You are on page 1of 10

Ideologies Revision

LIBERALISM
Key Concepts
1) Human Nature
o Classical liberals – human beings are hedonistic and pleasure seeking creatures that are self-
seeking.
o Modern liberals – JS Mill places emphasis on the human flourishing, rather than the crude
satisfaction of personal interests. Individual human nature is not as narrowly self-interested.
o Currently Liberal Democrat Party – Nick Clegg’s Spring Conference Speech 2013 suggests that
liberalism has now adapted and accepted the need of a welfare system in that “a fairer society”
is spoken of to enable “everyone in Britain to get on in life”.
o Liberals believe that humans are capable of resolving differences through debate and reasoned
discussions by their rationalism i.e. promotion of a referendum to be held before the end of
2017 on Britain’s EU membership.
o Individuals should be judged according to their unique qualities as every person has differing
ideas, views and pleasures.
o Liberals are against any form of paternalism whereby the state helps the people as it leads
society to become self-reliant on the state. “Dependency culture” – contrast to socialisms core
values of equality and redistribution of wealth.
o Believe that some individuals may be self-seeking as this could lead to one individual abusing
another in the pursuit of his own rational interest.
o Belief that society as a whole can progress and learn from the errors of previous generations,
and that society is capable of personal development.

2) Individualism
o “Individualism refers to the belief of the supreme importance an individual holds over any
social group or collective body”.
o Methodological individualism – Individual is central to any political theory or social
explanation.
o Ethical individualism – Society should be constructed to benefit the individual, moral priority
to individual rights, needs or interests. This could be seen as an acceptance of the welfare
system, or a less aid-focused equivalent.
o Utilitarian tradition of liberalism held, as a fundamental belief, that each individual is the best
judge or his/her own interests.
o For Jeremy Bentham – being allowed to make decisions for ourselves and to act on them was
the essence of freedom. He argued the role of government should not prevent us from
following our own self-interest, unless in doing so we prevent others from pursuing theirs.
o The enlightened pursuit of self-interest became a central liberal idea and it co-existed well with
free-market capitalism.
o Modern liberals – developmental form of individualism that prioritizes human flourishing over
the quest for interest satisfaction.

3) Natural Rights
o Philosophers developed this concept in the 17th and 18th centuries. It asserts that all
individuals are born with rights that are granted by God or nature.
o The main natural rights specified are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
o The theory of natural rights implies that such rights may not be removed or reduced except by
the consent of the individual.
o Thomas Hobbes – is often viewed as the first major theorist of natural rights, but the liberals
who followed him such as John Locke and Thomas Paine are more closely associated with the
concept.
o Jean-Jacques Rousseau had already argued that humankind was being unjustifiably controlled
by social and political restraints – ‘man is born free, but is everywhere in chains’.

1
o The Enlightenment opened people’s minds to new possibilities. It enabled political movements
to challenge the existing order including; absolute monarchy and to establish forms of
government that would free humankind rather than enslave it.
o It could be recognized that this basis of natural rights has led to the modern promotion within
liberalism of freedom and liberty.
o Liberty/freedom is the central value for all liberals – individual liberty
o Promotion of ‘social fairness’ in a ‘fairer society’ today by Nick Clegg 2013 speech

4) Tolerance
o ‘Forbearance; a willingness to accept views of actions with which one is a disagreement’
o Both an ethical idea and a social principle.
o One hand it represents the goal of personal autonomy; on the other it establishes a set of rules
about how human beings should behave towards each other.
o The liberal love of tolerance flows directly from Mill’s principles of individual liberty, but it
predates him by Locke.
o Locke was exclusively concerned with religious tolerance, an idea that was relatively radical at
the time he was writing.
o Locke – ‘Every man may enjoy the same rights that are granted to others’.
o Political controversy raged in the 18th and 19th centuries.
o Freedom of expression was the focus liberalism campaigned for strongly in the 19th century.
o Toleration of other people’s beliefs, values, faiths, and their right to express them openly –
became a cherished goal of liberalism.
o 20th century – attention switched to minority groups.
o Recently, liberals have defended and campaigned for the rights of minorities such as gap
people and ethnic/religious groups and have opposed to all types of censorship.
o Liberals will tolerate different beliefs but assign limits to this tolerance.
o If the security of the state or the freedoms of individuals is being threatened, freedom of
expression should be curtailed, words or actions that adversely affect others should not be
tolerated.
o Modern liberals – have tended to demonstrate greater tolerance than most people over
personal morality, i.e. abortion, and conclude that these are not issues concerning society but
are private.
o Recently – Woolwich attack left Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stating he
“would like to pay special tribute to London’s Muslim community” showing the liberal tradition
of supporting the minority groups, regardless of the actions a handful of extremists chose to
take that threatened the security and freedoms of individuals.

5) Democracy
o 19th century liberals were concerned by the dangers of rulers accumulating too much power.
o However, they did not see the growth of democracy as the answer to this.
o Indeed, classical liberals were opposed to the introduction of popular democracy.
o For them this meant majority rule and, as both Tocqueville and Mill remarked, this was the
tyranny of the majority.
o For these liberals, universal suffrage was a bad idea. The numerical majority formed by the
working class would permanently suppress minority groups.
o Many early liberals therefore supported the retention of the property qualification for voting
so as to counterbalance the power of the majority. (Property owners were to be considered to
be more tolerant and responsible in their outlook).
o As for the dangers of powerful government, liberals argued for a minimal state, to be granted
only a narrow range of essential functions.
o The minimal state was to retain responsibility for maintaining order, security and peace in
order to guarantee the protection of individual liberties and prevent the formation of
monopolies.

2
o In a free-market economy, it was understood that some companies might be so successful and
grow so large that they would be in a position to exploit both workers and consumers.
o It was a legitimate function of the state, therefore, to control such economic power.
o Those who wish to see the deregulation of economic activity in other areas have supported
‘competition policy’.
o Promotion of referendums in current coalition – current EU referendum talks to be held before
the end of 2017

6) Social Contract
o Locke developed the key political concept of the ‘social contract’.
o Contract theory in politics insists that government should be established by a contract between
the government and the governed.
o The government agrees to govern according to natural law and respect individual rights, while
the people agree to accept the authority of the government and to obey its laws.
o Should the government not govern by natural law or should it abuse its natural rights?
o The people should have the right to cancel the contract and dissolve the government – in the
UK this can happen through a Vote of no Confidence by Parliament, if successful it results in the
dissolution of the current government.
o In practice, Locke proposed a system of constitutionally controlled monarchy, accountable to
an elected representative parliament.
o Locke can be seen as the earliest proponent of liberal ideas.

7) Freedom
o ‘The ability to think or act as one wishes, a capacity that can be associated with the individual, a
social group or a nation’
o Priority to freedom as the supreme individualist value.
o This is the central value for all liberals.
o Political/revolutionary liberty – for most early liberals, political freedom implied the freedom
of a people to determine their own form of government and not to be ruled by any external
power.
o This kind of freedom is often known as self-determination.
o Individual liberty – the transfer of emphasis among liberals from political to individual liberty
occurred in the early part of the 19th century.
o First, the utilitarian tradition of liberalism held, as its fundamental belief, that each individual
is the best judge of his or her own interests.
o For Bentham – it was relatively simple. As individuals, we are motivated to pursue pleasure
and to avoid pain. The government shouldn’t make these decisions for us. Hence, the
enlightened pursuit of self-interest that became a central liberal idea, and one that co-existed
well with free-market capitalism.
o Negative liberty – coined by Isaiah Berlin, an absence of restraint- classical liberals.
o Positive liberty – individuals achieve self-fulfilment not merely through pursuing their own
happiness, but also by pursuing social goods such as the welfare of others. Green’s freedom is
positive in that we can achieve personal satisfaction by doing good – modern liberals.
o Modern conception of positive liberty – there should be a wide range of choice and opportunity
for everyone. Green believed that the state should promote individual liberty and that were
pursue self-interest, but he asserted that freedom is not one-dimensional; it’s both individual
and social in nature.
o Green’s divergence from traditional classical liberal views on freedom allowed it to expand.
o His philosophy entered a new age, which was able to embrace equality of opportunity, state
welfare and wealth redistribution. This gave rise to the so-called ‘enabling state’ in the 1990’s.

3
8) Justice
o ‘A moral standard of fairness and impartiality; social justice is the notion of a fair or justifiable
distribution of wealth and rewards in society’
o Giving each personal what he or she is due, a moral punishment.
o Refers to the distribution of material rewards and benefits in society, such as wages, profits,
housing and medical care.
o Legal justice – consists of the equal application of the law to all citizens. This conforms to
liberal’s attachment to equal rights.
o Social justice – more closely associated to socialists than liberals.
o Liberals have always been suspicious of state intervention.
o Late 19th century liberals endorsed the implementation of equality of opportunity, since then
liberals have tended to accept that inequality is natural and in a genuinely free society, social
outcomes are all ‘just’. Some contemporary liberals have challenged this position.
o Beveridge and others have concluded that deprivation of various kinds curtails freedom just as
much as governments and their laws can.
o It has also been recognized that even in a free-market system, excessive inequalities cannot be
considered just.
o It may be acceptable to tolerate some degree of inequality in the free market, but not to the
extent that the poorest members of society are socially deprived.
o John Rawls – some inequalities cannot be tolerated and the state is justified in intervening.
o Modern liberals – don’t accept such interventions. Not without some reservations that this
justice is stated as a core liberal value.
o Many liberals disagree amongst themselves on this point.
o Liberal Democrat 2010 manifesto – make prisoners work and increase number of hours
prisoners spend in education and training.

9) Equality
o Individuals should have an equal opportunity to develop their unequal skills and ability.
o Liberals fiercely disapprove of any social privileges or advantages that are enjoyed by some
but denied to on others on the basis of factors such as gender, race, colour, screed, religion or
social background.
o Liberalism is ‘difference blind’ - a concept based on the belief that everyone is treated the same
regardless of any feature specific to him or her.
o However, it seems self-defeating in that to treat everyone identically would have an unequal
impact on different cultures thus neglecting its own purpose. By treating everyone the same,
some are inevitably favoured.
o Legal Equality - emphasizes ‘equality before the law’ and insists that all non-legal factors be
strictly irrelevant to the process of legal decision–making.
o Political Equality - embodied in the idea of ‘one person, one vote, and one value’. Underpins the
liberal commitment to democracy.
o Liberal subscribes to a belief in equality of opportunity. Each and every individual should have
the same chance to rise or fall in society. The game of life should be played on an even playing
field.
o However, that does not mean that reward, living conditions and social circumstances should be
the same for all.
o Liberals believe social equality to be undesirable because people are not born the same. They
possess different talents and skills and some are prepared to work much harder than others.
o Liberals believe it is right to reward merit, ability and the willingness to work. It is essential to
do so if people are to have an incentive to realize their potential and develop the talents they
were born with.
o Equality - individuals should have an equal opportunity to develop their unequal skills and
ability.

4
o Equality of opportunity – government intervention is accepted by modern liberals if it will aid
individuals to pursue their individual goals – for example the Pupil Premium

10) Libertarianism
o This term refers to an extreme form of liberalism.
o Emerged in the latter part of the 19th century, and has become more popular since the 1980’s.
o Though they are ideologically closer to liberals, most modern libertarians have seen
themselves as part of a conservative movement.
o They insist the state is an unwarranted restriction on freedom and its functions should be
reduced to a bare minimum.
o They argue that the state shouldn’t interfere with economic or social affairs, as they believe
most the free market can solve social problems.
o The state should do little other than defend the people.
o Not as extreme as anarchists who would want the state abolished.
o Robert Nozick – modern exponent.
o Libertarianism is often also known as anarcho-capitalism and is therefore associated with the
most left wing of all philosophies – anarchism, although it is considered a right-wing ideology.
o Nozick argued for the near complete abolition of the state, no taxation, no welfare and almost
no laws on human behaviour.

11) Utilitarianism
o Early economists in the late 18th developed the concept of utility, early 19th centuries.
o Utility – means satisfaction, or even happiness – whatever gives an individual pleasure.
o Utilitarian’s, as led by Jeremy Bentham in the UK, believed it was possible to calculate how
much utility each individual could derive from consuming certain goods, and that it was
possible to calculate the total amount of utility society was achieving.
o Significance of this concept for economics was that if there were free trade within and between
countries and if each consumer were able to purchase whatever goods he or she liked within
his/her constraints, total utility in a society would be automatically maximized.
o Political utilitarian’s – admitted the possibility that governments could add to the total sum of
utility by taking certain actions. Bentham argued that all actions by government should be
judged on the basis of a kind of algebra or calculus, which would establish whether total utility
would be increased or reduced.
o Principle was famously summarized in the ideas that government should pursue ‘the greatest
good for the greatest number’.
o Utilitarian’s are liberals in that they accept the freedom of individuals to determine their own
interests and insisted the role of the government should be limited.
o Liberals who followed identified two main problems – 1, it took a simplistic view of what
motivated individuals, 2, and the doctrine opened the door to excessive intervention.
o Utilitarianism declined in influence as the 19th century progressed; it was replaced by classical
liberalism.

12) Pluralism
o This term describes a society in which there is a tolerance of many different beliefs,
movements and faiths. It suggests a political system in which different political parties and
pressure groups are free to operate and have access to decision-making processes. Modern
liberal democracies are pluralist in nature, while totalitarian regimes inhibit or destroy
pluralism. I.e. Stalin in the USSR used his dictatorship and repression/terror to eliminate all
opposition to his regime.
o The UK currently has a pluralist culture.
o This is because the common law tradition embraces individual rights and protection from
excessive state power; British media is remarkable free, widespread artistic freedom, freedom
of speech and press.

5
o There is a strong claim to be made that Britain is not just a liberal democracy, but also a liberal
society.
o Neither conservatism nor socialism has ever overshadowed the fundamentally liberal spirit of
the country.

13) Capitalism
o Capitalism is a system in which entrepreneurs take risks in organizing production and extract a
profit in return for their risks and organizational efforts. Under capitalism, goods, labour and
finance are all exchanged at values determined by free-market forces.
o Capitalism, liberals argue, requires a high degree of economic freedom for workers, consumers,
financiers and entrepreneurs in order to work efficiently.
o Towards the latter part of the 18th century, it was clear that a new economic order was
emerging in the more developed parts of the world – mainly Western Europe.
o Fundamental economic changes were occurring as a result of the growth of international trade
and the early stages of the Industrial Revolution.
o New social classes i.e. industrialists and farmers, created a new dynamic economic structure
characterized by rapid growth and by freedom of the individual.
o The success of free-market capitalism saw how vital it had become for individuals to consider
themselves to be free, both in their pursuit of self-interest and from over-regulation by
governments.
o The success of new free economies in creating wealth was a testament to how desirable such
economic liberalism had become.
o Early 19th century, liberalism was unable to dominate completely due to conservatism,
followed by adversary early socialism and Marxism.

14) Welfare
o As the liberal movement came to accept the expanded role of the state, it became clear that it
needed to respond to the growing popular support for socialist initiatives.
o In the event, a senior civil servant, William Beveridge, provided the final acceptance of the state
as a vehicle for extending liberty.
o In the 1940’s wartime coalition Beveridge was charged with producing a blueprint for social
policy after the war.
o Beveridge formulated new concepts of freedom. He believed such deprivations as poverty and
unemployment were curtailments of freedom and so he began to consider how an active state
could extend freedom.
o Postwar liberals came to accept the welfare state the Labour government set up in 1945.
o Welfare, especially education, extended equality of opportunity and expanded positive
freedom.
o J.M Keynes argued that the state needed to engage in positive economic management in order
to create an economic environment in which individuals would feel confident in their ability to
engage in commercial and industrial enterprises.
o Labour governments adopted most of the proposals of welfare liberalism.
o This political consensus over welfare, economic management and equality spread to the USA
and Europe. There was a pattern of governments extending their role to create the social
‘goods’ that liberals had promoted.
o Sadly for liberals, this meant that they were often squeezed out of power by more successful
socialist and conservative administrations.
o From 1940 – 1970, liberalism had enormous success in its new social philosophies, but was
unsuccessful in securing the election of Liberal Party governments.

6
Content
The meaning of liberalism – liberal ideas and values about the individual, capitalism and
welfare
Liberalism is a commitment to the individual and the desire to construct a society where people can
satisfy their own interests and achieve fulfillment. It is closely associated with ideas of freedom and
choice.
Human beings are first and foremost individuals endowed with reason that implies individuals should
enjoy the maximum possible freedom consistent with a like freedom for all.
Although entitled to equal and political rights, they should be rewarded in line with their talents and
their willingness to work.

Liberals believe the individual is unique and equal, they are primarily defined by inner qualities and
attributes specific to themselves however they each share the same status in that they are all first and
foremost individuals.
Belief in the primacy of the individual is the characteristic theme of liberal ideology.
All liberals are united in their desire to create a society in which each person is capable of developing
and flourishing to the fullness of his/her potential.

Classical liberalism – characterized by a belied in ‘minimal state’ – function is to be limited to the


maintenance of domestic order and personal security.
Modern liberalism – accepts that the states should help the people to help themselves.

Capitalism and liberalism – It became necessary to underpin the development of free-market


capitalism. Towards the latter part of the 18th century it was clear that a new economic order was
emerging in the more developed parts of the world i.e. Western Europe. Fundamental economic
changes occurred as a result of growing international trade and this spawned new social classes –
independent farmers, free traders, merchants, industrialists and entrepreneurs. This created a new
dynamic economic structure, characterized by rapid growth and by freedom of the individual.

Welfare – as the liberal movement expanded the role of the state it became clear that it needed to
respond to the growing popular support for socialist initiatives. Beveridge formed new conceptions of
freedom; such deprivations as poverty, unemployment and lack of education were curtailments of
freedom as serious as laws and overbearing governments. Released from the obligation to limit state
power, Beveridge was able to consider how an active state could extend freedom. Post-war liberals
therefore came to accept the welfare state that the Labour government set up in 1945.
Welfare, especially education, extended equality of opportunity and expanded positive freedom. J.M.
Keynes was able to justify extensions in the states role on the grounds that economic stability could
also enhance freedom. He argued that the state needed to engage in positive economic management in
order to create an economic environment in which individuals would feel confident to engage in
enterprises to pursue their careers with some confidence.
There was a pattern of governments extending their role to create the social ‘goods’ that liberals had
promoted and equality of opportunity spread to the USA and elsewhere in government.

Liberal views on human nature and the State


Human nature – see key concepts.

State – For much of its existence liberalism has seen the state as a threat to individual liberty and the
natural development of society.
Liberals original fear of the state was that it might seek to interfere with aspects of peoples lives that
were private. Mill believed that intervention in economic markets would inhibit innovation,
enterprise and dynamic progress.
Early utilitarian’s had been concerned that government intervention should always consider the
interests of society as a whole, but classical liberals considered the interests of individuals.

7
For classical liberals if individuals could flourish free of state interference this would create social
progress.
19th century – extreme followers of classical liberalism, social Darwinists, emphasized the dangers of
the state providing too much support for people who should take responsibility for their own welfare.
1980’s – the ‘excessive’ provision of social welfare was seen to be creating a dependency culture –
Herbert Spencer opposed to state welfare and the dependency culture. Individuals had come to rely
on the state so private enterprise and hard work were stifled.
Neo-liberals – proposed the abolition of some social benefits and a reduction in others.
In both the UK and the USA, the frontiers of state were ‘rolled back’.
Equality of opportunity requires state intervention in fields of education and welfare.
More recent pursuit of social justice has implied redistribution of income and wealth through state
policies.
Demand for economic stability has meant that the state must intervene when the forces of the free
market fail to ensure favourable conditions for that individualism.
Liberals who supported the positive role of the state in enhancing positive liberty and opportunity
had to put their mind to ways in which the potential power of the state could be controlled and
restricted to desirable ends only.
Modern era – liberals have proposed a range of measures to control the power of the state:
Strict constitutional roles should operate, rule of law should ensure all are treated equally,
government should be decentralized to make it more democratic, rights of individuals should be
guaranteed by law.

Differing views within liberalism


Principle forms of liberalism:
Contemporary
Classical liberalism New liberalism Welfare liberalism Libertarianism
liberalism
- Liberty of the - Sense of - State-sponsored - Promotion of - Very restricted
individual obligation welfare schemes greater economic state confided to
- Individuals free - Promotion of - State equality or justice defence and
to pursue self- positive liberty management of - Political and maybe regulation
interest - Promotion of the economy constitutional of currency
- Tolerance of choice and - Greater reform to control - Abolition of laws
different beliefs, opportunity concentration on state power that restrict
religions and - Equality of equality of - More popular choice of lifestyles
cultures opportunity opportunity democracy and personal
- Minimal - Limited welfare - Freedom from - Decentralization morality
government that provision social deprivation of government - Minimal law and
should protect the - order protection
people from each Environmentalism - A completely
other and defend - Defence of group free market
the nation from rights economy with no
accumulating - Promotion of regulation
political or worker and
economic power consumer rights
- Free-market - Tolerant social
economy law and order
- Representative policies
democracy - Support for a
tolerant
multicultural
society

8
Neo-Liberalism and its relationship to the New Right
Neo-liberalism – during the late 1970’s and in the 1980’s interest in classical liberal ideas enjoyed a
major revival.
It was not a feature of liberal parties but of the new style of conservatism known as the ‘New Right’.
Margaret Thatcher was happy to admit she was at heart a ‘classic’ liberal.
She and disciples of the New Right set about re-establishing free markets in a domestic setting.
As a conservative development, the classical liberal revival is normally known as ‘neo-liberalism’ to
distinguish it from its 19th century ancestor.
Neo-liberalism and classical liberalism are not the same thing.
In terms of their believes about free trade they may be, but the New Right neo-liberals had no
hesitation in accepting that the state should intervene in peoples lives to maintain law and order and
to enforce a particular view of personal morality. This links to the conservative core value of human
nature and their suspicions about the selfishness of humankind.
For neo-liberals, the minimal state principle is applied to economics but not politics.
After the financial crisis of 2008-2009, neo-liberalism has been somewhat discredited as the non-
interventionist policies of Western governments were seen as the causes for the recession.
The result has been a reaction against neo-liberal ideas and a return to state intervention among most
developed economies.

The impact of liberal thinking on the actions and policies of political parties and
movements
Today liberalism is described as contemporary/modern liberalism – promoting constitutional and
political reforms that are conformed to liberalisms core values. They are designed to protect
individual liberties and to preserve the independence of minority groups.
Major modern liberal principles and policies – There is a strong link between the principles of modern
liberalism and the actual policies that have been proposed by liberal parties including the Liberal
Democrats.
o The defence and extension of individual and group rights – i.e. women’s rights.
o Support for a multicultural society where all ethnic and religious groups are tolerated.
o Campaign to extend both worker and consumer rights.
o Concern for environmental protection.
o Increasingly proposed taxation to redistribute income to the poor.
o Equality of opportunity – policies to improve social mobility i.e. Pupil Premium, promises to
build more free schools.

Liberalism and the parties – Liberal ideas now form a large part of the political consensus and in a
sense all mainstream political parties are liberal parties.
The Labour Party – is characterized by its liberal philosophy and the moderate nature of British
socialism is careful to strike a balance between personal freedom and equality. Similar to John Rawls
work who formed a bridge between modern liberal and social democratic thought. He saw his main
task as reconciling the firm liberal belief in freedom with the need to prevent excessive inequality in
society. This principle has acted as a guide to determine how much inequality is acceptable.
The party was always committed to parliamentary democracy, but from the 1950’s onwards it was
associated with pluralist politics and a determination to tolerate alternative doctrines.
Labour focuses also on minorities and presided liberal reforms such as changes to laws on
homosexuality, legislation of abortion, equal pay for women and the outlawing of racial discrimination
in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The arrival of New Labour in the 1990’s introduced even more liberal values. Under John Smith and
Tony Blair, Labour accepted the promotion of individualism, even at the expense of collectivism.
Constitutional reform played a major part in Tony Blair’s multiple proposals of reforms to the House
of Lords including the 1999 House of Lords Act, which removed all but 92 hereditary peers. It is not
synonymous with liberalism as a number of its key policies are distinctly illiberal notably in law and

9
order. Labour have come to accept inequality as an inevitable consequence of free-market economics.
The individual pursuit of self-interest is now tolerated and even encouraged.

The Conservative Party – Classical liberalism and social Darwinism enjoyed a revival in the 1980’s
among New Right, neo-liberal conservatives. Us conservatives follow doctrines such as limited and
decentralized government, constitutionalism, civil rights and economic liberty.
The UK conservative party has come to accept the need to safeguard minority and individual rights.
Under David Cameron they have become ever more ‘liberal’ than they have ever been in their history.
Liberal ‘Cameronian’ conservatism has adopted a number of liberal principles:
They insist society must provide equality of opportunity and social justice must be established.

The Liberal Democrats – liberal philosophy remains at the heart of the party. They place greater stress
on state intervention to create social and economic equality and on social justice in the form of
redistribution than most liberals in the past.
There is a divide within the party between those who support a wide range of economic liberties and
those who praise many of the virtues of classical liberalism, and social liberals who remain committed
to the role of the state in promoting welfare and positive liberty.

Liberal democracy in the UK – The liberal elements of the UK political system can be summarized as
follows:
o Elections are largely uncorrupted and virtually all adult citizens have the right to vote and
stand for office.
o All legal parties and pressure groups and free to operate.
o Government is permanently accountable.
o Important constitutional changes are subject to popular referendum and consent.
o National minorities have been granted a large amount of political independence.
o Human Rights Act guarantees more individual rights.
o The law reflects a high degree of tolerance to minority groups.
However, not all aspects are liberal:
o The sovereignty of parliament always threatens individual liberties, especially as the executive
dominates the legislature.
o Much of the prime ministers power remains unchecked – contrast to the US federal system.
o Unelected chambers have retained political role – i.e. House of Lords.

Core British values – is the British political and social culture liberal in nature?
o The UK is certainly praised for its tolerance towards a wide variety of beliefs and cultures.
o Britain is notable for its sense of social and legal justice and the common law tradition, which
embraces individual rights and protection from excessive state power, is rooted in the UK.
o The British media is remarkably free from state influence, as is the broadcasting establishment.
o In terms of the economy the UK has come to embrace the free entrepreneurial spirit beloved by
19th century liberals.

The UK has a pluralist culture – tolerating many different beliefs, movements and faiths. Modern
liberal democracies are pluralist in nature.
There is a strong claim that Britain is not just a liberal democracy, but a liberal society. Neither strong
British traditions have ever overshadowed the fundamentally liberal spirit of the country.

10