In what ways has liberalism, as a theory, developed since its ‘classical’ origins?

Topics: Liberalism, Classical liberalism, Conservatism Pages: 4 (1251 words) Published: November 19, 2013
In what ways has liberalism, as a theory, developed since its ‘classical’ origins?

Liberalism can be defined as the “support for or advocacy of individual rights, civil liberties, and reform tending towards individual freedom, democracy, or social equality” (O.E.D online, 2013). Within this essay we are looking at liberalism as a political ideology, comparing its ‘classical’ 19th century roots to its new modern day interpretation. This essay will be spilt into three distinct sections; the first will provide a brief insight of both classical and modern liberalism, the second will attempt to explain how modern day liberalism developed and changed from its classical roots and finally the third section will try to draw comparisons between the modern day liberalism that we know and its classical foundations.

There were liberal ideas put forward before the 19th century such as during the English revolution in the 17th century and during the French revolution of 1848 however, these were only liberal ideas and had no real political ideology. “Liberalism emerged as a coherent political movement in the 19th century” (M.Salvadori, 1972:2), the foundations of this classical liberalism were based around “laissez faire” principles, both in the economy and in the role of the government in society (J.Gray, 1986:27). The laissez faire principle is a French phrase which translates as the “let it be” principle; this is the idea that there should be minimal interference from the government, the phrase “night watchmen state” (J.Locke, 1991:66) was coined by Locke to describe this type of government. In this ideology we “view human beings as rationally self-interested creatures who have a pronounced capacity for self-reliance” (A.Heywood, 2007:45), humans are out to fulfil their own wishes and desires and this selfishness, for lack of a better word, is what drives the economy and state to grow.

Unlike anarchists in this classical liberalism a ruling government is...

Bibliography: Gray, J (1986). Liberalism, Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
Heywood, A (2003). Political Ideologies. (2nd eds) Basingstoke: Macmillian Publishers Ltd.
Heywood, A (2007). Political Ideologies. (4th eds) Basingstoke: Macmillian Publishers Ltd.
Locke, J in Tully, J (1991). A Letter Concerning Toleration. London: Routledge.
Hobbs, T in Meadowcroft, J (1996). The Liberal Political Tradition: contemporary reappraisals, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
O.E.D online (2013). Available: Last accessed 14/03/2013.
Salvadori, M (1972). European Liberalism, New York: Wiley.
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