To what extent do liberals disagree over freedom?
All liberals believe that citizens should enjoy the maximum possible liberty consistent with a like liberty for all. No liberal, therefore, supports the principle of absolute freedom.
The principal disagreement within liberalism over freedom is over its nature. Classical liberals believe in negative freedom, viewed as the absence of external restrictions on the individual, allowing freedom of choice. Modern liberals, by contrast, believe in positive freedom. They understand this to mean self-mastery or self-realisation: the achievement of autonomy and the development of human capacities.
However, modern liberalism builds on a framework of negative freedom, believing that positive freedom is only justified in circumstances where citizens do not enjoy the capacity to make wise moral decisions in their own interests, usually because of social disadvantage. The desire to ‘help individuals to help themselves’ therefore embraces both negative and positive conceptions of freedom
On what grounds have modern liberals defended the principles of social welfare?
Modern liberals are sometimes referred to as social liberals, reflecting their support for welfare and redistribution. This is based on two main arguments:
Modern liberals support welfare on the grounds of ‘positive’ freedom, freedom as empowerment and opportunity. In that sense, welfare safeguards people from the social evils that may blight their lives. It therefore promotes personal grow and development, and allows people to realise their potential.
A second modern liberal argument in favour of welfare is based on the idea of equality of opportunity. For liberals, justice requires a level playing field. If people have an equal start in life, where they end up is a reflection of the individual merit, a combination of their ability and willingness to work. Whether they succeed or fail, people thus get what they deserve.
How is liberalism linked to rationalism, and what are the implications of this link?
Rationalism is that belief that the world has a rational structure, which can be disclosed through the application of reason and analysis. Liberalism is linked to rationalism in the sense that liberal ideology stemmed from the Enlightenment and so reflects an underlying belief in reason and progress.
The implications of the link between liberalism and rationalism include the following:
Most importantly, it strengthens the liberal belief in freedom, as it implies that rational individuals are the best judges of their own best interests.
It inclines liberals to believe that conflict and disagreement can be resolved through the application of argument and debate, rather than the use of force.
It explains why liberals have a faith in reform, grounded in the assumption that human history is characterised by a gradual expansion of human understanding, which can be used to make the world a better place.
On what grounds have liberals defended constitutionalism?
Constitutionalism refers to the principle of limited government brought about by the existence,…