Liberalism

EDEXCEL A2 GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: UNIT THREE/ROUTE B: POLITICAL IDEOLOGIES: LIBERALISM

Downloadable pdf of class notes

LIBERALISM

Liberalism pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT
  • KEY THEMES:

The Individual

Freedom

Reason

Justice

Toleration

  • LIBERALISM AND DEMOCRACY

The Liberal State

Constitutional Government

Democratic rule

  • CLASSICAL LIBERALISM

Natural Rights

Utilitarianism

Economic Liberalism

Social Darwinism

  • MODERN LIBERALISM

Individuality

Positive Freedom

Social Liberalism

Keynesianism

  • The FUTURE OF LIBERALISM

ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT

  • Liberalism  emerged as a political creed in the early part of the 19th Century, though it was based on a series of ideas from as much as 300 years earlier
  • Liberal ideas arose out of the enlightenment in the wake of the collapse of feudalism and the transition to an industrialised market economy
  • Liberal ideas were popular amongst the newly emerging middle class. They  were aspirational, and sought radical and even revolutionary change, challenging the absolute powers of the monarchs and the ‘divine right of kings’
  • They also championed freedom of conscience and challenged the authority of the church
  • The 19th century saw the triumph of liberal ideas as industrialisation spread and market economies flourished
  • In economic terms liberals emphasised the importance of the market, free from government interference , and the promotion of free trade between nations.
  • As capitalism was exported around the globe some nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America resisted the individualism of liberalism and instead favoured socialism or nationalism
  • Western political systems have been so profoundly influenced by liberalism that they are often referred to as liberal democracies
  • There is an emphasis on constitutionalism, civil liberties, checks and balances, toleration and the protection of fundamental civil liberties. In addition freedom of expression, the right to property and freedom of conscience are all deeply ingrained in western political systems
  • It is also argued that there is a necessary and inevitable link between liberalism and capitalism. Hayek for example argues that the right to property is an essential guarantor of political liberty.
  • Over time liberalism has become less radical and increasingly conservative, arguing in the main for the maintenance of existing, mainly liberal values
  • There is a tension at the heart of the creed between classical liberalism which believes in the fundamental importance of the minimal state and modern liberalism in which the state adopts  a more expansive role.
  • Liberalism, in common with all ideologies, encompasses within it a range of diverse, and even contradictory, traditions.
  • There is nonetheless a fundamental commitment to the importance of individual freedom.


  • CENTRAL THEMES:

The Primacy of the Individual

Freedom

Reason

Justice

Toleration

The Primacy of the Individual

  • As feudalism and the bonds of loyalty to family, community and other groupings broke down individuals were confronted with a broader range of choices. For the first time individuals were encouraged to think of themselves as just that – individuals.
  • The end of serfdom gave individuals more choice in their employment and indeed where they lived.
  • Traditional or religious theories of life and man’s place in the world were replaced with more scientific and rational ways of thinking. Individuals were seen to be of special, even unique, value.
  • This trend towards the growth of individualism was reflected in the growth of natural rights theories in the 17th & 18th Centuries. Locke initially saw these rights as ‘life, liberty and property.’  Thus society should be organised to afford protection to individual interests and needs.
  • Kant additionally espoused the need for the dignity and the equal worth of human beings.
  • This belief in the primacy of the individual has sometimes lead, within liberalism, to a tendency towards atomisation or possessive individualism (C.B. Macpherson). The individual is selfish, egotistic, self serving and self reliant.
  • Later liberals however have stressed the capacity that human beings have for social responsibility.
  • This does not nonetheless undermine the chief goal for liberals – which is to create a society in which each person is capable of developing and flourishing to the fullness of their potential. One of the hallmarks of liberalism is therefore an attachment to equality of opportunity.

Freedom

  • This attachment to the primacy of the individual somewhat naturally leads to a commitment to individual freedom or liberty
  • In early, or as it has come to be known, classical, liberalism liberty was a natural and virtually inalieble (though not completely inalieble) right.
  • All liberals are persuaded by the belief that liberty is an essential precondition for developing skills and talents and fulfilling potential.
  • There is however no absolute entitlement to liberty. No person must exercise their liberty to such an extent that it harms or infringes the liberty of others. Thus there are necessary constraints on individual freedom so that liberty does not become the ‘licence’ by which to abuse others
  • “The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)

  • Mill was a libertarian who distinguished between ‘self regarding’ exercises of liberty and those which are ‘other regarding’. Thus a person may do as he wishes in the field of self regarding exercises of liberty, providing he has considered whether there is any potential loss of the full expression of the liberty of others and he has correctly concluded that there is none.
  • Even in radical libertarianism however there has to a recognition of the duty that befalls on all who exercise their liberty. This duty is to recognise and act upon the fact that each individual enjoys an equal right to liberty. This principle is upheld b y the modern liberal John Rawls.
  • Although the value of liberty is hardly contested in different strands of liberalism, its meaning is sometimes debated. Berlin (1958) differentiated between positive and negative liberty. Classical liberals have essentially focused on negative liberty whilst modern liberals have moved their focus  towards positive conceptions of liberty.
  • This distinction is important because it gives rise to different conceptions about the role of the state.
  • Negative liberty implies an absence of constraint, an expression of which may be found in A.V. Dicey’s rule of Law whereby no-one is punishable except in breach  of the law whereas positive liberty implies an enactment of rights thus involving an expanded role for the state in the legislative sphere. AV Dicey espoused the notion that persons were free to do as they wished so long as no law prevented them from doing so. This is the essence of negative liberty.  Positive liberty are rights granted by the State such as previously did not exist, for example the extension of the franchise in 1918 to women.

Reason

  • The liberal belief in freedom is closely related to the belief in reason. Reason in turn has largely influenced liberalism arising in close proximity to liberalism during the enlightenment.
  • The key figures of the enlightenment were Rousseau, Kant, Smith and Bentham.
  • The central ideas of the enlightenment were an escape from superstition and ignorance in order to unleash an age of reason
  • The ideas of the enlightenment strengthened liberal values of liberty and individualism
  • The premises of the enlightenment were that human beings are rational creatures, capable of reason and logical enquiry. Humans are by no means infallible but they are capable nonetheless of defining what is in their own best interests.
  • Ingrained in this line of thought is an opposition to paternalism and to traditional forms of authority. Paternalism robs the individual of responsibility and self reliance and in effect of learning from their own mistakes. It is the negation of liberty and undermines capacity for reason
  • Paternalism may be benign but has the capacity for abuse of power. The paternalistic figure who knows best may use their position for their own ends.
  • The belief in reason stems from the belief in humans taking control of their own destiny and in effect reasoning what is in their own best interests.
  • Reason emancipates man from the bondage of his own ignorance. It gives him to ability to fashion his own destiny and advance in his own best interests. Out of this comes a strong liberal belief in the power of education as a means of self improvement.
  • Note in this context that Beveridge had identified ignorance as one of the 5 Giant Ills stalking 1930s Britain and that Beveridge himself was of course a Liberal
  • Education promotes moral and individual development but also promotes social and historical development as the stock of human knowledge increases and reason embeds itself
  • Reason and rationality, debate and argument are also a bulwark against barbarism, brutality and violence.

Justice

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

Toleration

  • Liberals accept and even embrace moral, cultural and political diversity
  • Civil liberties including Freedom of Association, Conscience, Movement &  Expression.

Personal Freedoms, Social Freedoms, Political Rights, Right to Privacy, Right to Property and Employment Rights are all hallmarks of the liberal democratic ideal and are seen as essential guarantees of toleration.

  • These go hand in hand with political and other forms of pluralism and can only be removed through censorship and repression which liberals naturally oppose as threatening liberty.
  • The liberal case for toleration 1st emerged in 17th Century in regards to opposition to religious repression. John Locke had argued that since the primary function of the state was to protect ‘life, liberty and property,’ it had no right to interfere in the ‘care of men’s souls’.
  • In On Liberty (1859) J.S. Mill that toleration is of fundamental importance not only to the society but to the individual. In the social realm only a free market of ideas would allow ‘the truth’ to emerge. As far as individuals were concerned toleration was a guarantee of self-autonomy and thus moral development. For some liberals democracy is intolerant to the extent that it treats minorities harshly because they dissent from the majority view.
  • However liberals do not endorse unlimited toleration, just as they do not endorse unlimited freedom. Locke felt that Roman Catholics could not be afforded toleration as they threatened national sovereignty.
  • View that are of themselves intolerant such that they threaten tolerance, i.e. racist opinions, are not however acceptable.
  • This emphasis on diversity and toleration however has for some conservatives lead to a weakening of authority and a society of disorder and instability. Too many competing claims and points of view may lead to moral and cultural relativism in which every claim is valid and in which every opinion has merit.
  • This leads to a situation in which in obligation and duty are eschewed in favour of rights and freedom.


LIBERALISM AND DEMOCRACY

The Liberal State

Where there is no law, there is no freedom

  • Whilst liberals cherish freedom dearly, they do not believe that it is possible to achieve a balanced and just society out of the free actions and voluntary associations of individuals. Thus there is a fundamental difference between liberals and anarchists. Liberals believe the state the law and government to be necessary whereas anarchists do not.
  • Liberty must not be allowed to become a licence of abuse. Individuals will necessarily seek to gain advantages over others and in the process may abuse one of the central themes in liberalism, that of justice.
  • Each individual is under threat from other individuals and each individual if unrestrained is a threat to other individuals
  • The only protection, as with conservatism, is a strong but minimal state. These ideas arose out of Hobbes and were developed by Locke.
  • Rational individuals would need to come together in some form of social contract to establish such a state in preference to a ‘state of nature’ in which life would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.’
  • Sacrificing some liberty in order to set up a system of law was preferable to any state of absolute freedom which in fact would leave their liberty and their lives under the gravest threat.
  • Such a contract was not of course in reality a formal agreement between citizens agreeing to set up such a state. The social contract was more a philosophical means of legitimising the sovereignty of the state whilst at the same time warning of the dangers of too little or too much state power.
  • The social contract argument embodies some important liberal principles. It holds that though the state did not originate from such a contract both government and governed must act as if it did.
  • Thus the authority the state possesses must be seen as if it emanates from below; the state must recognise that it exists to serve the interests of the people; citizens do not have an absolute obligation to accept all laws or any form of government. If this were the case then tyranny could easily flourish.
  • It is this principle that enshrined in the 2nd amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America ‘the right to bear arms’ – that is to be in a position to overthrow any form of tyrannical government that may develop.
  • It also underpins why the founding fathers of the constitution were keen to embed separation of powers within the constitution
  • Liberals regard the state as acting as arbiter between competing interests enforcing rules for the benefit of all parties. It does not and should possess agency of itself.
  • This means that the state should not possess will or seek to express or enforce that will. Nor should it act in its own interest.
  • Hegel argued in The Philosophy of Right (1821) that the state is a realm of ‘universal altruism’ , promoting loyalty and commitment to ‘higher national ideals’, in other words a positive good rather than a ‘necessary evil’
  • Some liberals take the view that this could justify an expanded role for the state and even facilitate authoritarianism, for example, in the invocation of patriotism, nationalism and even totalitarianism.
  • In one sense this is how the process of gleichschaltung was justified in Nazi Germany – with appeals to the interests of the Reich. There is for most liberals a definite danger in this Hegelian distinction between a public realm (universal altruism) and a private realm (individualism and self interest). The danger lies in the possibility that the former could consume the latter.

Constitutional Government

Key Term: Constitutionalism

Constitutionalism, in a narrow sense is the practice of limited government brought about by the existence of a constitution. Constitutionalism, in this sense is said to exist when government institutions and processes are effectively constrained by constitutional rules.  More broadly constitutionalism refers to a set of political values and aspirations that reflect the desire to protect liberty through the establishment of internal and external checks on government power. It is typically expressed in constitutional provisions that establish this goal, notably a codified constitution, a bill of rights, separation of powers, bicameralism, federalism or decentralisation. Constitutionalism is thus a species of political liberalism.

Political ideologies: An Introduction, Andrew Heywood, MacMillan Press Ltd 1992, p.41.

  • Liberals place great emphasis on constitutionalism. Indeed it could be argued to be the very cornerstone of liberalism, upon which all other fundamental tenets such as liberty, toleration, pluralism and justice, rest. Without constitutionalism, none of these could be guaranteed.
  • Government exercises sovereign power. It cannot be otherwise. Only the state may possess a monopoly on coercion. This too is necessary.
  • There is thus the constant threat of or potential for tyranny.
  • Since liberalism developed as a critique of absolutism and authoritarianism it is acutely aware of such dangers posed by the entity of the state.
  • The point that the state must not possess agency of itself is central to the theory of constitutional government.
  • Any entity is bound to be self serving if left free to be so. This applies as equally to the state as it does to individuals.
  • Liberals fear arbitrary government and governments in possession of power are apt to display Lord Acton’s maxim.
  • Thus the concept of limited government is both necessary and desirable.
  • This requirement necessitates constitutional government; i.e. government as laid down in rules.
  • Thus constitutions will contain a host of provisions designed to create the conditions under which limited government and no more than limited government can operate.
  • Constraints upon government may be in the form of external and internal constraints.
  • External constraints lie in the law and / or in the constitution. In the absence of codification, such as that pertaining in the UK, constraints to government rest in statute law and other sources of the constitution such as treaty law, common law, conventions and works of authority such as A.V. Dicey’s The Rule of Law.
  • Internal constraints rest upon checks and balances within the three branches of government. In Montesquieu’s maxim ‘…power should be a check to power…’.
  • This is most effectively achieved in a formal separation of powers but it is mistaken to believe that parliamentary systems have no separation of powers. They do but just not as clearly cut as presidential systems. Emphasis on such a separation could be observed in the UK for example by reference to civil service and judicial independence and neutrality, or by reference to devolution, the bicameral legislature, the Human Rights Act or via obligations arising out of international conventions, treaties and protocols.
  • In the United States, Canada, India, Australia and Germany Federalism is one expression of the doctrine of the separation of powers.

Democratic rule

o      A distinction is usually made between direct and indirect forms of democracy. Indirect democracy is also sometimes referred to as representative democracy.

o      Therefore democracy is therefore never truly a reflection of Abraham Lincoln’s definition in the Gettysburg Address of ‘…government of the people, by the people, for the people…’

o      In  direct democracy the citizenry effectively rule themselves by making the decisions themselves. Athenian democracy however was never direct democracy in the truest sense as women and many others were excluded from the decision making process.

o      Direct democracy is better suited to small scale communities, not large complex societies with millions or even hundreds of millions of citizens.

o      It is therefore the norm that with the exception of referenda and general elections representative democracy prevails as the most practiced form of democracy

o      Representative democracy is therefore government for the people.

o      Liberal attitudes to democracy have been ambivalent and varied.

o      19th century liberals  often feared democracy echoing long standing concerns that majority rule would lead to the tyranny of the majority, subjugating minority interests and rights (Alexis De Tocqueville).

o      James Madison echoed these concerns in Philadelphia in 1787 arguing that government would need to be a system of checks and balances so that government as a whole was not necessarily nor simultaneously in the hands of the majority. Madison also argued that the propertied few needed to be protected from the unpropertied masses.

o      Mill further expressed reservations about democracy, casting doubt on the ability of the mass to make informed educated choices. Differential voting power, depending on class, education and occupation

o      Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) warnings on democracy were very much the product of times. In The Revolt of the Masses he saw how authoritarian leaders were beginning to exploit through new communications technology such as the Radio and the Cinema the masses in order to transform democracy to totalitarianism. Though not entirely prescient he saw the means by which Hitler, Mussolini and Franco would come to power.

o      By the twentieth century most liberals saw democracy as a virtue.

o      Electoral competition produces diversity and political pluralism. Politicians are forced to pay heed to the forces of the political market place and endorse an aggregate of demands in order to secure support, votes and representative office.

o      In such a way there is both responsiveness and accountability of decision makers to the populace as well as internal checks and separations of power. In conjunction with many other features such as civil liberties the foundations of liberal democracy are thud laid down.

o      Liberal democracy is thus characterised by: indirect and representative forms of democracy; competition and electoral choice; a clear distinction between the realm of the state and the realm of civil society through internal and external checks on government.

o      External checks i.e. through the law may be problematic. The government may reform the constitution in such a way as to aggregate more power for the government. The law may also be used to erode civil liberties through for example suspension of Habeas Corpus.

CLASSICAL LIBERALISM

Classical liberal ideas developed in the transition from feudalism to capitalism and thus as the emergent industrialised capital state in the world liberal ideas flourished in England and then later the USA. The central idea in classical liberalism is that of ‘negative freedom’. In this conception of freedom individuals are free to that which no law prevents predicated on the premise of habeas corpus, that no – one is punishable except in breach of the law. Thus freedom is the absence of external constraints. The state is a necessary evil, a realm of coercion which is a threat to property, to liberty and even to life. It is necessary to establish order and security and evil in that it imposes a collective will upon the individual and limits freedom. Classical liberalism thus believes in as minimal as possible role for the state, a ‘nightwatchman’ in Locke’s metaphor. Classical liberalism  is no longer the historical curiosity it may have been deemed in the mid-twentieth century where paternalism and intervention were the new orthodoxies. Since the emergence of the new right in the 1980s classical liberal theories concerning the state experienced a resurgence.

Natural Rights

  • Natural rights theorists such as Locke or Jefferson had a profound influence on the early development of liberalism.
  • In their view rights were natural or inalieble, a condition and a consequence of being human. The fundamental rights were life, liberty, (property) and the pursuit of happiness.
  • The weight given to such rights distinguishes classical liberals from early conservatives. Though both early Conservatives and classical liberals shared their views about the minimal state, conservatives were much more prepared to see a stronger state at the expense of liberty than were classical liberals.
  • In Leviathan (1631) Hobbes argued that only a strong government, preferably an absolutist one 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.
  • The functions of government should not extend beyond the minimal role of preserving order and protecting property echoed in Jefferson’s maxim “that government is best which governs least.”

Utilitarianism

  • Bentham and Mill regarded rights as abstract nonsense. They instead placed emphasis on humans as motivated by self interest by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Utilitarianism is best summed up in the phrase ’the greatest good for the greatest number.’
  • The principle of utility is that the ‘rightness’ of any action may be judged by the tendency of the action to promote happiness. In this way what benefits society as a whole may be more or less scientifically established.
  • The soc called philosophical radicals proposed a range of social, political and legal reforms based on this notion of utility.
  • Individuals are thought to perceive what is in their own best interests. This cannot be determined by some paternalistic authority.
  • There is nonetheless some scope for utilitarian ideas to be illiberal. The formula has majoritarian implications in the sense that the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ may lead to a trampling of minority rights and freedoms.

Economic Liberalism

  • In the late 18th and early 19th centuries classical liberal economic theories were developed. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776)  drew heavily upon liberal and rationalist assumptions about human nature and the proper role of government.
  • Governments of the 16th and 17th centuries had interfered heavily in the running of the economy
  • Smith however argued that the economy works best when it is free from government interference. The market works best when it operates according to the wishes of free individuals acting as economic agents whether as buyer or seller, employer or employee.
  • Market forces when left alone will produce wealth, economic prosperity and well being. The market is also a self-regulating mechanism and requires no management. Indeed any attempt to manage capitalism will result in economic inefficiency.
  • The market is an ‘invisible hand’ which is self regulating. The market is responsive to any required adjustments in the economy and the need for government intervention is obviated.
  • Free market economic ideas or ‘laissez faire’  policies became the orthodoxy in the mid 19th centuries and were really only challenged by the growth of one nation conservativism , welfare liberalism and the post war consensus.
  • Faith in free market economics and a diminished role for the state was revived in the 1980s by Thatcher and Reagan.

Social Darwinism

Heaven helps those who help themselves (Samuel Smiles: Self-Help, 1859)

  • One of the key features of classical liberalism is its attitude to both poverty and social inequality.
  • A rigid believe in individualism and freedom will tend to locate the source of social problems such as poverty within the individual themselves. Those with a willingness and ability to work will prosper whereas those are lazy will not. The work ethic is therefore central.
  • Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus The State (1884),  drew on Darwin’s theory of evolution, specifically the concept of ‘natural selection’, and applied this to the social sphere. Society and the distribution of social rewards are a just reflection of each individuals effort. Thus wealth creation and its distribution are uneven as a result of the uneven distribution of talents and efforts. The social sphere is also a sphere in which ‘the survival of the fittest’ is the most appropriate maxim.
  • There should be no attempt from government to interfere with these laws of nature, simply because some are in poverty. The poor are poor because they have failed to stand on their own two feet.
  • Social Darwinism’s most recent expression can be seen in the attacks on welfarism in the 1970s, 80s and the 1990s
  • The best way to overcome the ‘dependency culture’ was to foster an ‘enterprise culture’

MODERN LIBERALISM

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. Liberals found it increasingly more difficult to maintain that Capitalism had brought with it general prosperity and rising living standards for all. Unrestrained pursuit of wealth had not produced a just society and the minimal state seemed incapable of rectifying the injustices and inequalities of civil society. As a result of this modern liberalism reflects an increasing willingness to accept a more interventionist role for the state.

Individuality

  • J.S. Mill provides a bridge between classical and modern liberalism.
  • In On Liberty (1859) developed the concept of individual sovereignty, focusing on negative liberty and the absence of constraints.
  • The absence of constraints was seen by Mill as a necessary condition of freedom but not a sufficient one.
  • Mill did not define 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 predate modern liberalism

Positive Freedom

  • Positive Freedom is a concept most closely associated with modern liberalism
  • It implies an expanded role for the state as the state intervenes in human affairs to grant more rights
  • T.H. Green (1836-1882) argued that the unrestrained pursuit of profit had created new forms of poverty and injustice which were an affront to freedom.
  • 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.
  • Green’s 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 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
  • If the market cannot or will not provide individuals with equal opportunities to grow and developmodern liberals then argue that the only course of action is collective action undertaken by the state.
  • Less than see the state as a threat to liberty it should therefore be seen as its guarantor.
  • The state should be seen as an enabling state undertaking a wide role of social and even economic responsibilities.
  • Although this is a significant departure from classical liberalism it does not place the state before the individual
  • Modern liberals still retain the view in common with classical liberals  that ultimately individuals are responsible for themselves and must be self reliant.
  • The expanded role of the state simply makes this more possible for more people thus helping people help themselves

Social Liberalism

  • Social liberalism grew out of the expanding role of the state in 20th century. Just as the minimalist state was the norm in the 19th century, so too was the welfare state in the 20th century
  • A number of factors contributed to this ideological and historical shift including the need for national efficiency, stronger healthy workers, pressures for political reform and a need to tackle the large scale poverty characteristic of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Welfarism as a political strategy or priority is not the preserve of a single ideology. Conservatives, socialists, liberals, feminists and even fascists have at some point all embraced welfarism.
  • But not all adherents to these ideologies supported welfarism unconditionally. It is best to examine each of the ideologies in turn to find support for and indeed opposition to the principles embodied in welfarism
  • Modern liberals have defended welfarism principally on grounds of equality of opportunity
  • If social circumstances produce gross disadvantages that interfere with the principal of equality of opportunity then corrective steps and measures are justified.
  • Such an expansion of state activity does not diminish rights but actually enhances rights
  • Negative rights such as freedom of conscience or freedom of expression are not in any way negated by an extended role for the state in regards to the granting of positive rights, such as welfare entitlement.
  • Positive and negative rights should not therefore be seen in opposition to one another but rather as complementary, broadening the range of available rights to individuals and enhancing equality of opportunity
  • Many examples of modern liberalism can be detected in the policies of Lloyd George, Asquith, Roosevelt and Attlee, Macmillan, Kennedy and Johnson leading to, in the United States for example, affirmative action policies. Similar policies are now at the centre of the EU’s equal rights agenda.

Keynesianism

  • In addition to providing welfare, governments of the 20th century have also pursued policies of economic management whi lst abandoning classical liberal laissez faire, attitudes to the market.
  • The Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression were arguably the clearest demonstration of the failures of the free market. After the second world war all governments adopted policies of intervention
  • Such interventionist policies were greatly influenced and guided by the work of John Maynard Keynes.

Liberalism Revision Notes

1. Arose during the enlightenment to challenge absolutism in the form of the divine right of Kings – favoured constitutional, representative and limited government.

2. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) wrote Leviathan in 1651 criticised a state of nature in which life would be “poor, solitary, nasty, brutish and short.” A state of nature was also “a war of all against all.” – Favoured the establishment of a government with absolute authority.

3. John Locke (1632-1704) partly agreed – in a state of nature man lived according to natural law and could be co-operative but the dangers and threats to liberty in a state of nature were too pronounced to leave to chance. Strong but minimalist government (the concept of the ‘nightwatchman’ state) was necessary to preserve liberty. “Where there is no law, there is no freedom” For Locke the most cherished things were “Life, Liberty and Property.”

All men are created equal and have entitlement to natural rights. There can be no qualification of this position. These rights are inalienable. All human beings have a right to an equal amount of liberty and all human beings must consent to be governed. These rights to equality are fundamental and foundational.

Natural rights, negative freedom and AV Dicey’s the rule of law – no one is punishable except in breach of the law and each man is free to do that which no law forbids.

These ideas echo Locke’s ideas that there must be an equal amount of liberty for all. The liberal conception of equality is also closely related with that of justice, which is concerned with fair distribution of punishment and reward and giving each what he is due. Justice can only be achieved through equality and inequality denies justice. Human beings are conceived as individuals, each with equal right and equal moral worth. All human beings have access to such rights, which cannot and must not belong to a specific grouping. Individuals are equal before the law and should enjoy equal rights and civil liberties.

4. Tolerance Locke wrote A Letter on Toleration concerned primarily with religious tolerance. Locke was very wide ranging on religious tolerance. He thought it should be afforded to Jews and Muslims, as well as Catholics. He also distinguishes between the religious and civil realms of society. If tolerance meant that Catholics look to the Pope for spiritual guidance that was a private matter, but if they did so in a way which had implications for civil society, the state and politics, or if they themselves engaged in religious INTOLERANCE then that should not be accepted.

So as with liberty there is no absolute toleration. Just as no free man should be so free as to make another free man his slave, there is no duty to accept views or practices which of themselves are intolerant of others. Toleration therefore also has its limits.

Today Liberals accept and even embrace moral, cultural and political diversity. Civil liberties including Freedom of Association, Conscience, Movement & Expression. Personal Freedoms, Social Freedoms, Political Rights, Right to Privacy, Right to Property and Employment Rights are all hallmarks of the liberal democratic ideal and are seen as essential guarantees of toleration. These go hand in hand with political and other forms of pluralism and can only be removed through censorship and repression which liberals naturally oppose as threatening liberty.

The liberal case for toleration 1st emerged in 17th Century in regards to opposition to religious repression. John Locke had argued that since the primary function of the state was to protect ‘life, liberty and property,’ it had no right to interfere in the ‘care of men’s souls’.

In On Liberty (1859) J.S. Mill that toleration is of fundamental importance not only to the society but to the individual. In the social realm only a free market of ideas would allow ‘the truth’ to emerge. As far as individuals were concerned toleration was a guarantee of self-autonomy and thus moral development. For some liberals, democracy is intolerant to the extent that it treats minorities harshly because they dissent from the majority view.

There should be some recognition of the degree to which the limits of tolerance are tested for example when the BNP were invited to appear on Question Time in 2009, or when protesters were arrested for reading out the names of the war dead at the cenotaph in 2005.

5. Jean Jacques Rousseau The social Contract (1762) the concept of the general will.

6. Immanuel Kant(1724–1804) all humans are endowed with reason and rationality, all humans have equal moral value.

7. Charles De Montesquieu (1689-1755) the formal seperation of powers  -“power should be a check unto power” – Lord Acton “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (1887). There is always a possibility that the state will develop agency of itself and seek to aggregate more power. There is no point replacing an absolutist monarchy with an absolutist form of government.

8. ConstitutionalismLiberals place great emphasis on constitutionalism. Indeed it could be argued to be the very cornerstone of liberalism, upon which all other fundamental tenets such as liberty, toleration, pluralism and justice, rest. Without constitutionalism, none of these could be guaranteed. Government

exercises sovereign power. It cannot be otherwise. Only the state may possess a monopoly on coercion. This too is necessary. There is thus the constant threat of or potential for tyranny.

Since liberalism developed as a critique of absolutism and authoritarianism it is acutely aware of such dangers posed by the entity of the state. The point that the state must not possess agency of itself is central to the theory of constitutional government. Any entity is bound to be self serving if left free to be so. This applies as equally to the state as it does to individuals.

Liberals fear arbitrary government and governments in possession of power are apt to display Lord Acton’s maxim. Thus the concept of limited government is both necessary and desirable. This requirement necessitates constitutional government; i.e. government as laid down in rules.

Thus constitutions will contain a host of provisions designed to create the conditions under which limited government and no more than limited government can operate. Constraints upon government may be in the form of external and internal constraints. External constraints lie in the law and / or in the constitution. In the absence of codification, such as that pertaining in the UK, constraints to government rest in statute law and other sources of the constitution such as treaty law, common law, conventions and works of authority such as A.V. Dicey’s The Rule of Law. Internal constraints rest upon checks and balances within the three branches of government. In Montesquieu’s maxim ‘…power should be a check to power…’.  This is most effectively achieved in a formal separation of powers but it is mistaken to believe that parliamentary systems have no separation of powers. They do but just not as clearly cut as presidential systems. Emphasis on such a separation could be observed in the UK for example by reference to civil service and judicial independence and neutrality, or by reference to devolution, the bicameral legislature, the Human Rights Act or via obligations arising out of international conventions, treaties and protocols. In addition the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 provided for a formal separation of the legislature and the Judiciary with the removal of the Law Lords from the HOL and the creation of a separate Supreme Court. In the United States, Canada, India, Australia and Germany Federalism is one expression of the doctrine of the separation of powers.

9. Liberalism and Democracy Direct democracy is better suited to small scale communities, not large complex societies with millions or even hundreds of millions of citizens. It is therefore the norm that with the exception of referenda and general elections representative democracy prevails as the most practiced form of democracy

Representative democracy is therefore government for the people. Liberal attitudes to democracy have been ambivalent and varied. 19th century liberals often feared democracy echoing long standing concerns that majority rule would lead to the tyranny of the majority, subjugating minority interests and rights (Alexis De Tocqueville).

James Madison echoed these concerns in Philadelphia in 1787 arguing that government would need to be a system of checks and balances so that government as a whole was not necessarily nor simultaneously in the hands of the majority. Madison also argued that the propertied few needed to be protected from the unpropertied masses.

Mill further expressed reservations about democracy, casting doubt on the ability of the mass to make informed educated choices. Differential voting power, depending on class, education, occupation and (until 1867) property. By the twentieth century most liberals saw democracy as a virtue.

Electoral competition produces diversity and political pluralism. Politicians are forced to pay heed to the forces of the political market place and endorse an aggregate of demands in order to secure support, votes and representative office.

In such a way there is both responsiveness and accountability of decision makers to the populace as well as internal checks and separations of power. In conjunction with many other features such as civil liberties the foundations of liberal democracy are thus laid down.

Liberal democracy is thus characterised by: indirect and representative forms of democracy; competition and electoral choice; a clear distinction between the realm of the state and the realm of civil society through internal and external checks on government. External checks i.e. through the law may be problematic. The government may reform the constitution in such a way as to aggregate more power for the government. The law may also be used to erode civil liberties through for example suspension of Habeas Corpus.

10. Classical Liberalism

a)Natural rights and negative freedom

b)Utilitarianism (Bentham and Mill)

c)Economic Liberalism (Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776, Hayek The Road to Serfdom, 1945, Milton Friedman and the Chicago School

d) Social Darwinism – Samuel Smiles (1859) God helps those who help themselves. One of the key features of classical liberalism is its attitude to both poverty and social inequality. A rigid believe in individualism and freedom will tend to locate the source of social problems such as poverty within the individual themselves. Those with a willingness and ability to work will prosper whereas those are lazy will not. The work ethic is therefore central. Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus The State (1884), drew on Darwin’s theory of evolution, specifically the concept of ‘natural selection’, and applied this to the social sphere. Society and the distribution of social rewards are a just reflection of each individual’s efforts. Thus wealth creation and its distribution are uneven as a result of the uneven distribution of talents and efforts. The social sphere is also a sphere in which ‘the survival of the fittest’ is the most appropriate maxim.

There should be no attempt from government to interfere with these laws of nature, simply because some are in poverty. The poor are poor because they have failed to stand on their own two feet. Social Darwinism’s most recent expression can be seen in the attacks on welfarism in the 1970s, 80s and the 1990s and again in the wake of global financial crisis. All across Europe welfare spending is being slashed as a necessary (but also moral) means of reducing government deficits.

11.Modern Liberalism – including social Liberalism

a)Individuality – J.S. Mill provides a bridge between classical and modern liberalism. In On Liberty (1859) developed the concept of individual sovereignty, focusing on negative liberty and the absence of constraints.The absence of constraints was seen by Mill as a necessary condition of freedom but not a sufficient one. Mill did not define 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 predate modern liberalism.

b) Positive freedom Positive Freedom is a concept most closely associated with modern liberalism. It implies an expanded role for the state as the state intervenes in human affairs to grant more rights. T.H. Green (1836-1882) argued that the unrestrained pursuit of profit had created new forms of poverty and injustice which were an affront to freedom. 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. Green’s 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 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 . If the market cannot or will not provide individuals with equal opportunities to grow and develop modern liberals then argue that the only course of action is collective action undertaken by the state.Less than see the state as a threat to liberty it should therefore be seen as its guarantor. The state should be seen as an enabling state undertaking a wide role of social and even economic responsibilities. Although this is a significant departure from classical liberalism it does not place the state before the individual. Modern liberals still retain the view in common with classical liberals that ultimately individuals are responsible for themselves and must be self reliant. The expanded role of the state simply makes this more possible for more people thus helping people help themselves.

c) Keynesian Economics rather than free market economics.

12. Key liberal Concepts

a) Individualism

b) Freedom

c) Rationality

d) Justice (could be a 15 marker)

e) Toleration (could be a fifteen marker)

13. Rawls V Nozick

 Rawls believed that massive economic inequalities denied justice and these could be in part corrected by defining social justice as a system that includes an element of redistribution of wealth in order to benefit the poorest. This position was fiercely contested by Nozick on the basis that it interferes with the fundamental and absolute right to property.

 

 

 

 

 

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