one wishes
  • individuals to make their own choices
  • as Mill said, "over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign"
  • two different types of freedom, negative and positive
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Classical Liberals

  • role of the state
  • minimal state interference, this is because the state is regarded as a necessary evil, as it imposes collective will on society
  • the states proper role is to:
  • maintain domestic order
  • protection of civil liberties (negative freedom)
  • negative freedom is the absense of external restrictions or constraints on the individual, allowing freedom of choice, freedom from
  • the market
  • Free market
  • the free market should have no state intervention (laissez faire)
  • this is because it should let individuals succeed/fail in the marker on their own merits
  • Adam Smith
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Classical Liberals

  • human nature
  • humans are egoistical, and self-interested
  • humans should be self-reliant
  • everyone should tolerate each other
  • freedom
  • freedom is an inalienable right (life, liberty, and property)
  • seen as an essential requirement for truly human existence
  • freedom is only limited to the harm principle
  • splits into negative freedom (classical) and positive freedom (modern)
  • equality
  • everyone of equal and moral worth
  • everyone has natural rights
  • inequalities of wealth, social position, and political power inevitable
  • Sumner said, "the drunk in the gutter is just where he ought to be"
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Classical Liberals

  • diversity and toleration
  • should be tolerant as we are all equal
  • believes in the good of personal autonomy
  • according to Locke, toleration should be extended to all matters
  • willingness to accept forms of behaviour/beliefs which one dislikes
  • as Voltaire said, "I may detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"
  • associated with rationalism
  • key principles
  • natural rights (God-given rights which are entitled to all humans)
  • utilitarianism (greatest happiness of the greatest number)
  • economic liberalism
  • social darwinism
  • neo-liberalism
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key classical liberal thinkers

  • John Locke
  • founder of Liberalism
  • promote civil interests - life, liberty, health
  • tolerant of different religions
  • highly critical of monarch having "divine rights"
  • people give consent to government - social contract theory
  • Voltaire
  • freedom of expression - "I may detest what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it"
  • Jeremy Bentham
  • did not believe natural rights are inalienable, "nonsense on stilts"
  • believe they had to be written in a legal contract
  • John Stuart Mill
  • opposed to state intervention
  • stressed importance of individuality
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Modern Liberal criticisms of Classical Liberals

  • Modern Liberal criticisms of Classical Liberals
  • does laissez faire capitalism promote general prosperity? creates poverty - working vlass is poor - free market would lead to survival of the fittest, needs a mixed economy because unregulated free market leads to poverty, inequality, and injustice
  • does egoism produce social justice? outcomes - poverty, illiteracy, the "haves" and the "have nots"
  • liberal ideas of the state therefore evolved
  • welfare: helps the people to help themselves - state should act as a vehicle to enhance liberty, this is to create positive freedom (freedom to) through state intervention, provide social contracts which individuals are able to prosper, e.g education, health
  • believes in positive freedom, negative freedom promotes survival of the fittest undermining equal opportunity, equality of opportunity = freedom
  • more optimistic view of human nature, TH Green believed everyone has a social obligation to help each other
  • toleration of racial, sexual, religious cultures, believes in social justice
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Key Modern Liberal thinkers

  • TH Green
  • highlighted the limitations of laissez faire
  • argued humans are social creatures, welfare of social justice
  • his idea of positive freedom had a major influence on modern liberalism
  • John Rawls
  • developed theory justice as fairness based on the belief that behind the veil of ignorance most people accept liberty of each shouls be compatible with a like liberty for all
  • social inequality justified if it benefits the poorest of society
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Why do Liberals disagree with democracy?

  • democracy can cause tyranny of the majority
  • they believe it is collectivist
  • power corrupts because self-interested individuals will inevitably use it to further their own interests and to oppress and exploit others in the process, and the power they have, the more they will abuse you - "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" Lord Acton
  • Whole range of doctrines restrain popular rule and prevent govern,ent from reflecting the direct will of the majority
  • democracy - political participation - educational advantage - enhance democracy - achieve higher level of development
  • consent is necessary for such legitimacy
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