liberalism summary

Government and Politics

Liberalism notes

  • Fundamental aspects of liberalism:
  1. Rationalism — the belief that knowledge flows from reason rather than tradition or faith.
  2. Emerged during the enlightenment
  3. It strengthened the faith in both individual and freedom - humans are rational, thinking creatures - capable of pursuing their own interests
  4. Opposes paternalism (conservatism)
  5. ‘The power of reason’ — gives human beings capacity to change their own lives.
  6. Rational humans should be able to resolve disagreements through peaceful discussion and debate without resorting to violence.
  • Individualism — rights and interests of every individual is primary 
  • Freedom — rational individuals deserve economic, social and political freedom:
  • Freedom — the ability to think or act as one wishes
  • for early liberals - natural rights (life, liberty and property)
  • individuals to make their own choices
  • ‘over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual i sovereign’ - J.S.Mill
  • two freedoms - Negative and Positive
  • How do classical liberals view…?
  • Role of the state — minimal state interference — this is because state is regarded s ‘necessary evil’ — imposes collective will on society
  • The states role is to:
  1. Maintain domestic order
  2. Protect civil liberties (negative freedoms)
  3. Negative freedom is the absence of external restrictions or constraints on the individual, allowing freedom of choice.
  • Free market: the free market should have no state intervention (laissez faire)
  1. This is because it should be left for individuals to succeed/fail in the market on his/her own merits
  2. Adam Smith
  • Human Nature: — egotistical (self-interest) - Locke
  1. Humans should be self-reliant (to an extent)
  2. Although everyone should tolerate each other
  • Freedom: — an inalienable right (life, liberty and property)
  1. Seen as essential requirement for truly human existence
  2. Freedom is only limited to the harm principle
  3. Splits into; negative freedom (classical) and positive (modern)
  • Individual: — This is the most important concept of liberalism
  1. Individual is the primary importance
  2. Believes in egotistical individualism
  3. Atomistic society - all individuals are self-interested
  4. Methodological individualism - construct a mechanic society which is planned
  5. Does not like collectivism - Tyranny of the majority
  • Equality:
  1. Everyone of equal and moral worth
  2. Everyone has natural rights (life, liberty and property)
  3. Inequalities of wealth, social position and political power are inevitable
  4. William Sumner (1840-1910) ‘the drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be’
  5. Political inequality - J.S.Mill believed those with education and property rights should have more votes than those who don’t
  • Diversity and Toleration (accept diversity):
  1. Should be tolerant as we are equal
  2. Believes in the good of personal autonomy
  3. According to Locke, toleration should be extended to all matters
  4. Willingness to accept forms of behaviour/beliefs which one dislikes
  5. Voltaire (1694-1778) ‘I may detest what you say but i will defend to the death your right to say it’
  6. Associate with rationalism 
  • Key principles of classical liberalism:
  1. Natural rights
  2. Utilitarianism
  3. Economic Liberalism
  4. Social darwinism
  5. Neo-liberalism
  • Natural rights: — (God given rights to human beings)
  1. All humans have natural rights for merely being humans
  2. Right to ‘life, liberty and property’ -John Locke
  3. Social contract…


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