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Political Liberalism Essay

Norman Davies describes liberalism as “being developed along two parallel tracks, the political and the economic. Political liberalism focused on the essential concept of government by consent. In its most thoroughgoing form it embraced republicanism, though most liberals favored a popular, limited, and fair-minded monarch as a factor encouraging stability. ” (A History of Europe, p. 802) At the core of liberalism was the idea of freedom of thought and expression. People were now not only able to think for themselves, but also express those same thoughts. Popular sovereignty was also a very strong tenet of liberalism.

Popular sovereignty advocated that government derives its power from the people and sovereignty is never unlimited to anyone. Political liberalism centered on the ideas of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press, the natural rights of man, the freedom to own property, and that status is not a birthright but an extension of talent. Property also represented a very strong idea in the minds of many liberals. Davies concludes, “nineteenth-century liberals also gave great weight to property, which they saw as the principal source of responsible judgement and solid citizenship. ” (A History of Europe, p. 2)

However, property soon became defined as a natural right. Davies expresses, “economic liberalism focused on the concept of free trade, and on the associated doctrine of laissez-faire, which opposed the habit of governments to regulate economic life through protectionist tariffs. It stressed the right of men of property to engage in commercial and industrial activities without undue restraint. ” (A History of Europe, p. 802) Hence, both economic and political liberalism had the right of property as a core ingredient. Property was a major element in the minds of the liberals because it enabled them to be known as a citizen.

The liberals were the working middle classes, those with money but no birthright. Liberalism was translated into a pursuit of wealth by the middle class. “The principal concern of early-nineteenth-century liberalism was protecting the rights of the individual against the demands of the state”, explains Davies. (A History of Europe, p. 802) Here, the liberals were concerned with the state interfering with the natural rights of man. The tenets of liberalism affected the political developments in the first half of the nineteenth century. There was a new intellectual outlook introduced.

Believing that the old regime had failed them, the people accepted this new intellectual outlook while also allowing new influences to affect their lives. The new influences were introduced in the areas of science, industry, political theory, economics, and technology. Also, a new class structure was introduced in the nineteenth century. Some of the liberals included John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hill Green, L. T. Hobhouse, David Riccardo, and Herbert Spencer. “In political philosophy, the works of John Stuart Mill stand as the supreme monument to a tolerant and balanced brand of liberalism. A History of Europe, p. 803)

Mill advocates laissez-faire economics. In his essay, On Liberty, “he produced the standard manifesto of individual human rights, which should only be restricted where they impinge on the rights of others. ” (A History of Europe, p. 803) He wrote, “the sole end of mankind is warrantedin interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self protection. ” (A History of Europe, p. 803) Again, a liberal is standing up for the people’s natural rights, in that, if an action harms a person, it should be eliminated.

Also, in The Subjection of Women, “he made the clearest of arguments for the feminist cause, maintaining that there is nothing in the many differences between men and women that would justify their possession of different rights. ” (A History of Europe, p. 803) In a time when only the women in two countries, Finland and Norway, Mill thought that all women, who are men’s equal, should be allowed to vote in their country and have a say in government. Another example of a liberal was the British political theorist, Thomas Hill Green.

Green “urged legislation to promote better conditions of labor, education, and health. In a truly liberal society, individuals have the opportunity to develop their moral and intellectual abilities. Green insisted that the liberal state must concern itself not just with individual rights but with the common good. ” (Sources of the Western Tradition, p. 172) Green exposes one of the tenets of liberalism, the freedom of thought and expression. He thinks that people should be able, with no interference from the state, to develop their own knowledge and use it for the good of the country.

Green goes on to argue in his lecture, Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract, “that the state must correct abuses in society for people to develop their capacities and reap the harvest of freedom. For all members of society to make the best for themselves, it is necessary to place some limits on individual freedom. ” (Sources of the Western Tradition, p. 173) Hence, if people cause harm to another, they not only hurt that person, but also the community. Again, the rights of man are introduced man is not allowed to cause harm to another without punishment.

Liberalism, as a result of these rights, has a direct relationship to nationalism. “Nationalism, which has become one of the elemental forces of modern times, is a collection of ideas regarding the nation, whose interests are taken to the supreme good. It consists of two things. One is the common legacy of rich memories from the past. The other is the present consensus, the will to live together. ” (A History of Europe, p. 812-13) Hence, nationalism is directly related to liberalism because most liberals want to protect the natural right of man.

As a result, nationalism and liberalism want people to live together in harmony. Also, nationalists were ignited with an inner spirit and the belief that their state was the best. “Most nationalists were liberals who viewed the struggle for unification and freedom from foreign oppression as an extension of the struggle for individual rights. Few liberals recognized that nationalism was a potentially dangerous force that could threaten liberal ideals of freedom and equality. ” (Sources of the Western Tradition, p. 141) Hence, both liberals and nationalists were fighting for equal individual rights of man.

In conclusion, “liberals advocated a constitution that limited the state’s authority and a bill of rights that stipulated the citizen’s basic freedoms. ” (Sources of the Western Tradition, p. 171) Liberals were heavily concerned with the basic rights of man and other rights, such as freedom of thought and expression. However, they were also concerned with the idea of property. As a result, liberalism, which had a profound effect on the early nineteenth century, grew and had an impact on the ideas or ideologies presented in the later nineteenth century.

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