Classical liberalism (also called laissez-faire liberalism) is a term used to describe the following:
- the philosophy developed by early liberals from the Enlightenment until John Stuart Mill
- the philosophy developed by early liberals from the Age of Enlightenment until John Stuart Mill and revived in the 20th century by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. The contemporary restatement of classical liberalism is sometimes called "new liberalism" or "neo-liberalism"
Classical liberalism is a political philosophy that supports individual rights as pre-existing the state, a government that exists to protect those moral rights, ensured by a constitution that protects individual autonomy from other individuals and governmental power, private property, and a laissez-faire economic policy. The "normative core" of classical liberalism is the idea that in an environment of laissez-faire, a spontaneous order of cooperation in exchanging goods and services emerges that satisfies human wants.
Change in meaning
The term "liberal" changed meaning in the 1930s. Since then Classical Liberals are called "Conservatives" or "Libertarians" in the United States; in the rest of the world, especially Europe and Japan, classical liberals are still called liberals.
It is a blend of political liberalism and economic liberalism which is derived from Enlightenment thinkers such as as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, Voltaire, John Stuart Mill, and Immanuel Kant.
Many elements of this ideology developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it is often seen as being the natural ideology of the industrial revolution and its subsequent capitalist system. The early liberal figures now described as "classical liberals" rejected many foundational assumptions which dominated most earlier theories of government, such as the Divine Right of Kings, hereditary status, and established religion, and focuses on individual freedom, reason, justice and tolerance. Such thinkers and their ideas helped to inspire the American Revolution and French Revolution.
The qualification "classical" was applied in retrospect to distinguish the early 19th century laissez-faire form of liberalism from modern interventionist social liberalism. The terminology is most applicable in the United States, because modern American liberalism is closer identified with social democracy.
A classical liberal is someone who is liberal in the original sense of the word: namely, advocating personal freedom.
A common synonym for 'classical liberal' which is more commonly used in the U.S. is libertarian.
The original philosophy of liberalism (now sometimes called classical liberalism, or libertarianism in the US), favors many forms of freedom, such as:
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of religion
- The right to form political parties and vote
- Freedom to invest in and use private property
- Freedom to work as one chooses
- Freedom to enter into economic contracts
- Free trade and freedom of migration
- Sexual freedom
- Equal rights independent of race or sex
This interpretation of liberalism arose during the Enlightenment, and became influential through the American Revolution and French Revolution, and was also spread in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the classical economists.
Classical liberalism is the primary ideology behind politics in the United States. Both modern American liberalism and conservatism are branches of classical liberalism, as they both seek to promote individual freedom, though in different ways.
A prominent publication which promotes liberalism in the original sense of the word is the British news magazine The Economist.
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