To what extent does modern liberalism depart from the ideas of classical liberalism?
The continuous development of industrialization bought about a massive expansion of wealth as well as the spread of slums, poverty, ignorance and disease. The increasing social inequalities in society led liberals to question and revise the ideas of classic liberalism. This was clearly seen in their differing views on freedom, the individuals and most important the economy. Classical liberals have argued that the revised version of liberals has effectively broken the principles of doctrines that defined liberalism. While Modern liberals argue that it did not fully depart from the ideas of capitalism liberalism but merely built on classical liberalism.
The central theme of liberal ideology is a commitment to the individual. Classical liberals subscribe to an atomism view of individuals where a ‘society’ does not exist but is merely a collection of self-sufficient and egoistical individuals. Macpherson (1973) characterized early liberalism as ‘possessive individualism’ in that it regarded the individual as ‘the proprietor of his own person or capacities, owing nothing to society for them’.
Modern liberals, on the other hand, shifted the emphasis away from individualism to individuality. They had a more optimistic view of human nature and are prepared to believe that egoism is tempered by a sense of social responsibility especially a responsibility for those who are unable to look after themselves. Mill stressed the desire of an individual to achieve personal development, autonomy and self-realisation to attain their true potential in life. There high pleasures and low pleasures, with the first being intellectual education normal & aesthetic and the latter being simple, crude pleasure seeking. This shows that modern liberalism views on individualism have moved a great deal from classical liberalism.
Classical liberals’ pessimistic view on individualism leads to...
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