To what extent has modern liberalism departed from the ideas of classical liberalism?

Topics: Liberalism, Political philosophy, Classical liberalism Pages: 3 (1082 words) Published: December 16, 2014
It is true that in many regards, modern liberalism has indeed rejected certain aspects of the classical liberalist approach, within such topics as individualism, freedom and justice. However, it would foolish to argue that they had abandoned it completely, as some elements have survived. Classical liberals believe in negative freedom. This is the simple belief in an absence of external constraints on the individual and that they should be left alone to make their own choices. In this way classical liberals were heavily influenced by the natural rights theories of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson claimed that we were born with certain “inalienable” rights and therefore no individual or government had the right to constrict them or take them away. Freedom from constraints is therefor an essential condition for exercising these rights. In practice this has meant that classical liberals have advocated a minimal state, what John Locke referred to as the ‘night watchman state’. The states activities should, in his eyes, be limited to the enforcement of contracts, maintaining order and protection from foreign threats to prevent the state from infringing on individual liberties as much as possible. On the other hand, modern liberals have advocated a more positive interpretation of freedom. Positive freedom can be defined as the ability to achieve true self-mastery and self-realisation in order to fulfil our individual potential. Modern liberals such as TH Green criticised negative freedom on the grounds that it failed to address the social and economic factors that can prevent individuals from achieving their full potential. Negative freedom was inadequate because it failed to remove these barriers to true self-mastery such as social disadvantage and inequality. Modern liberals have therefore proposed an enabling state. Rather than a ‘necessary evil’ as classical liberals believe, the state can be a force for good by protecting individuals against social and...
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