The Similarities Between Classical and Modern Liberalism Are Greater Than the Differences

Topics: Liberalism, Conservatism, Political philosophy Pages: 5 (1729 words) Published: May 26, 2013
Similarities between classical and modern liberalism are greater than the differences. Discuss. (45 marks) Typically, liberalism is categorised into two separate components; classical liberalism, which was fashioned during the 19th century as a result of the industrial revolution, and the more recent Modern Liberalism which emerged as industrialisation continued within the UK. Although both divisions of Liberalism unavoidably overlap in attitudes and approaches regarding the theory behind the ideology, I believe, fundamentally, that clear tensions between these aspects of Liberalism are more evident when analysing this ideology. Some will say that both classical and modern liberalists possess a number of parallel approaches towards this political theory and its key concepts. Firstly, both strands of Liberalism believe in the necessity of some kind of a state, since life without a state, as Thomas Hobbes stated, would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. Both views consider the existence of a state to be essential in order to protect individual rights. Since liberals generally considered humanity to be self-interested and egoistical, a state was needed to ensure that individuals did not exploit other individuals’ rights, through acts of stealing, harming, or even slavery, and was therefore the only thing that was capable of restraining all individuals and groups within society. Hobbes and Locke particularly stressed the importance of creating a ‘social contract’ where an agreement amongst individuals would be initiated, to form a state in order to escape from the disorder and chaos of ‘the state of nature’, which was a society with unrestrained freedom, but lacking any establish authority. Therefore, the state is there to act almost as a neutral referee in society, by implementing laws enshrined in the constitution and by democracy. Thus an approach similar to Abraham Lincolns “government of the people, by the people, for the people” was adopted and agreed by all liberalists to justify the existence of a state: its primary aim was to protect the rights and freedoms of the people, and therefore of the individual. Another example of corresponding views of Liberalism between modernists and classicists is their superior interest in the individual; both variations of this ideology revolve around protecting rights and freedoms of the individual, as opposed to any social group or collective body. Liberalism encouraged individuals to embrace autonomy and think for themselves, instead of accepting their identity to be based on characteristics associated with a social group or community they belonged to. A serf, for example, became a ‘free man’ and was able to choose who he worked for. Both aspects of liberalism realised that each individual possessed personal and distinctive qualities; each was of special value. The philosopher Kant was one of the first to grasp the importance of each individual, claiming that each person should be ‘ends in themselves’- not merely as means for the achievement of the ends of others. Whether egoism and self-interest is unrestrained or is qualified by a sense of social responsibility, liberals are united I their desire to create a society in which each person is capable of developing and flourishing to the fullness of their potential. Both modern and classical liberalists regarded this ideology to be one very much characterised by a willingness to accept, and even sometimes celebrate moral, cultural and political diversity. Such a versatile acceptance of people made liberals strongly related to the theme of toleration. Voltaire memorably portrays this view is his declaration that ‘I detest what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it’. Although the case of toleration was first adopted by the likes of John Locke who defended religious freedom, the concept progressed so that toleration should be extended to all matters regarded as ‘private’ on the grounds that, like...
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