Whether you are studying politics and want some help with revising, or you are just interested in politics and want to learn more, this is the place for you. This is going to be a new weekly feature on my blog where I do a summary of different political topics such as ideologies, elections, pressure groups etc. My first one is on Liberalism, so do give me feedback so I can improve this series!
What is Liberalism?
Liberalism is an ideology which centres around a few core values:
- Freedom/liberty (freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion etc)
- Tolerance (the state should tolerate all beliefs and activities which do not harm the security or integrity of the state, and do not harm anyone)
- Equality (equality of opportunity is mainly promoted through universal education and universal healthcare, but it also applies to class differences, gender issues and ethnic diversity. Some Liberals also believe in Natural Rights, which John Locke said were our rights to life, liberty and property. Liberals believe that all individuals are born equal, in terms of two equal rights, namely “legal equality” and “political equality”. However, as people have different talents or abilities, liberals are devoted to provide equal opportunities for everyone to realize their uneven potential.
- Individualism (human beings are individuals, rather than subjected to any collectivity. Therefore, liberals aim at constructing a society in which individuals are provided the freedom to pursue his or her own good or happiness. Classic liberals believe that humans are self-serving and self-reliant, whereas modern liberals have a more optimistic view.)
- Justice (legal justice consists of the equal application of the law to ALL citizens. Classic and Modern Liberals have different stances on the issue of social justice.)
- Reason (we are born free, rational individuals, who are the best judges of our own interests.)
- Constitutionalism (the state should be limited and held accountable to the people to prevent it from becoming tyrannical.)
Liberals believe that humans are, first and foremost, individuals. They also believe us to be reasonable creatures – though not perfect. As reasonable individuals, we should enjoy the maximum possible freedom and should be entitled to legal and political rights. These rights should be ensured by constitutionalism (states and governments should be controlled by a binding constitution which limits their powers and protects the rights if individuals) and consent. We should also be rewarded for hard work and/or merit.
Where did Liberalism originate?
The roots of Liberalism began in the 1600s-1700s, round about the time of the Renaissance and Reformation. The feudal system (the system where peasants were given land in return for serving a lord or monarch, and were expected to perform various duties in return for their own land) was breaking down and people began to think that the wealth and power of nobles was merely an “accident of birth”, whilst before kings and queens were believed to be “chosen by God”. People wanted to own their own land and be free.
So, you’re talking about the Lib Dems?
No, not exactly. The reason the Lib Dems have the word “Liberal” in their name is because the Lib Dems originated from the fusion of the Liberal party and the Social Democrat party. The Lib Dems may have policies which are slightly conservative, slightly socialist, etc, and this often depends on who their leader is but each member will have their own beliefs and ideas. Liberalism is just an ideology which people can draw their beliefs from.
Are there different types of Liberalism?
Yes. The two main types of Liberalism are Classic Liberalism and Modern Liberalism, and they are very different.
Classic liberals generally believe that the state is a “necessary evil” and should not interfere with the personal lives of its subjects, as individuals know what is best for them to make them flourish. The state should only provide protection (from each other, from other nations and from the accumulation of economic and political power). The state should be in the hands of a representative democracy. They believe there should be a free market economy (a market economy based on supply and demand with little or no government control) except where monopolies are developed; they do not believe in having a welfare state, because “Heaven helps those who helps themselves.” This system of meritocracy (people selected according to merit) ensures social justice.
On the other hand, modern liberals believe that the state has a responsibility to help people who cannot help themselves, aka the state should get involved in the economic and social lives of its subjects. This liberal thought led to the birth of the welfare state. Modern liberals believe in using economic management to rectify the inequality caused by capitalism and social prejudices. They believe that the minimum position in society should be raised (for example through having a higher minimum wage) and taxes should be used to level the playing field via the ‘trickle down effect’ – the amount of tax you pay depending on how much you earn, so that richer people pay more and poorer people pay less so in the end we all have the same amount of money.
I hope you enjoyed this post! Don’t forget to like, follow and comment if you did, and keep an eye out for my future “Easy Politics” posts. 🙂 I’ll be writing about other topics too though.