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Classical Liberalism

Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties and political freedom with representative democracy under the rule of law, and emphasizes economic freedoms found in economic liberalism which is also called free market capitalism.[1][2]

Classical liberalism was first called that in the early 19th century, but was built on ideas of the previous century. It was a response to urbanization, and to the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States.[3] Notable individuals whose ideas contributed to classical liberalism include John Locke,[4] Thomas Jefferson, Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo. It drew on the economics of Adam Smith and on a belief in natural law,[5] utilitarianism,[6] and progress.[7]

Meaning of the term


The term classical liberalism was applied in retrospect to distinguish earlier 19th-century liberalism from the newer social liberalism.[8] The phrase classical liberalism is also sometimes used to refer to all forms of liberalism before the 20th century, and some conservatives and libertarians, especially in the United States, use the term classical liberalism to describe their belief in the primacy of individual freedom and minimal government.[9][10]

Core beliefs


Classical liberals believed that individuals should be free to obtain work from the highest-paying employers, while the profit motive would ensure that products that people desired were produced at prices they would pay. In a free market, both labour and capital would receive the greatest possible reward, while production would be organised efficiently to meet consumer demand.[11]

Classical liberals argued for minimal state, limited to the following functions:

  • protection against foreign invaders, extended to include protection of overseas markets through armed intervention,
  • protection of citizens from wrongs committed against them by other citizens, which included protection of private property, enforcement of contracts, and suppression of trade unions,
  • building and maintaining public institutions, and
  • "public works" that included a stable currency, standard weights and measures, and support of roads, canals, harbours, railways, and postal and other communications services.[12]

They asserted that rights are of a negative nature which require other individuals (and governments) to refrain from interfering with the free market, whereas social liberals asserts that individuals have positive rights, such as the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to health care, and the right to a living wage. For society to guarantee positive rights requires taxation over and above the minimum needed to enforce negative rights.[13][14]

Core beliefs of classical liberals did not necessarily include democracy where law is made by majority vote by citizens, because "there is nothing in the bare idea of majority rule to show that majorities will always respect the rights of property or maintain rule of law."[15] For example, James Madison argued for a constitutional republic with protections for individual liberty over a pure democracy, reasoning that, in a pure democracy, a "common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole...and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party...."[16]

Text was used with some modification from the Wikipedia page Classical liberalism, under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Social Liberalism

Social liberalism believes individual liberty requires a level of social justice. Like classical liberalism, social liberalism endorses a market economy and the expansion of civil and political rights and civil liberties, but differs in that it believes the legitimate role of the government includes addressing economic and social issues such as poverty, health care, and education.[17][18][19] Under social liberalism, the common good is viewed as harmonious with the freedom of the individual.[20] Social liberal policies have been widely adopted in much of the capitalist world, particularly following World War II.[21] Social liberal ideas and parties tend to be considered centrist or centre-left.

The term "social liberalism" is used to differentiate it from classical liberalism, which dominated political and economic thought for a number of years until social liberalism branched off from it around the Great Depression.[22][23]

A reaction against social liberalism in the late twentieth century, often called neoliberalism, led to monetarist economic policies and a reduction in government provision of services. However, governments continued to provide social services and retained control over economic policy.[24]

In American political usage, the term "social liberalism" describes progressive stances on socio-political issues like abortion, same-sex marriage or gun control, as opposed to "social conservatism".



By the end of the nineteenth century, the principles of classical liberalism were challenged by downturns in economic growth, a growing awareness of poverty and unemployment present within modern industrial cities, and also by the agitation of organized labour. A major political reaction against the changes introduced by industrialisation and laissez-faire capitalism came from conservatives concerned about social balance, although socialism later became a more important force for change and reform. Some Victorian writers—including Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Matthew Arnold—became early influential critics of social injustice.[25]

John Stuart Mill contributed enormously to liberal thought by combining elements of classical liberalism with what eventually became known as the new liberalism. The new liberals tried to adapt the old language of liberalism to confront these difficult circumstances, which they believed could only be resolved through a broader and more interventionist conception of the state. An equal right to liberty could not be established merely by ensuring that individuals did not physically interfere with each other, or merely by having laws that were impartially formulated and applied. More positive and proactive measures were required to ensure that every individual would have an equal opportunity of success.[26]

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, a group of British thinkers, known as the New Liberals, made a case against laissez-faire classical liberalism and argued in favor of state intervention in social, economic, and cultural life. What they proposed is now called social liberalism.[27] The New Liberals, which included intellectuals like Thomas Hill Green, Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse, and John A. Hobson, saw individual liberty as something achievable only under favorable social and economic circumstances.[28] In their view, the poverty, squalor and ignorance in which many people lived made it impossible for freedom and individuality to flourish. New Liberals believed that these conditions could be ameliorated only through collective action coordinated by a strong, welfare-oriented and interventionist state.[29]

The Liberal governments of Henry Campbell-Bannerman and H. H. Asquith, especially thanks to Chancellor of the Exchequer and later Prime Minister David Lloyd George, established the foundations of the welfare state in the UK before the First World War. The comprehensive welfare state built in the UK after the Second World War, although largely accomplished by the Labour Party, was significantly designed by two Liberals: John Maynard Keynes, who laid the economic foundations, and William Beveridge, who designed the welfare system.[28]

Text was used with some modification from the Wikipedia page Social liberalism, under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License


Libertarianism is a collection of political philosophies that uphold liberty as a core principle.[30] Libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing political freedom, voluntary association, and the importance of individual judgment.[31][32]

Libertarians share a skepticism of authority and state power. However, they diverge on the scope of their opposition to existing political and economic systems. Various schools of libertarian thought offer a range of views regarding the legitimate functions of state and private power, often calling to restrict or to dissolve coercive social institutions.

Some libertarians advocate laissez-faire capitalism and strong private property rights,[33] such as in land, infrastructure, and natural resources. Others, notably libertarian socialists,[34] seek to abolish capitalism and private ownership of the means of production in favor of their common or cooperative ownership and management, viewing private property as a barrier to freedom and liberty.[35][36][37][38] An additional line of division is between minarchists and anarchists. While minarchists think that a minimal centralized government is necessary, anarchists and anarcho-capitalists propose to completely eliminate the state.[39][40]

Text was used with some modification from the Wikipedia page Libertarianism, under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Moral Liberalism

Moral Liberalism is a form of liberalism that stresses the moral case behind liberal ideology. Moral liberalism is based on the premise that liberalism is the most moral ideology, because it is the only ideology that always ensures moral individuals are not oppressed by less moral governments, and that everyone can truly act upon their moral consciences. Unlike some other forms of liberalism, moral liberalism does not justify itself on utilitarian grounds or economic efficiency at all.

Equal Moral Agency


Moral liberalism strongly stresses that, in a truly moral society, everyone must have equal moral agency.

I have studied all sorts of ideologies, from Communism to Christian Reconstructionism, from Anarcho-Capitalism to the Neoreaction. But liberalism remains unique. It is the only ideology that truly respects the idea that everyone is morally equal, and the rest of liberalism follows logically from this point.

TaraElla Liberal Revival Now

Resolving Moral Dilemmas


Moral liberals maintain that liberty and democracy is the only consistently moral way to resolve moral dilemmas.

Since social conservatives depend on the government to implement its program, to 'foster its morality' on society, whenever there is a split where the government must choose one conservative solution over another, the losing side will feel that the government is in fact implementing immorality. In fact, this is a problem shared by all statist ideologies.

For these reasons, liberalism may in fact be the best friend any rational conservative will ever have. It is true that under liberalism conservatives do not get to implement their values over society using the force of government. However, liberalism guarantees freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, which conservatives may freely use to promote their ideals and way of life.

TaraElla Liberal Revival Now

Relationship to Other Forms of Liberalism


Moral liberals may otherwise believe in classical liberalism, social liberalism, libertarianism, or a combination of these, depending on which form of liberalism they believe to be the most conducive to liberty.


Neoliberalism refers primarily to the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. These include extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.[41][42][43][44][45] These market-based ideas and the policies they inspired constitute a paradigm shift away from the post-war Keynesian consensus which lasted from 1945 to 1980.[46][47]

The term has been used in English since the start of the 20th century with different meanings, but became more prevalent in its current meaning in the 1970s and 1980s by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences,[48][49] as well as being used by critics.[50][51] Modern advocates of free market policies avoid the term "neoliberal"[52] and some scholars have described the term as meaning different things to different people,[53][54] as neoliberalism "mutated" into geopolitically distinct hybrids as it travelled around the world. As such, neoliberalism shares many attributes with other contested concepts, including democracy.

When the term was reintroduced in the 1980s in connection with Augusto Pinochet's economic reforms in Chile, the usage of the term had shifted. It had not only become a term with negative connotations employed principally by critics of market reform, but it also had shifted in meaning from a moderate form of liberalism to a more radical and laissez-faire capitalist set of ideas. Scholars now tended to associate it with the theories of economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, along with politicians and policy-makers such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan.[55] Once the new meaning of neoliberalism was established as a common usage among Spanish-speaking scholars, it diffused into the English-language study of political economy. By 1994, with the passage of NAFTA and the Zapatistas reaction to this development in Chiapas, the term entered global circulation. Scholarship on the phenomenon of neoliberalism has been growing.[49] The impact of the global 2008–2009 crisis has also given rise to new scholarship that critiques neoliberalism and seeks developmental alternatives.[56]

Text was used with some modification from the Wikipedia page Neoliberalism, under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

  1. Modern Political Philosophy (1999), Richard Hudelson, pp. 37–38
  2. M. O. Dickerson et al., An Introduction to Government and Politics: A Conceptual Approach (2009) p. 129
  3. Conway, p. 296
  4. Steven M. Dworetz, The Unvarnished Doctrine: Locke, Liberalism, and the American Revolution (1994)
  5. Joyce Appleby, Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination (1992) p. 58
  6. Gerald F. Gaus and Chandran Kukathas, Handbook of Political Theory (2004) p. 422
  7. Hunt, p. 54
  8. Richardson, p. 52
  9. "An American Classical Liberalism" is an example of an article that defines "classical liberalism" as small government.
  10. "Guide to Classical Liberal Scholarship", Introduction defines "classical liberalism" as a belief in peace and freedom.
  11. Hunt, pp. 46–47
  12. Hunt, pp. 51–53
  13. Kelly, D. (1998): A Life of One's Own: Individual Rights and the Welfare State, Washington, DC: Cato Institute
  14. James L. Richardson, Contending Liberalisms in World Politics, pp. 36–38, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001, ISBN 1-55587-915-2
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  19. John Derbyshire (12 July 2010). "The origins of social liberalism". New Statesman. {{cite web}}: Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  20. The history of European liberalism (1959), Guido De Ruggiero, pp. 155–157
  21. Fauks, Keith. Political Sociology: A Critical Introduction. Edinburgh University Press, 1999, page 73
  22. Marks, Gary; Wilson, Carole (July 2000). "The Past in the Present: A Cleavage Theory of Party Response to European Integration" (PDF). British Journal of Political Science. 30: 433–459. doi:10.1017/S0007123400000181. {{cite journal}}: Unknown parameter |lastauthoramp= ignored (|name-list-style= suggested) (help)
  23. Richardson, James L. (2001). Contending Liberalisms in World Politics: Ideology and Power. Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers. 155587939X.
  24. Fauks, Keith. Political Sociology: A Critical Introduction. Edinburgh University Press, 1999, pages 71–75
  25. Richardson, pp. 36–37
  26. Eatwell, Roger; Wright, Anthony (1999). Contemporary political ideologies. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 9780826451736.
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  28. a b Adams, Ian (2001). Political Ideology Today (Politics Today). Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0719060206.
  29. The Routledge encyclopaedia of philosophy, p.599
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  31. Woodcock, George (2004). Anarchism: A History Of Libertarian Ideas And Movements. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. p. 16. ISBN 9781551116297. for the very nature of the libertarian attitude—its rejection of dogma, its deliberate avoidance of rigidly systematic theory, and, above all, its stress on extreme freedom of choice and on the primacy of the individual judgment
  32. Boaz, David (1999). "Key Concepts of Libertarianism". Cato Institute. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  33. Hussain, Syed B. (2004). Encyclopedia of Capitalism. Vol. II : H-R. New York: Facts on File Inc. p. 492. ISBN 0816052247. In the modern world, political ideologies are largely defined by their attitude towards capitalism. Marxists want to overthrow it, liberals to curtail it extensively, conservatives to curtail it moderately. Those who maintain that capitalism is a excellent economic system, unfairly maligned, with little or no need for corrective government policy, are generally known as libertarians.
  34. Long, Joseph.W (1996). "Toward a Libertarian Theory of Class." Social Philosophy and Policy. 15:2 p. 310. "When I speak of 'libertarianism'... I mean all three of these very different movements. It might be protested that LibCap, LibSoc and LibPop are too different from one another to be treated as aspects of a single point of view. But they do share a common—or at least an overlapping—intellectual ancestry."
  35. Carlson, Jennifer D. (2012). "Libertarianism". In Miller, Wilburn R., ed. The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America. London: Sage Publications. p. 1007. ISBN 1412988764. "There exist three major camps in libertarian thought: right-libertarianism, socialist libertarianism, and left-libertarianism ... socialist libertarians ... advocate for the simultaneous abolition of both government and capitalism."
  36. Kropotkin, Petr (1927). Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings. Courier Dover Publications. p. 150. ISBN 9780486119861. It attacks not only capital, but also the main sources of the power of capitalism: law, authority, and the State
  37. Otero, Carlos Peregrin (2003). "Introduction to Chomsky's Social Theory". In Carlos Peregrin Otero (ed.). Radical priorities. Noam Chomsky (book author) (3rd ed.). Oakland, CA: AK Press. p. 26. ISBN 1-902593-69-3.; Chomsky, Noam (2003). Carlos Peregrin Otero (ed.). Radical priorities (3rd ed.). Oakland, CA: AK Press. pp. 227–28. ISBN 1-902593-69-3.
  38. Vallentyne, Peter (March 2009). "Libertarianism". in Edward N. Zalta. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Retrieved 2010-03-05. "Libertarianism is committed to full self-ownership. A distinction can be made, however, between right-libertarianism and left-libertarianism, depending on the stance taken on how natural resources can be owned". 
  39. Caplan, Bryan (2008). "Anarchism". in Hamowy, Ronald. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. pp. 10–13. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n7. ISBN 978-1-4129-6580-4. OCLC 750831024. "Libertarianism puts severe limits on morally permissible government action. If one takes its strictures seriously, does libertarianism require the abolition of government, logically reducing the position to anarchism? Robert Nozick effectively captures this dilemma: 'Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights). So strong and far-reaching are these rights that they raise the question of what, if anything, the state and its official may do.' Libertarian political philosophers have extensively debated this question, and many conclude that the answer is 'Nothing'.". 
  40. Friedman, David D. (2008). "libertarianism". The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. 2nd Edition. "Libertarians differ among themselves in the degree to which they rely on rights-based or consequentialist arguments and on how far they take their conclusions, ranging from classical liberals, who wish only to drastically reduce government, to anarcho-capitalists who would replace all useful government functions with private alternatives."
  41. Campbell Jones, Martin Parker, Rene Ten Bos (2005). For Business Ethics. Routledge. ISBN 0415311357. p. 100:
    • "Neoliberalism represents a set of ideas that caught on from the mid to late 1970s, and are famously associated with the economic policies introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States following their elections in 1979 and 1981. The 'neo' part of neoliberalism indicates that there is something new about it, suggesting that it is an updated version of older ideas about 'liberal economics' which has long argued that markets should be free from intervention by the state. In its simplest version, it reads: markets good, government bad."
  42. Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy (2004). Capital Resurgent: Roots of the Neoliberal Revolution. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674011589 Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  43. Jonathan Arac in Peter A. Hall and Michèle Lamont in Social Resilience in the Neoliberal Era (2013) pp xvi–xvii
    • The term is generally used by those who oppose it. People do not call themselves neoliberal; instead, they tag their enemies with the term.
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  49. a b Springer, Simon; Birch, Kean; MacLeavy, Julie, eds. (2016). The Handbook of Neoliberalism. Routledge. p. 1. ISBN 978-1138844001. Neoliberalism is easily one of the most powerful concepts to emerge within the social sciences in the last two decades, and the number of scholars who write about this dynamic and unfolding process of socio-spatial transformation is astonishing.
  50. Noel Castree (2013). A Dictionary of Human Geography. Oxford University Press. p. 339. 'Neoliberalism' is very much a critics term: it is virtually never used by those whom the critics describe as neoliberals.
  51. Daniel Stedman Jones (21 July 2014). Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics. Princeton University Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-4008-5183-6. Friedman and Hayek are identified as the original thinkers and Thatcher and Reagan as the archetypal politicians of Western neoliberalism. Neoliberalism here has a pejorative connotation.
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  54. "Student heaps abuse on professor in ‘neoliberalism’ row" (in en). ""Colin Talbot, a professor at Manchester University, recently wrote it was such a broad term as to be meaningless and few people ever admitted to being neoliberals"" 
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  56. Pradella, Lucia; Marois, Thomas (2015). Polarising Development: Alternatives to Neoliberalism and the Crisis. United Kingdom: Pluto Press. pp. 1–11. ISBN 978 0 7453 3469 1.