LIBERALISMSummary of Andrew Heywood’s 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 • An ideology which centralLIBERALISM? 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 • It’s origins can be traced backLIBERALISMCOME ABOUT? 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 • Individualism:CENTRALVALUES? 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 inthe individual. For Liberals, this is thesupreme political value and in many waysthe unifying principle.For Liberals, freedom is the only statewhere individuals can fully develop theirskills 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.”
• ReasonCame about from the desire of theenlightenment to “Release humankindfrom its bondage to superstition andignorance”Liberals believe that reason is innatebut not to the extent that it isinfallible. However, it opposesrestrictive paternalism that preventsindividuals from developing.It gives emphasis on the importance ofdiscussion, debate and argument.
• JusticeDenotes a particular kind of moraljudgement about the distribution ofrewards and punishments.Human beings are seen as born equaland is of equal moral worth.Liberalism vigorously disapproves ofa system of privileges that areenjoyed by a few and denied toeveryone else.
For Liberals, arbitrary assignment ofprivileges through “irrational”standards like gender, race, color, creed,religion or social background is aninjustice.They believe in equality of opportunity,that every individual must be given thechance to rise and fall within the ranksof society paving the way for the systemof meritocracy. For them, merit is theonly just basis for granting moreprivileges.
• TolerationThe Liberal social ethic ischaracterized by a willingness toaccept and in some cases celebratemoral, cultural and politicaldiversity.Is rooted on the assumption thathumans and separate and uniquecreatures, since toleration is aguarantee of personal autonomy.Toleration is necessary to strike abalance among conflicting interestsand to create harmony.
• ConstitutionalismAlthough liberals agreeabout the need of aGovernment, they are alsoaware of the dangers it posesagainst freedom.For Liberals, power naturallycorrupts and if it isn’tregulated or checked, it canbe abused.“Power tends to corrupt andabsolute power corruptsindefinitely” – 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
• Classical LiberalismVARIANTS OF Earliest Liberal tradition whichLIBERALISM 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” (ThomasPaine). They believe that theremust be minimal stateintervention.Fourth, it is characterized by abroadly positive view of civilsociety.
• Economic LiberalismCame about from the economictheories of political economists AdamSmith and David Ricardo.It applied the classical liberal belief oflimited state to the handling of theeconomy. For economic liberals, theeconomy will flourish if left free fromstate intervention.Economic liberalism is an anti-thesisto Mercantilism.
• NeoliberalismA revival of classical liberalism thatoccurred in the 1970’s.A notch higher than EconomicLiberalism for it espouses MarketFundamentalism which sees themarket as morally and practicallysuperior to the Government interms of political control.It is a response to the increasingpopularity of economic ideologiesthat expand the role of thegovernment in the market.
• Modern LiberalismDubbed as the 20th centuryliberalism. It is a response to thegrowing problems brought aboutby unrestrained economicindividualism which led to thedisadvantage of the working class,spread of poverty, disease andignorance.For modern liberals, the minimalstate approach is incapable ofrectifying the injustices of civilsociety, as a consequence, theyvouch for a more interventionist orenabling 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.