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A quick pictorial summary of liberalism

Key Concepts






Where there is no law, there is no freedom. John Locke 1632-1704

The end of law is not to challenging the absolute powers of instead favoured socialism or
the monarchs and the divine right nationalism. Western political
abolish and restrain, but to of kings. They also championed systems have been so profoundly
preserve and enlarge freedom of conscience and influenced by liberalism that they
freedom (Locke 1632-1704) challenged the authority of the are often referred to as liberal
church democracies.
1. Origins & Development
The 19th century saw the triumph of
Liberalism emerged as a political
creed in the early part of the 19th
liberal ideas as industrialisation Topic Summary
spread and market economies 1. ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT
Century, though it was based on a
flourished. In economic terms
series of ideas from as much as
liberals emphasised the importance 2. CENTRAL THEMES
300 years earlier.Liberal ideas
of the market, free from
arose out of the enlightenment in
government interference , and the 3. LIBERALISM AND DEMOCRACY
the wake of the collapse of
promotion of free trade between
feudalism and the transition to an
industrialised market economy.
Liberal ideas were popular 5. MODERN LIBERALISM
As capitalism was exported around
amongst the newly emerging
the globe some nations in Africa,
middle class. They were 6. LIBERALISM IN THE 21st CENTURY
Asia and Latin America resisted the
aspirational, and sought radical
individualism of liberalism and
and even revolutionary change,


Monarchs justified their position as absolute rulers by invoking God. The fact that they were
King meant they had been ordained in that position by God and therefore their authority and
power was absolute and beyond challenge. The rising merchant classes however DID
challenge this power and this sometimes lead to enormous upheaval as was the case during
the English Civil War (1642-1649) and the French Revolution 1789.In both examples the
Kings were executed as the middle classes demanded greater political rights and freedoms.
Concept Corner
A brief look at some
important liberal

A principle of political conduct
whereby government institutions and
political processes are effectively
constrained by constitutional rules.
Constitutionalism also refers to a
broad set of principles or ideals
embedded within a framework of
rights and internal and external
constraints and checks on power

Since the state is a necessary evil it is
Constitutionalism - government which is rules based in accordance with the law vital that the state does not itself
or the constitution of the land develop agency and become a threat
Over time liberalism has become to liberty for this reason government
less radical and increasingly itself must have internal checks upon
conservative, arguing in the main its own powers. This is best achieved
for the maintenance of existing, through a separation of powers
between the three branches of
mainly liberal values.
government, namely: The Legislature,
the executive, and the Judiciary
There is a tension at the heart of
the creed between classical 3. EXTERNAL CONSTRAINTS
liberalism which believes in the A simple separation of powers, even
if formally laid down (as for example
fundamental importance of the
in the US Constitution with its tripartite
minimal state and modern system of checks and balances may
liberalism in which the state adopts be insufficient. If the system becomes
a more expansive role. corrupt then a simple separation of
internal powers will be insufficient.
Power should be a check That is why external constraints are
Liberalism, in common with all
unto power ideologies, encompasses within it a
also necessary. These can come in the
form of an entrenched bill of rights,
range of diverse, and even devolution, federalism or a codified
Charles de Montesquie(1689-1755) contradictory, traditions. There is constitution.
nonetheless a fundamental
There is an emphasis on commitment to the importance of
constitutionalism, civil liberties, individual freedom.
checks and balances, toleration
and the protection of fundamental
civil liberties. In addition freedom
of expression, the right to property LORD ACTON
and freedom of conscience are all 2. Key concepts
deeply ingrained in western
political systems. a) The Primacy of the
Individual "Power tends to
It is also argued that there is a
necessary and inevitable link
As feudalism and the bonds of corrupt, and absolute
loyalty to family, community and
between liberalism and capitalism. other groupings broke down power corrupts
Hayek for example argues that the
right to property is an essential
individuals were confronted with a absolutely (1887)
broader range of choices. For the
guarantor of political liberty. first time individuals were
encouraged to think of themselves
as just that individuals.
Key Thinkers
1. JOHN LOCKE (1632-1704)

Where there is no law there is no


Life, Liberty & Property

2. THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679)

The end of serfdom gave This does not nonetheless

individuals more choice in their undermine the chief goal for
employment and indeed where they liberals which is to create a
lived. society in which each person is
capable of developing and
Traditional or religious theories of flourishing to the fullness of their
life and mans place in the world potential. One of the hallmarks of
were replaced with more scientific liberalism is therefore an
and rational ways of thinking. attachment to equality of
Individuals were seen to be of opportunity.
On the natural condition of man special, even unique, value.
where there is no state: (there is
only) continual fear, and danger of
violent death; and the life of man, This trend towards the growth of b)Liberty & Freedom
solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and individualism was reflected in the
short. growth of natural rights theories in This attachment to the primacy of
the 17th & 18th Centuries. Locke
3. CHARLES DE MONTESQUIEU the individual somewhat naturally
initially saw these rights as life,
(1689-1755) leads to a commitment to individual
liberty and property. Thus society freedom or liberty
should be organised to afford
protection to individual interests In early, or as it has come to be
and needs. known, classical, liberalism liberty
was a natural and virtually
Kant additionally espoused the inalieble (though not completely
need for the dignity and the equal inalieble) right.
worth of human beings.
All liberals are persuaded by the
This belief in the primacy of the
belief that liberty is an essential
individual has sometimes lead,
precondition for developing skills
within liberalism, to a tendency
and talents and fulfilling potential.
towards atomisation or possessive
Power ought to serve as a check to individualism (C.B. Macpherson).
There is however no absolute
The individual is selfish, egotistic,
entitlement to liberty. No person
self serving and self reliant.
Government should be set up so that must exercise their liberty to such
no man need be afraid of another. Later liberals however have
an extent that it harms or infringes
stressed the capacity that human
the liberty of others. Thus there are
There is no greater tyranny than that beings have for social
which is perpetrated under the shield necessary constraints on individual
of the law. freedom so that liberty does not
Liberty John Stuart Mill John Rawls Isiah Berlin

From the 17th century until

the 19th century, liberals
conceptualized liberty as the
absence of interference from
1 1 1
government and from other Self regarding exercises of In the exercise of liberty Berlin (1958) distinguishes
individuals, claiming that all liberty are those that only there is a duty to consider between positive and
people should have t he have an impact upon that there is equality of negative liberties. Negative
freedom to develop their own ourselves. We must liberty. No exercise of liberty liberties refer to those
unique abilities and determine whether our should be such that it denies freedoms that exist because
capacities wit hout being freedom of choice in any another their freedom of there is an absence of
sabotaged by others. given circumstance is truly choice, action or belief. constraint. A man is free to do
Mill's On Liberty (1859), one self regarding that which no law prevents, in
of the classic texts in liberal accordance with the principle
philosophy, proclaimed that laid down by AV Dicey that
"the only freedom which no person is punishable
deserves the name, is that of except in breach of the law
pursuing our own good in our
own way".

2 2
Some exercises of liberty
may be other regarding, that Positive liberty is the
expression of rights that have
is to say they have an effect
gradually accumulated over
on the freedom of others.
time. So for example at one
Such freedom of action is not time there was no right to
permitted. vote but over time the state
has gradually extended the

become the licence by which to abuse (1958) differentiated between positive and
others. negative liberty.

Mill was a libertarian who distinguished Classical liberals have essentially focused
between self regarding exercises of on negative liberty whilst modern liberals
liber ty and those whic h are other have moved their focus towards positive
regarding. conceptions of liberty. This distinction is
important because it gives rise to different
Thus a person may do as he wishes in the conceptions about the role of the state.
field of self regarding exercises of liberty,
providing he has considered whether there Negative liberty implies an absence of
is any potential loss of the full expression of constraint, an expression of which may be
the liberty of others and he has correctly found in A.V. Diceys rule of Law whereby The sole end for which
mankind are warranted,
concluded that there is none. no-one is punishable except in breach of
individually or collectively,
the law whereas positive liberty implies an
in interfering with the liberty
Even in radical libertarianism however enactment of rights thus involving an of action of any of their
there has to be a recognition of the duty expanded role for the state in the number, is self-protection.
that befalls on all who exercise their liberty. legislative sphere. That the only purpose for
which power can be
This duty is to recognise and act upon the AV Dicey espoused the notion that persons rightfully exercised over any
fact that each individual enjoys an equal were free to do as they wished so long as member of a civilized
right to liberty. This principle is upheld by no law prevented them from doing so. This community, against his will,
the modern liberal John Rawls. is the essence of negative liberty. Positive is to prevent harm to others.
His own good, eit her
liberty are rights granted by the State such
physical or moral, is not a
Although the value of liberty is hardly as previously did not exist, for example the
sufficient warrant.
contested in different strands of liberalism, extension of the franchise in 1918 to
its meaning is sometimes debated. Berlin women.
The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the opposed superstition, intolerance and
The age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason) was a some abuses of power by the church
cultural movement of intellectuals in the and the state.
enlightenment 17th and 18th centuries, which began
first in Europe and later in the American
Originating about 1650 to 1700, it was
spar ked by philosophers Bar uc h
Spinoza (16321677), John Locke
Its purpose was to reform society using (16321704) and physicist Isaac
reason, challenge ideas grounded in Newton (16431727).
tradition and faith, and advance
The Scientific Revolution is closely tied
knowledge t hrough t he scientific
to the Enlightenment, as its discoveries
overturned many traditional concepts
It promoted scientific thought, scepticism and introduced new perspectives on
and intellectual interc hange and nature and man's place within it.

c) Reason and rationality

Paternalism may be benign but has
The liberal belief in freedom is the capacity for abuse of power. William Beveridge
closely related to the belief in The paternalistic figure who knows (1879-1963)
reason. best may use their position for their
own ends.
Reason in turn has largely
influenced liberalism arising in close The belief in reason stems from the
proximity to liberalism during the belief in humans taking control of
enlightenment. The key figures of their own destiny and in effect
the enlightenment were Rousseau, reasoning what is in their own best
Kant, Smith and Bentham. interests.

The central ideas of the Reason emancipates man from the

enlightenment were an escape from bondage of his own ignorance. It
superstition and ignorance in order gives him to ability to fashion his
to unleash an age of reason. own destiny and advance in his
own best interests.
The ideas of the enlightenment Beveridges Report to
strengthened liberal values of Parliament on Social
Out of this comes a strong liberal
liberty and individualism. Insurance and Allied Services
belief in the power of education as
was published in 1942.
a means of self improvement.
The premises of the enlightenment It proposed that all people of
were t hat human beings are Note in this context that Beveridge working age should pay a
rational creatures, capable of had identified ignorance as one of weekly national insurance
reason and logical enquiry. the 5 Giant Ills stalking 1930s contribution. In return,
Britain and that Beveridge himself benefits would be paid to
Humans are by no means infallible was of course a Liberal. people who were sick,
but they are capable nonetheless of unemployed, retired or
defining what is in their own best Education promotes moral and widowed.
interests. individual development but also
Beveridge argued that this
promotes social and historical
Ingrained in this line of thought is system would provide a
development as the stock of human
an opposition to paternalism and to minimum standard of living
knowledge increases and reason
traditional forms of authority. "below which no one should
embeds itself
be allowed to fall".
Paternalism robs the individual of Reason and rationality, debate and It recommended that the
responsibility and self reliance and argument are also a bulwark government should find ways
in effect of learning from their own against barbarism, brutality and of fighting the five 'Giant Evils'
mistakes. It is the negation of liberty violence. of Want, Disease, Ignorance,
and under mines capacity for Squalor and Idleness
The safety of the people requireth further from him or them that have the sovereign
power, that justice be equally administered to all degrees of people.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.


Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

It is important to note that liberals However because they believe in
d) Justice believe in equality of opportunity, NOT freedom (including the freedom to
Justice is concerned with the fair equality of outcome. Absolute equality dispose of and distribute property) they
distribution of rewards and is undesirable because each possesses accept that some people will inevitably
punishments, about giving each that different talents and some work harder succeed as a result of birthright.
which he is due. than others. It is right to reward merit Freedom is sufficiently important to
and hard work and this will therefore override this violation of the
Justice can only be achieved through result naturally in inequalities meritocratic principle.
equality and inequality denies justice.
However these inequalities are just
Human beings are conceived of as because everyone competes on a level Rawls believed that this particular
individuals, each with natural rights, playing field. No-one is denied equality problem could be in part corrected by
and of equal moral worth. of opportunity because civil and defining social justice as a system that
political rights are guaranteed for all. includes an element of redistribution of
All humans have access to such rights, Liberals therefore believe in the notion wealth in order to benefit the poorest, a
which cannot and must not be the of meritocracy. position fiercely contested by Nozick
preserve of a particular class or on the basis that it interferes with the
grouping. The uneven distribution of wealth and fundamental and absolute right to
resources should be solely a property.
Individuals should be equal before the consequence of the uneven distribution
law and should enjoy equal civil and of talents and capacities for endeavour. This reflects the underlying debate
political rights. within liberalism about the best way to
One problem for liberals is the concept achieve a just society.
of inherited wealth.

modern liberalism
Modern liberalism has come to the view however that unrestrained and unregulated market
forces lead to inequality of opportunity and that therefore increased interventionism is
required in order to create the conditions for a just society.
Civil Liberties

These include the right to vote, join
any party of our choosing and the
right to campaign and stand for a
particular party.

This means that the individual is free
to come together with other
individuals for any lawful purpose.

This means that the individual is free
to hold any particular political, moral,
ethical, philosophical, spiritual or
religious belief that they wish to hold.

The liberty of the individual to travel
and go about their lawful business
without unnecessary constraint or
e) Toleration minorities harshly because they dissent impeachment.
from the majority view.
Liberals accept and even embrace
moral, cultural and political diversity.
However liberals do not endorse An extension of freedom of
unlimited toleration, just as they do not conscience. The individual is free to
Associated with this idea of tolerance
endorse unlimited freedom. Locke felt express any opinion he or she wishes
are fundamental civil liberties including
that Roman Catholics could not be to express. This in practice is subject
Freedom of Association, Conscience,
afforded toleration as they threatened to many constraints. There is no
Movement & Expression.
national sovereignty. freedom of expression for religious
intolerance or racial hatred. There are
Personal Freedoms, Social Freedoms,
Views that are of themselves intolerant also libel laws to prevent defamatory
Political Rights, Right to Privacy, Right
such that they threaten tolerance, i.e. publication.
to Property and Employment Rights are
racist opinions, are not however
all hallmarks of the liberal democratic
acceptable. 5. PERSONAL AND SOCIAL
ideal and are seen as essential
guarantees of toleration.
This emphasis on diversity and The individual has the right to self
toleration however has for some determination and to make decisions
These go hand in hand with political
conservatives lead to a weakening of about how to live their lives.
and other forms of pluralism and can
authority and a society of disorder and Decriminalisation of homosexuality
only be removed through censorship
instability. would be regarded as a significant
and repression which liberals naturally
liberal advance.
oppose as threatening liberty.
Too many competing claims and points
of view may lead to moral and cultural 6. PROPERTY RIGHTS
The liberal case for toleration 1 st
relativism in which every claim is valid The individual has the right to
emerged in 17th Century in regards to
and in which every opinion has merit. accumulate and dispose of property
opposition to religious repression.
as he or see sees fit. This is a central
This leads to a situation in which in liberal value going back to John
John Locke had argued that since the
obligation and duty are eschewed in Locke (1732-1804) who defined the
primary function of the state was to
favour of rights and freedom. central liberal values as life, liberty
protect life, liberty and property, it
and property
had no right to interfere in the care of
mens souls.
3. Liberalism and Democracy. 7. THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY
Everyone has the right to respect for
In On Liberty (1859) J.S. Mill that
a) The State his private and family life, his home
toleration is of fundamental importance and his correspondence. - Article 8 of
not only to the society but to the Whilst liberals cherish freedom dearly, the Human Rights Act.
individual. In the social realm only a they do not believe that it is possible to
free market of ideas would allow the achieve a balanced and just society out 8. EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS
truth to emerge. of the free actions and voluntary Everyone has the right to fair and
associations of individuals. Thus there is equal treatment in the workplace.
As far as individuals were concerned a fundamental difference between Liberals place great emphasis on
toleration was a guarantee of self- liberals and anarchists. Liberals believe equal opportunities legislation as
autonomy and thus moral development. the state the law and government to be discrimination in the workplace is an
necessary whereas anarchists do not. affront to equality of opportunity.
For some liberals, democracy is
intolerant to the extent that it treats
the state
In the UK the crown is the symbol of state authority

Where there is no law there is no freedom John Locke (1632-1704)

Liberty must not become a license to Such a contract was not of course in It is this principle that is enshrined in the
abuse. To exercise ones liberty in such reality a formal agreement between 2nd amendment of the Constitution of
a way threatens the key liberal citizens agreeing to set up such a state. the United States of America the right
principle of justice.Each individual is The social contract was more a to bear arms that is to be in a
under threat from other individuals and philosophical means of legitimising the position to overthrow any form of
each individual if unrestrained is a sovereignty of the state whilst at the tyrannical government that may
threat to other individuals. The only same time warning of the dangers of develop.
protection, as with conservatism, is a too little or too much state power.
strong but minimal state. These ideas It also underpins why the founding
arose out of Hobbes and were The social contract argument embodies fathers of the constitution were keen to
developed by Locke. some important liberal principles. It
holds that though the state did not
Rational individuals would need to
originate from such a contract both
come together in some form of social
government and governed must act as
contract to establish such a state in
preference to a state of nature in
if it did. the strong minimalist
which life would be solitary, poor,
nasty, brutish and short.
Thus the authority the state possesses state is necessary to
must be seen as if it emanates from
below; the state must recognise that it
Sacrificing some liberty in order to set
exists to serve the interests of the prevent free men
up a system of law was preferable to
people; citizens do not have an
any state of absolute freedom which in
absolute obligation to accept all laws making slaves of other
would leave liberty and life under the
or any form of government. If this were
gravest threat.
the case then tyranny could easily free men

Jean Jacques The stated aim of the Social Contract is to determine whether there can be a
legitimate political authority.
Rousseau In order to accomplish more and remove himself from the state of nature, man

must enter into a Social Contract with others. In this social contract, everyone
will be free because they all forfeit the same amount of rights and impose the
same duties on all. The social contract is the best guarantee of individual
Hobbes and the state of Montesquieu - any state J.S. Mill On Liberty (1859) -
Key Ideas nature established must have its the sole warrant for
own power checked interfering with the liberty
Locke - Where there is no There must be both internal of another is self protection
law there is no freedom. and external constraints on
Law must be established to the state Hegel (1821) The
secure life, liberty and Philosophy of Right has a
property Internal constraints are more positive conception of
achieved by a rigid the state as a realm of
Rousseau - the general will separation of powers universal altruism
of the people is sovereign
Lord Acton - power tends to
corrupt and absolute power
corrupts absolutely

embed separation of powers within the exercises sovereign power. It cannot be

constitution otherwise. Only the state may possess
a monopoly on coercion. This too is Constitutionalism
Liberals regard the state as acting as necessary. There is thus the constant
arbiter between competing interests threat of or potential for tyranny. Constitutionalism, in a narrow
enforcing rules for the benefit of all sense is the practice of limited
parties. It does not and should possess Since liberalism developed as a critique government brought about by
agency of itself and must not be of absolutism and authoritarianism it is the existence of a constitution.
allowed the freedom to become self acutely aware of such dangers posed Constitutionalism, in this sense
serving. by the entity of the state.
is said to exist when
This means that the state should not The point that the state must not possess government institutions and
possess will or seek to express or agency of itself is central to the theory processes are effectively
enforce that will. Nor should it act in its of constitutional government. Any entity constrained by constitutional
own interest. is bound to be self serving if left free to rules.
be so. This applies as equally to the
Hegel argued in The Philosophy of state as it does to individuals.
Right (1821) that the state is a realm of More broadly
universal altruism , promoting loyalty Liberals fear arbitrary government and constitutionalism refers to a
and commitment to higher national governments in possession of power set of political values and
ideals, in other words a positive good are apt to display Lord Actons maxim. aspirations that reflect the
rather than a necessary evil desire to protect liberty
Thus the concept of limited government
Some liberals take the view that this is both necessary and desirable. This
through the establishment of
could justify an expanded role for the requirement necessitates constitutional internal and external checks
state and even facilitate government; i.e. government as laid on government power.
authoritarianism, for example, in the down in rules.
invocation of patriotism, nationalism It is typically expressed in
and even totalitarianism. Thus constitutions will contain a host of
constitutional provisions that
provisions designed to create the
In one sense this is how the process of conditions under which limited establish this goal, notably a
gleichschaltung was justified in Nazi government and no more than limited codified constitution, a bill of
Germany with appeals to the government can operate. rights, separation of powers,
interests of the Reich. There is for most bicameralism, federalism or
liberals a definite danger in this Constraints upon government may be in decentralisation.
Hegelian distinction between a public the form of external and internal
realm (universal altruism) and a private constraints.
realm (individualism and self interest). Constitutionalism is thus a
The danger lies in the possibility that External constraints lie in the law and / species of political liberalism.
the former could consume the latter. or in the constitution. In the absence of
codification, such as that pertaining in Political ideologies: An
the UK, constraints to government rest
Introduction, Andrew
b) Constitutionalism in statute law and other sources of the
constitution such as treaty law, common Heywood, MacMillan Press
Liberals place great emphasis on law, conventions and works of authority Ltd 1992, p.41.
constitutionalism. Indeed it could be such as A.V. Diceys The Rule of Law.
argued to be the very cornerstone of
liberalism, upon which all other Internal constraints rest upon checks
fundamental tenets such as liberty, and balances within the three branches
toleration, pluralism and justice, rest. of government. In Montesquieus
Without constitutionalism, none of these
could be guaranteed. Government
Constraining constitutional internal external
the state ism
If free individuals have the
capacity to interfere with the
life liberty and property of 1 1 1
other individuals then the rules governed conduct. The Internal constraints are devolution or federalism
state and the law become conduct of the state must achieved by a separation of
necessary. Locke observed always be measured against powers whereby power acts
that where there was no law rules laid down in a a check unto power.
there could be no freedom constitution
whilst Hobbes argued that to
live in a state of nature was to
relegate life to a state that
was poor, solitary, nasty
brutish and short. A minimal
2 2 2
a constitution is a set of rules The three branches of
state was therefore a bill of rights or in the UK
which lay down the rights, government, the legislature,
necessary. However it was the Human Rights Act
duties, powers and the executive and the
argued that the state could
obligations of the different judiciary all act to constrain
develop agency and become
components of the state in one another
self interested thereby
relation to one another.
trampling the rights of
individuals. It was therefore
absolutely vital to bind the
state so that it did not accrue
more power and self interest
3 3 3
Constitutions also define the international treaties and
relationship between the In the USA there is a more other obligation
formal and rigid separation
citizen and the state
of powers than there is within
the UK. This is because the
founding fathers of the
constitution were heavily
influenced by the ideas of

maxim power should be a check to

c) Democracy Liberal Democracy
Historically liberals have had an
This is most effectively achieved in a uneasy relationship with democracy. Electoral competition produces
formal separation of powers but it is Voting rights for example were thought diversity and political pluralism.
mistaken to believe that parliamentary only to be the rights of propertied Politicians are forced to pay heed
systems have no separation of powers. males. Further democracy could lead to to the forces of the political
They do but just not as clearly cut as the tyranny of the majority where market place and endorse an
presidential systems. minority rights could be trampled upon. aggregate of demands in order
to secure support, votes and
Emphasis on such a separation could A distinction is usually made between representative office.
be observed in the UK for example by direct and indirect forms of democracy.
reference to civil service and judicial Indirect democracy is also sometimes In such a way there is both
independence and neutrality, or by referred to as representative responsiveness and accountability
reference to devolution, the bicameral democracy. of decision makers to the
legislature, the Human Rights Act or via populace as well as internal
obligations arising out of international Therefore democracy is therefore never checks and separations of power.
conventions, treaties and protocols. In truly a reflection of Abraham Lincolns In conjunction with many other
addition the Constitutional Reform Act definition in the Gettysburg Address of features such as civil liberties the
of 2005 provided for a formal government of the people, by the foundations of liberal democracy
separation of the legislature and the people, for the people are thus laid down.
Judiciary with the removal of the Law
Lords from the HOL and the creation of In direct democracy the citizenry Liberal democracy is thus
a separate Supreme Court. effectively rule themselves by making characterised by: indirect and
the decisions themselves. Athenian representative forms of
In the United States, Canada, India, democracy however was never direct democracy; competition and
Australia and Germany Federalism is democracy in the truest sense as electoral choice; a clear
one expression of the doctrine of the women and many others were distinction between the realm of
separation of powers. excluded from the decision making the state and the realm of civil
process. society through internal and
external checks on government.
Liberalism and
Representative Responsiveness Tyranny of the majority
Democracy democracy
Accountability Minority rights
Direct democracy
Responsible government
Indirect democracy
Competition, diversity
Political pluralism and electoral choice

Government by consent Constitutionalism

Political toleration Checks and Balances

Liberalism and democracy

Key Thinkers
Alexis De Tocqueville
Direct democracy is better suited to authoritarian leaders were beginning to 19th century liberals often feared
small scale communities, not large exploit through new communications democracy echoing long standing
concerns that majority rule would
complex societies with millions or even technology such as the radio and the
lead to the tyranny of the majority,
hundreds of millions of citizens. cinema the masses in order to transform subjugating minority interests and
democracy to totalitarianism. Though rights
It is therefore the norm that with the not entirely prescient he saw the means
exception of referenda and general by which Hitler, Mussolini and Franco James Madison
elections representative democracy would come to power.
prevails as the most practiced form of James Madison echoed
democracy By the twentieth century most liberals these concerns in
saw democracy as a virtue. Philadelphia in 1787
Representative democracy is therefore arguing that
government for the people. Electoral competition produces diversity gover nment would
and political pluralism. Politicians are need to be a system of
Liberal attitudes to democracy have forced to pay heed to the forces of the checks and balances so
been ambivalent and varied. political market place and endorse an that government as a whole was not
aggregate of demands in order to necessarily nor simultaneously in the
19th century liberals often feared secure support, votes and hands of the majority. Madison also
democracy echoing long standing representative office. argued that the propertied few
concerns that majority rule would lead needed to be protected from the
to the tyranny of the majority, In such a way there is both unpropertied masses.
subjugating minority interests and rights responsiveness and accountability of
(Alexis De Tocqueville). decision makers to the populace as well Ortega y
as internal checks and separations of
James Madison echoed these concerns power. In conjunction with many other
in Philadelphia in 1787 arguing that features such as civil liberties the In The Revolt of the
government would need to be a system foundations of liberal democracy are Masses he saw
of checks and balances so that thus laid down. how authoritarian
government as a whole was not leaders were beginning to exploit
necessarily nor simultaneously in the Liberal democracy is thus characterised through new communications
technology such as the radio and the
hands of the majority. Madison also by: indirect and representative forms of
cinema the masses in order to
argued that the propertied few needed democracy; competition and electoral transform democracy to
to be protected from the unpropertied choice; a clear distinction between the totalitarianism. Though not entirely
masses. realm of the state and the realm of civil prescient he saw the means by which
society through internal and external Hitler, Mussolini and Franco would
Mill further expressed reservations checks on government. come to power.
about democracy, casting doubt on the
ability of the mass to make informed External checks i.e. through the law
educated choices. Differential voting may be problematic. The government
power, depending on class, education, may reform the constitution in such a
occupation and (until 1867) property way as to aggregate more power for
the government.
Ortega y Gassets (1883-1955)
warnings on democracy were very The law may also be used to erode civil
much the product of times. In The Revolt liberties through for example
of the Masses he saw how suspension of Habeas Corpus.

The state is a necessary evil, a realm of coercion which is a threat to property, to liberty and even to life.

The state is necessary to individual and limits freedom. Classical fundamental rights were life, liberty,
liberalism thus believes in as minimal as (property) and the pursuit of happiness.
establish order and security possible role for the state, a
but contained within that nightwatchman in Lockes metaphor. The weight given to suc h rights
necessity is the potential for distinguishes classical liberals from
Classical liberalism is no longer the early conservatives. Though both early
evil in that it imposes a historical curiosity it may have been Conservatives and classical liberals
collective will upon t he deemed in the mid-twentieth century shared their views about the minimal
where paternalism and intervention state, conservatives were much more
individual and limits freedom. were the new orthodoxies. Since the prepared to see a stronger state at the
Classical liberalism t hus emergence of the new right in the
believes in as minimal as 19 8 0 s c l a s s i c a l l i b e ra l t h e o r i e s
concerning the state experienced a
possible role for the state, a resurgence.
Classical liberal ideas developed in the
transition from feudalism to capitalism and
nightwatchman in Lockes thus as the emergent industrialised capital
metaphor. Natural Rights
state in the world liberal ideas flourished
in England and then later the USA. The central
The state is a necessary evil, a realm of Natural rights theorists such as Locke or idea in classical liberalism is that of negative
coercion which is a threat to property, Jefferson had a profound influence on freedom. In this conception of freedom individuals
to liberty and even to life. It is the early development of liberalism. are free to that which no law prevents predicated on
necessary to establish order and In their view rights were natural or the premise of habeas corpus, that no one is
security but contained within that inalieble, a condition and a punishable except in breach of the law. Thus freedom
necessity is the potential for evil in that consequence of being human. The is the absence of external constraints.
it imposes a collective will upon the

In Leviathan (1631) Hobbes argued that only a strong government, preferably an absolutist one
Hobbes Leviathan would be able to establish order and authority. Repressive government was better than no
government at all. Locke and other early liberals were deeply suspicious of the state and its
attendant threat to liberty. Citizens reserved their right of rebellion against a coercive state

which denied freedom a principle that is echoed in the 2nd amendment of the US constitution.
This states A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of
the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed
Neo - Liberalism Neo-Liberal
Neoliberalism is a political philosophy strong focus around the faculty of Economics
whose advocates support economic University of Chicago.
liberalization, free trade and open
The school emphasizes non- 1. ECONOMIC LIBERALISM
markets, privatization, deregulation,
intervention from government and Essentially a critique of the post war
and decreasing the size of the public
generally rejects regulation in consensus and the mixed economy
sector while increasing the role of the
markets as inefficient with the characterised by state ownership and
private sector in modern society.
exception of central bank regulation control of strategic industries and
of the money supply (i.e., utilities. These industries were made
monetarism). It is associated with subject to the disciplines of market
The Chicago school of economics
neoclassical price t heor y and forces through privatisation.
describes a neoclassical school of
libertarianism and the rejection of Government services were also put
thought within the academic
Keynesianism in favor of monetarism out to private contractors
community of economists, with a
until the 1980s.
Control of the money supply. This
meant reducing taxation and
expense of liberty than were classical developed. Adam Smiths The Wealth
government spending
liberals. of Nations (1776) drew heavily upon
liberal and rationalist assumptions
The functions of government should not about human nature and the proper
Deregulation aimed remove barriers
extend beyond the minimal role of role of government.
to competition and business by getting
preser ving order and protecting
rid of controls.
property echoed in Jeffersons maxim Governments of the 16th and 17th
that government is best which governs centuries had interfered heavily in the
least. running of the economy
Deregulation aimed at removing
Utilitarianism Smit h however argued t hat t he
barriers to currency flows. This allows
economy works best when it is free
multinational corporations to move
Bentham and Mill regarded rights as from government interference. The
vast amounts of currency with very
abstract nonsense. They instead placed market works best when it operates
little control across national borders.
emphasis on humans as motivated by according to the wishes of free
self interest by seeking pleasure and individuals acting as economic agents
avoiding pain. Utilitarianism is best whether as buyer or seller, employer or
summed up in the phrase the greatest employee.
good for the greatest number.
Market forces when left alone will
The principle of utility is that the produce wealth, economic prosperity
rightness of any action may be judged and well being. The market is also a
by the tendency of the action to self-regulating mechanism and requires
promote happiness. In this way what no management. Indeed any attempt to
benefits society as a whole may be manage capitalism will result in
more or less scientifically established. economic inefficiency.

The so-called philosophical radicals The market is an invisible hand which

proposed a range of social, political is self regulating. The market is
and legal reforms based on this notion responsive to any required adjustments
of utility. in the economy and the need for
government intervention is obviated.
Individuals are thought to perceive
what is in their own best interests. This Free market economic ideas or laissez
canno t be de t er mined by some faire policies became the orthodoxy
paternalistic authority. in the mid 19th centuries and were
really only challenged by the growth of
There is nonetheless some scope for one nation conservativism , welfare
utilitarian ideas to be illiberal. The liberalism and the post war consensus.
formula has majoritarian implications in
the sense that the greatest good for Faith in free market economics and a
the greatest number may lead to a diminished role for the state was
trampling of minority rights and revived in the 1980s by Thatcher and
freedoms. Reagan. This followed the revival of
neo-economic liberal thinking at the
Economic Liberalism Chicago school under Milton Friedman.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries

classical liberal economic theories were
Social Darwinism is the idea that the distribution of social rewards are
a just reflection of each individuals efforts. Thus wealth creation and
its distribution are uneven as a result of the uneven distribution of
talents and efforts.


Heaven helps those who help themselves (Samuel Smiles: Self-Help, 1859)
social sphere is also a sphere in which
Social Darwinism the survival of the fittest is the most Inequality
One of the key features of classical appropriate maxim.
liberalism is its attitude to both poverty
and social inequality. There should be no attempt from 1. Stems from the individuals own unique
government to interfere with these laws character. Some people have more talent
A rigid believe in individualism and of nature, simply because some are in and ability than others and some are
freedom will tend to locate the source poverty. The poor are poor because harder working than others.
of social problems such as poverty they have failed to stand on their own
within the individual themselves. Those two feet. 2. Talent and the work ethic are spread
with a willingness and ability to work unevenly and poverty is the inevitable
will prosper whereas those are lazy will Social Darwinisms most recent result of a lack of talent or application
not. The work ethic is therefore central. expression can be seen in the attacks
on welfarism in the 1970s, 80s and the 3.The poor are poor because they lack
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus The 1990s and again in the wake of global initiative and enterprise or because they
State (1884), drew on Darwins theory financial crisis. All across Europe are work-shy.
of evolution, specifically the concept of welfare spending is being slashed as a
natural selection, and applied this to necessary (but also moral) means of 4. Individuals who are poor should not
the social sphere. Society and the reducing government deficits. look to rely on society to alleviate their
distribution of social rewards are a just condition. They need to become self reliant
reflection of each individuals efforts. The best way to overcome the
Thus wealth creation and its distribution dependency culture was to foster an
are uneven as a result of the uneven enterprise culture
distribution of talents and efforts. The

Social Darwinism is an ideology of society that seeks to apply biological concepts of Darwinism or of evolutionary theory to sociology and
politics, often with the assumption that conflict between groups in society leads to social progress as superior groups outcompete inferior ones.
Social Darwinism is generally understood to use the concepts of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest to justify social policies which
make no distinction between those able to support themselves and those unable to support themselves. Many such views stress competition
between individuals in laissez-faire capitalism; but the ideology has also motivated ideas of eugenics, scientific racism, imperialism,fascism,
Nazism and struggle between national or racial groups.
Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Modern Liberalism
Also sometimes
referred to as C20th

Modern liberalism is sometimes

termed 20th century liberalism and
represents a significant variant of
classical liberal ideas.

Increasing industrialisation had

brought with it extremes of wealth
and poverty by the late 19th
century prompting even
Conservatives to look for ways of
alleviating the problem. These
ideas spread to the United States
in the 1930s following the Wall
Street Crash and the depression. Modern Liberalism
1. Individuality
Liberals found it increasingly more
difficult to maintain that Capitalism J.S. Mill provides a bridge between classical and modern liberalism. In On Liberty
had brought with it general (1859) developed the concept of individual sovereignty, focusing on negative
liberty and the absence of constraints.The absence of constraints was seen by Mill
prosperity and rising living as a necessary condition of freedom but not a sufficient one. Mill did not define
standards for all. liberty in terms of pleasure seeking or happiness but in terms of fulfilment. His
argument for female suffrage is one way in which his ideas could be seen to
Unrestrained pursuit of wealth had predate modern liberalism.
not produced a just society and 2. Positive Freedom
the minimal state seemed
incapable of rectifying the
Positive Freedom is a concept most closely associated with modern liberalism. It
injustices and inequalities of civil implies an expanded role for the state as the state intervenes in human affairs to
society. As a result of this modern grant more rights. T.H. Green (1836-1882) argued that the unrestrained pursuit of
liberalism reflects an increasing profit had created new forms of poverty and injustice which were an affront to
willingness to accept a more freedom.
interventionist role for the state.
Economic liberty for a few had created poverty and immiseration for the majority.
Green suggested that human beings have empathy for one another, are capable of
altruism and that the individual possesses social responsibilities as well as
individual ones. Greens ideas influenced the left to the extent that his ideas have
sometimes been classified as socialist liberal.

Green also challenged the classical liberal notion of liberty. In the absence of
external constraints for example in relation to freedom, exploitation is likely to
Social Liberalism follow. Green thus proposed the idea of positive freedom which could safeguard
the individual against social evils, best espoused in the Beveridge Report of 1942
1. An expanded role for the state.
Inequality (especially extremes) are If the market cannot or will not provide individuals with equal opportunities to grow
an affront to liberty. and develop modern liberals then argue that the only course of action is collective
2. Extreme poverty denies people action undertaken by the state.Less than see the state as a threat to liberty it should
equality of opportunity. therefore be seen as its guarantor. The state should be seen as an enabling state
3. The state therefore has a role to undertaking a wide role of social and even economic responsibilities.
play as an enabler of opportunity
by reducing inequality. Although this is a significant departure from classical liberalism it does not place the
4. The expansion of welfare state before the individual. Modern liberals still retain the view in common with
entitlements does not threaten the classical liberals that ultimately individuals are responsible for themselves and must
existence of negative rights be self reliant. The expanded role of the state simply makes this more possible for
(although some classical liberals more people thus helping people help themselves.
In addition to T h e Wa l l S t r e e t Such interventionist
The Ideas of John providing welfare, Crash and the Great policies were
governments of the D e p r e s s i o n we r e greatly influenced
Maynard Keynes 20th century have arguably the and guided by the
also pursued c l e a r e s t work of John
policies of economic demonstration of the Maynard Keynes.
management whilst failures of the free
a b a n d o n i n g market. After the
classical liberal second world war
laissez faire, all governments
attitudes to the adopted policies of
market. intervention

Social Liberalism
Liberalism in the 21st
Social Liberalism negated by an extended role for the state in
regards to the granting of positive rights, such Century
Social liberalism grew out of the expanding as welfare entitlement.
role of the state in 20th century. Just as the The end of the cold war marked a
minimalist state was the norm in the 19th Positive and negative rights should not high point of liberal optimism. Former
century, so too was the welfare state in the therefore be seen in opposition to one another communist states embraced the free
market and democratic forms of
20th century but rather as complementary, broadening the government.
range of available rights to individuals and
A number of factors contributed to this enhancing equality of opportunity The American Political Scientist
Francis Fukuyama developed his end
ideological and historical shift including the of history thesis in which history
need for national efficiency, stronger healthy Many examples of modern liberalism can be (defined as a conflict between the
workers, pressures for political reform and a detected in the policies of Lloyd George, competing ideologies of collectivism
need to tackle the large scale poverty Asquith, Roosevelt and Attlee, Macmillan, and capitalism) had entered a new
phase characterised by the triumph of
characteristic of the late 19th and early 20th Kennedy and Johnson leading to, in the United liberal democracy and the spread of
centuries. States for example, affirmative action policies. free markets.
Similar policies are now at the centre of the
Two grounds for optimism have
Welfarism as a political strategy or priority is EUs equal rights agenda. emerged:
not the preserve of a single ideology.
Conservatives, socialists, liberals, feminists Firstly the ever increasing complexity
and diversity of social, political and
and even fascists have at some point all economic formations can only be
embraced welfarism. made stable by the adoption of
liberal values. Rule based
But not all adherents to these ideologies governance, competition between
elites, fair and free elections and
supported welfarism unconditionally. It is best secure civil liberties best enable the
to examine each of the ideologies in turn to political structures of society to be
find support for and indeed opposition to the responsive to the increasing pace of
principles embodied in welfarism
Secondly globalisation, particularly in
Modern liberals have defended welfarism its economic form, accelerates the
spread of free market ideas.
principally on grounds of equality of Economic globalisation refers to the
opportunity process whereby all national
economies have, to a greater or
If social circumstances produce gross lesser extent, been absorbed into an
interlocking global economy,
disadvantages that interfere with the principal meaning that no national economy is
of equality of opportunity then corrective steps now an island.
and measures are justified.
In this global economy, production is
internationalised and financial capital
Such an expansion of state activity does not flows freely and instantly between
diminish rights but actually enhances rights countries.

Negative rights such as freedom of conscience

or freedom of expression are not in any way