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LIBERALISM

Summary of Andrew Heywoods Discussion on Ideologies 5th Edition

CONTENTS

I- Definition II- Brief discussion of its Origin and Development III- Central Values underlying the Ideology IV- Variants of the Ideology

WHAT IS LIBERALISM?

An ideology which central theme is about: commitment to the individual, desire to construct a society where people can satisfy their interests and achieve fulfillment. Liberalism forwards the idea that individuals are naturally endowed with reason and as such, be allowed to enjoy the maximum possible freedom.

It gives emphasis on merit. This means that though individuals have equal legal and political rights, they must be rewarded according to their talents and willingness to work. It revolves around the twin principles of constitutionalism and consent.

HOW DID LIBERALISM COME ABOUT?

Its origins can be traced back to early agricultural societies when people started living in settled communities and were forced to find ways of trading and living with strangers (Seabright, 2004) Nonetheless, as a developed ideology; it can be traced back to the breakdown of feudalism in Europe and they rise of an aspiring middle class.

The middle class gave rise to a capitalist society and a market economy. This change exposed people to an array of choices and for the first time it created a sense on individualism among the people This gradually evolved into radical demands for change from the people to abolish traditional structures of power that conflict with their interests.

WHAT ARE ITS CENTRAL VALUES?

Individualism: Is the belief in the supreme importance of the individual over any social group or collective body. Society should be constructed so as to benefit the individual giving moral priority in individual rights, needs and interests. Individuals should be seen as end in themselves.

Freedom: Is a consequence of the supreme belief in the individual. For Liberals, this is the supreme political value and in many ways the unifying principle. For Liberals, freedom is the only state where individuals can fully develop their skills and potentials.

However, Liberals do not believe in absolute freedom. John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty that The only purpose for which power can rightfully be exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

Reason Came about from the desire of the enlightenment to Release humankind from its bondage to superstition and ignorance Liberals believe that reason is innate but not to the extent that it is infallible. However, it opposes restrictive paternalism that prevents individuals from developing. It gives emphasis on the importance of discussion, debate and argument.

Justice Denotes a particular kind of moral judgement about the distribution of rewards and punishments. Human beings are seen as born equal and is of equal moral worth. Liberalism vigorously disapproves of a system of privileges that are enjoyed by a few and denied to everyone else.

For Liberals, arbitrary assignment of privileges through irrational standards like gender, race, color, creed, religion or social background is an injustice. They believe in equality of opportunity, that every individual must be given the chance to rise and fall within the ranks of society paving the way for the system of meritocracy. For them, merit is the only just basis for granting more privileges.

Toleration The Liberal social ethic is characterized by a willingness to accept and in some cases celebrate moral, cultural and political diversity. Is rooted on the assumption that humans and separate and unique creatures, since toleration is a guarantee of personal autonomy. Toleration is necessary to strike a balance among conflicting interests and to create harmony.

Constitutionalism Although liberals agree about the need of a Government, they are also aware of the dangers it poses against freedom. For Liberals, power naturally corrupts and if it isnt regulated or checked, it can be abused. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts indefinitely Lord Acton

Liberals believe in a limited government and this can only be achieved through constitutional constraints that ensure: The Rights of the Governed The Rule of Law Checks and Balances

VARIANTS OF LIBERALISM

Classical Liberalism Earliest Liberal tradition which developed in the transition from feudalism to capitalism and reached its height in the industrial era. It is characterized by: First, a belief in egoistical individualism; that human beings are rationally self interested and capable of self reliance. Second, a belief in negative freedom or absence of external restraints.

Third, that the state is a necessary evil (Thomas Paine). They believe that there must be minimal state intervention. Fourth, it is characterized by a broadly positive view of civil society.

Economic Liberalism Came about from the economic theories of political economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo. It applied the classical liberal belief of limited state to the handling of the economy. For economic liberals, the economy will flourish if left free from state intervention. Economic liberalism is an anti-thesis to Mercantilism.

Neoliberalism A revival of classical liberalism that occurred in the 1970s. A notch higher than Economic Liberalism for it espouses Market Fundamentalism which sees the market as morally and practically superior to the Government in terms of political control. It is a response to the increasing popularity of economic ideologies that expand the role of the government in the market.

Modern Liberalism Dubbed as the 20th century liberalism. It is a response to the growing problems brought about by unrestrained economic individualism which led to the disadvantage of the working class, spread of poverty, disease and ignorance. For modern liberals, the minimal state approach is incapable of rectifying the injustices of civil society, as a consequence, they vouch for a more interventionist or enabling state.

Modern Liberals place value on affirmative action and positive freedom contrast to the Classical Liberals who value strict meritocracy and negative freedom. Modern Liberals believe that there must be a balance between the state and the market. However, they stay true to the liberal belief in the primacy of the individual over the society.