Difference between revisions of "Liberal"

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'''Liberalism''' refers to a broad array of related ideas and theories of [[government]] that consider [[individualism|individual]] [[liberty]] to be the most important political goal.<ref>A: "'Liberalism' is defined as a social ethic that advocates liberty, and equality in general." – [[C. A. J. (Tony) Coady]] ''Distributive Justice'', A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, editors Goodin, Robert E. and Pettit, Philip. Blackwell Publishing, 1995, p.440. B: "Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end." – [[John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton|Lord Acton]]</ref>  Liberalism has its roots in the [[Middle Ages]] and [[Age of Enlightenment]].
 
'''Liberalism''' refers to a broad array of related ideas and theories of [[government]] that consider [[individualism|individual]] [[liberty]] to be the most important political goal.<ref>A: "'Liberalism' is defined as a social ethic that advocates liberty, and equality in general." – [[C. A. J. (Tony) Coady]] ''Distributive Justice'', A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, editors Goodin, Robert E. and Pettit, Philip. Blackwell Publishing, 1995, p.440. B: "Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end." – [[John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton|Lord Acton]]</ref>  Liberalism has its roots in the [[Middle Ages]] and [[Age of Enlightenment]].
  

Revision as of 20:26, 17 March 2008

Liberalism refers to a broad array of related ideas and theories of government that consider individual liberty to be the most important political goal.[1] Liberalism has its roots in the Middle Ages and Age of Enlightenment.

Broadly speaking, liberalism emphasizes individual rights and equality of opportunity. Different forms of liberalism may propose very different policies, but they are generally united by their support for a number of principles, including extensive freedom of thought and speech, limitations on the power of governments, the rule of law, the free exchange of ideas, a market or mixed economy, and a transparent system of government.[2] All liberals — as well as some adherents of other political ideologies — support some variant of the form of government known as liberal democracy, with open and fair elections, where all citizens have equal rights by law.[3]

Liberalism rejected many foundational assumptions that dominated most earlier theories of government, such as the Divine Right of Kings, hereditary status, and established religion. Social progressivism, the belief that traditions do not carry any inherent value and social practices ought to be continuously adjusted for the greater benefit of humanity, is a common component of liberal ideology. Liberalism is also strongly associated with the belief that human society should be organized in accordance with certain unchangeable and inviolable rights. Different schools of liberalism are based on different conceptions of human rights, but there are some rights that all liberals support to some extent, including rights to life, liberty, and property.

Within liberalism, there are two major currents of thought that often compete over the use of the term "liberal" and have been known to clash on many issues, as they differ on their understanding of what constitutes freedom. Classical liberals, believe that the provision of negative rights, that is freedom from coercion alone, constitutes freedom.[4] As a result they see state intervention in the economy as a coercive power that restricts freedom when enforced coercively by law, emphasize laissez-faire economic policy, and oppose the welfare state.[5] Social liberals argue that freedom from economic as well as physical coercion is necessary for real freedom. They generally favor such positive rights as the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to health care, and the right to a living wage. Some also favor laws against discrimination in housing and employment, laws against pollution of the environment, and the provision of welfare, including unemployment benefit and housing for the homeless, all supported by progressive taxation.[4]

Etymology and historical usage

The word "liberal" derives from the Latin liber ("free, not slave"). It is widely associated with the word "liberty" and the concept of freedom. Livy's History of Rome from Its Foundation describes the struggles for freedom between the plebeian and patrician classes. Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations writes about "...the idea of a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed... ." Largely dormant during the vicissitudes of the Middle Ages, the struggle for freedom began again in the Italian Renaissance, in the conflict between the supporters of free city states and supporters of the Pope or the Holy Roman Emperor. Niccolò Machiavelli, in his Discourses on Livy, laid down the principles of republican government. John Locke in England and the thinkers of the French Enlightenment articulated the struggle for freedom in terms of the Rights of Man.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) indicates that the word liberal has long been in the English language with the meanings of "befitting free men, noble, generous" as in liberal arts; also with the meaning "free from restraint in speech or action", as in liberal with the purse, or liberal tongue, usually as a term of reproach but, beginning 1776–88 imbued with a more favorable sense by Edward Gibbon and others to mean "free from prejudice, tolerant."

The first English language use to mean "tending in favor of freedom and democracy", according to the OED, dates from about 1801 and comes from the French libéral, "originally applied in English by its opponents (often in Fr. form and with suggestions of foreign lawlessness)". An early English language citation: "The extinction of every vestige of freedom, and of every liberal idea with which they are associated."[6]

The American War of Independence established the first nation to craft a constitution based on the concept of liberal government, especially the idea that governments rule by the consent of the governed. The more moderate bourgeois elements of the French Revolution tried to establish a government based on liberal principles. Economists such as Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations (1776), enunciated the liberal principles of free trade. The editors of the Spanish Constitution of 1812, drafted in Cádiz, may have been the first to use the word liberal in a political sense as a noun. They named themselves the Liberales, to express their opposition to the absolutist power of the Spanish monarchy.

Beginning in the late 18th century, liberalism became a major ideology in virtually all developed countries.


Liberalism and democracy

The relationship between liberalism and democracy may be summed up by Winston Churchill's famous remark, "...democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms..." In short, there is nothing about democracy per se that guarantees freedom rather than a tyranny of the masses. The coinage liberal democracy suggests a more harmonious marriage between the two principles than actually exists.[7] Liberals strive after the replacement of absolutism by limited government: government by consent. The idea of consent suggests democracy. At the same time, the founders of the first liberal democracies feared mob rule, and so they built into the constitutions of liberal democracies checks and balances intended to limit the power of government by dividing those powers among several branches. For liberals, democracy is not an end in itself, but an essential means to secure liberty, individuality and diversity.[8]

Liberalism against totalitarianism

In the mid-20th century, liberalism began to define itself in opposition to totalitarianism. The term was first used by Giovanni Gentile to describe the socio-political system set up by Mussolini. Stalin would apply it to German Nazism, and after the war it became a descriptive term for what liberalism considered the common characteristics of fascist, Nazi and Marxist-Leninist regimes. Totalitarian regimes sought and tried to implement absolute centralized control over all aspects of society, in order to achieve prosperity and stability. These governments often justified such absolutism by arguing that the survival of their civilization was at risk. Opposition to totalitarian regimes acquired great importance in liberal and democratic thinking, and they were often portrayed as trying to destroy liberal democracy. On the other hand, the opponents of liberalism strongly objected to the classification that unified mutually hostile fascist and communist ideologies and considered them fundamentally different.

In Italy and Germany, nationalist governments linked corporate capitalism to the state, and promoted the idea that their nations were culturally and racially superior, and that conquest would give them their "rightful" place in the world. The propaganda machines of these countries argued that democracy was weak and incapable of decisive action, and that only a strong leader could impose necessary discipline. In Soviet Union, the ruling communists banned private property, claiming to act for the sake of economic and social justice, and the government had full control over the planned economy. The regime insisted that personal interests be linked and inferior to those of the society, of class, which was ultimately an excuse for persecuting both oppositions as well as dissidents within the communists ranks as well as arbitrary use of severe penal code.

The rise of totalitarianism became a lens for liberal thought. Many liberals began to analyze their own beliefs and principles, and came to the conclusion that totalitarianism arose because people in a degraded condition turn to dictatorships for solutions. From this, it was argued that the state had the duty to protect the economic well being of its citizens. As Isaiah Berlin said, "Freedom for the wolves means death for the sheep." This growing body of liberal thought argued that reason requires a government to act as a balancing force in economics.

Other liberal interpretations on the rise of totalitarianism were quite contrary to the growing body of thought on government regulation in supporting the market and capitalism. This included Friedrich Hayek's work, The Road to Serfdom. He argued that the rise of totalitarian dictatorships was the result of too much government intervention and regulation upon the market which caused loss of political and civil freedoms. Hayek also saw these economic controls being instituted in the United Kingdom and the United States and warned against these "Keynesian" institutions, believing that they can and will lead to the same totalitarian governments "Keynesians liberals" were attempting to avoid. Hayek saw authoritarian regimes such as the fascist, Nazis, and communists, as the same totalitarian branch; all of which sought the elimination or reduction of economic freedom. To him the elimination of economic freedom brought about the elimination of political freedom. Thus Hayek believes the differences between Nazis and communists are only rhetorical.

Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman stated that economic freedom is a necessary condition for the creation and sustainability of civil and political freedoms. Hayek believed the same totalitarian outcomes could occur in Britain (or anywhere else) if the state sought to control the economic freedom of the individual with the policy prescriptions outlined by people like Dewey, Keynes, or Roosevelt.

One of the most influential critics of totalitarianism was Karl Popper. In The Open Society and Its Enemies he defended liberal democracy and advocated open society, in which the government can be changed without bloodshed. Popper argued that the process of the accumulation of human knowledge is unpredictable and that the theory of ideal government cannot possibly exist. Therefore, the political system should be flexible enough so that governmental policy would be able to evolve and adjust to the needs of the society; in particular, it should encourage Pluralism and multiculturalism.

Freedom

Most political parties which identify themselves as liberal claim to promote the rights and responsibilities of the individual, free choice within an open competitive process, the free market, and the dual responsibility of the state to protect the individual citizen and guarantee their liberty. Critics of liberal parties tend to state liberal policies in different terms. Economic freedom may lead to gross inequality. Free speech may lead to speech that is obscene, blasphemous, or treasonous. The role of the state as promoter of freedom and as protector of its citizens may come into conflict.

Democracy

For a more detailed treatment, see Liberal democracy.
Liberalism stresses the importance of representative liberal democracy as the best form of government. Elected representatives are subject to the rule of law, and their power is moderated by a constitution, which emphasizes the protection of rights and freedoms of individuals and limits the will of the majority. Liberals are in favour of a pluralist system in which differing political and social views, even extreme or fringe views, compete for political power on a democratic basis and have the opportunity to achieve power through periodically held elections. They stress the resolution of differences by peaceful means within the bounds of democratic or lawful processes. Many liberals seek ways to increase the involvement and participation of citizens in the democratic process. Some liberals favour direct democracy instead of representative democracy.

Civil rights

For a more detailed treatment, see Civil rights.
Liberalism advocates civil rights for all citizens: the protection and privileges of personal liberty extended to all citizens equally by law. It includes the equal treatment of all citizens irrespective of race, gender and class. Liberals are divided over the extent to which positive rights are to be included, such as the right to food, shelter, and education. Critics from an internationalist human rights school of thought argue that the civil rights advocated in the liberal view are not extended to all people, but are limited to citizens of particular states. Unequal treatment on the basis of nationality is therefore possible, especially in regard to citizenship itself.

Rule of law

The rule of law and equality before the law are fundamental to liberalism. Government authority may only be legitimately exercised in accordance with laws that are adopted through an established procedure. Another aspect of the rule of law is an insistence upon the guarantee of an independent judiciary, whose political independence is intended to act as a safeguard against arbitrary rulings in individual cases. The rule of law includes concepts such as the presumption of innocence, no double jeopardy, and Habeas Corpus. Rule of law is seen by liberals as a guard against despotism and as enforcing limitations on the power of government. In the penal system, liberals in general reject punishments they see as inhumane, including capital punishment[9]

Neutral government

Liberals generally believe in neutral government, in the sense that it is not for the state to determine personal values. As John Rawls put it, "The state has no right to determine a particular conception of the good life". In the United States this neutrality is expressed in the Declaration of Independence as the right to the pursuit of happiness.

Both in Europe and in the United States, liberals often support the pro-choice movement and advocate equal rights for women and homosexuals.

Equality

Racism is incompatible with liberalism. Liberals in Europe are generally hostile to any attempts by the state to enforce equality in employment by legal action against employers, whereas in the United States many liberals favor such affirmative action. Liberals in general support equal opportunity, but not necessarily equal outcome. Most European liberal parties do not favour employment quotas for women and ethnic minorities as the best way to end gender and racial inequality. However, all agree that arbitrary discrimination on the basis of race or gender is morally wrong.

Free market

For a more detailed treatment, see Economic liberalism.
Economic liberals today stress the importance of a free market and free trade, and seek to limit government intervention in both the domestic economy and foreign trade. Modern liberal movements often agree in principle with the idea of free trade, but maintain some skepticism, seeing unrestricted trade as leading to the growth of multi-national corporations and the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. In the post-war consensus on the welfare state in Europe, liberals supported government responsibility for health, education, and alleviating poverty while still calling for a market based on independent exchange. Liberals agree that a high quality of health care and education should be available for all citizens, but differ in their views on the degree to which governments should supply these benefits. Since poverty is a threat to personal liberty, liberalism seeks a balance between individual responsibility and community responsibility. In particular, liberals favor special protection for the handicapped, the sick, the disabled, and the aged.[10]

European liberalism turned back to more laissez-faire policies in the 1980s and 1990s, and supported privatisation and liberalisation in health care and other public sectors. Modern European liberals generally tend to believe in a smaller role for government than would be supported by most social democrats, let alone socialists or communists. The European liberal consensus appears to involve a belief that economies should be decentralized. In general, contemporary European liberals do not believe that the government should directly control any industrial production through state owned enterprises, which places them in opposition to social democrats.

Environment

For a more detailed treatment, see Green liberalism.
Many liberals share values with environmentalists, such as the Green Party. They seek to minimize the damage done by the human species on the natural world, and to maximize the regeneration of damaged areas. Some such activists attempt to make changes on an economic level by acting together with businesses, but others favor legislation in order to achieve sustainable development. Other liberals do not accept government regulation in this matter and argue that the market should regulate itself in some fashion.

International relations

For a more detailed treatment, see Liberal international relations theory.
There is no consensus about liberal doctrine in international politics, though there are some central notions, which can be deduced from, for example, the opinions of Liberal International.[11] Social liberals often believe that war can be abolished. Some favor internationalism, and support the United Nations. Economic liberals, on the other hand, favor non-interventionism rather than collective security. Liberals believe in the right of every individual to enjoy the essential human liberties, and support self-determination for national minorities. Essential also is the free exchange of ideas, news, goods and services between people, as well as freedom of travel within and between all countries. Liberals generally oppose censorship, protective trade barriers, and exchange regulations.

Some liberals were among the strongest advocates of international co-operation and the building of supra-national organizations, such as the European Union. In the view of social liberals, a global free and fair market can only work if companies worldwide respect a set of common minimal social and ecological standards. A controversial question, on which there is no liberal consensus, is immigration. Do nations have a right to limit the flow of immigrants from countries with growing populations to countries with stable or declining populations?


Liberalism and social democracy

Liberalism shares many basic goals and methods with social democracy, but in some places diverges. The fundamental difference between liberalism and social democracy is disagreement over the role of the state in the economy. Social democracy can be understood to combine features from both social liberalism and democratic socialism. Democratic socialism seeks to achieve some minimum equality of outcome. Democratic socialists support a large public sector and the nationalization of utilities such as gas and electricity in order to avoid private monopolies, achieve social justice, and raise the standard of living. By contrast, liberalism, in its distrust of monopolies (both public and private), prefers much less state intervention, choosing for example subsidies and regulation rather than outright nationalization. Liberalism also emphasizes equality of opportunity, and not equality of outcome, citing the desire for a meritocracy. American liberalism, in contrast to liberalism in most countries, never took a major focus on socialism nor ever demanded the same social welfare state programs as its European counterparts. Today, the United States does not share the welfare state programs applied in most of Europe and has implemented fewer social programs to aid those in the lower socioeconomic level than Canada and Australia.[Citation Needed]

See also

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References

Notes

  1. A: "'Liberalism' is defined as a social ethic that advocates liberty, and equality in general." – C. A. J. (Tony) Coady Distributive Justice, A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, editors Goodin, Robert E. and Pettit, Philip. Blackwell Publishing, 1995, p.440. B: "Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end." – Lord Acton
  2. Compare for the latter aspect the Oxford Manifesto of 1947 of the Liberal International (Respect for the language, faith, laws and customs of national minorities), Oxford Manifesto of 1997 (We believe that close cooperation among democratic societies through global and regional organizations, within the framework of international law, of respect for human rights, the rights of national and ethnic minorities, and of a shared commitment to economic development worldwide, is the necessary foundation for world peace and for economic and environmental sustainability), the ELDR Electoral programme 1994 (Protecting the rights of minorities flows naturally from liberal policy, which seeks to ensure equal opportunities for everyone) and e.g. I have a dream of Martin Luther King
  3. Compare the Oxford Manifesto of the Liberal International (These rights and conditions can be secured only by true democracy. True democracy is inseparable from political liberty and is based on the conscious, free and enlightened consent of the majority, expressed through a free and secret ballot, with due respect for the liberties and opinions of minorities)
  4. 4.0 4.1 McGowan, J. (2007). American Liberalism: An Interpretation for Our Time. Chapel Hill, NC: North Carolina University Press.
  5. Chandran Kukathas, The Many and the One: Pluralism in the Modern World, Richard Madsen and Tracy B. Strong, editors, 2003, p. 61
  6. Hel. M. WILLIAMS, Sk. Fr. Rep. I. xi. 113," (presumably Helen Maria Williams) Sketches of the State of Manners and Opinions in the French Republic, 1801. Cited in the Oxford English Dictionary.
  7. Anthony Alblaster: The Rise and Decline of Western Liberalism, New York, Basil Blackwell, 1984, page 353
  8. compare: Guide de Ruggeiro: The History of European Liberalism, Bacon press, 1954, page 379
  9. See for example the Oxford Manifesto 1997 of the Liberal International.
  10. Oxford Manifesto, 1947
  11. Liberal International > The International

Other references

  • Michael Scott Christofferson "An Antitotalitarian History of the French Revolution: François Furet's Penser la Révolution française in the Intellectual Politics of the Late 1970s" (in French Historical Studies, Fall 1999)
  • Piero Gobetti La Rivoluzione liberale. Saggio sulla lotta politica in Italia, Bologna, Rocca San Casciano, 1924

Further reading on liberalism

Literature by thinkers contributing to liberal theory is listed at Contributions to liberal theory.



For secondary literature bibliographies in languages other than English see Additional reading on Liberalism

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External links

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