Discuss about the Liberalism -Equality, Fraternity and Liberty.
“Liberalism is a spectre that haunts Western political thought and practice. For some it is a site of the modern, an object of desire, even the telos of history. For others it represents an unfolding nightmare, signifying either the vicious logic of capitalism or a squalid descent into moral relativism. For others still, perhaps the majority, it is a mark of ambivalence, the ideological prerequisite for living a reasonably comfortable life in affluent democratic states – the least worst option” 
Liberalism as defined under different arguments retains the concept of change as inherent to its nature. Considerer as a tradition it is the path one follows, towards a goal set in lessons of history, or alternatively as Bell represents it, could be the unfolding of a nightmare. In between these extreme ends, there are others who consider it is the way to live a better life. As a part of political thought processes and given its ability to have an influence on the lives of people, it could be said that liberalism would affect three pillars of citizen life which are liberty, equality and fraternity. Liberty is the state of a person that renders them free in society to have their free will and exercise their political views and behavior without oppressions. Liberty as a concept is associated hence with independence, freedom of speech, sovereignty etc. Equality is the state of being equal, where all citizens of a state are considered and treated with equal right, and legal systems and structures are just and fair or attempt to be so. Fraternity defines people as a group, as joining together in common interests and advocacies. Liberty, equality and fraternity are rightly called as ideals, as society can only attempt to reach them. Given this background context, this essay discusses, liberalism as a tradition of thought that re-understands its own past and is open to changes in the future. The discussion is carried out in reference to my understanding of the liberal approach to liberty, equality and fraternity. The essay discussion is carried out with theories and existing research evidences based on classical liberalism and the new liberalism of the twentieth century.
Liberalism understood in the context of liberty will have to be defined in how liberty itself was understood over the ages and this is where the influence of history and traditions of the past and openness to changes in the future need to be incorporated. For instance, consider the school of thought of Hobbes. Hobbes is a limited liberal because of his thoughts on liberty. His view on liberal notions and the liberty of men is one that supports liberty by arguing for limitations of governance and at another end, he also supported notions of arbitrary and totalitarian rule. Authority according to Hobbes was an absolute notion and to be otherwise was to be considered as inviting of anarchy. Where the individual believed they had rights against their rulers, then according to Hobbes the system destabilizes to anarchy. However, the same theme of liberty considered in the context of religion, invited a different argument from Hobbes who believed that when individuals were deeply committed to some specific religious views that were handed out to them and that they had to follow to the word would cause anxiety to them. Having no leeway to scrutinize their beliefs or being able to reason on it without considering the consequence to eternal salvation puts the individual in a place of deep seated anxiety. Now in this context, Hobbes believes liberty would enhance their state of happiness. It would give them a way to practice their faith in ways that would work for them. In the context of security, and political concerns, liberalism and liberty was to be considered with a restricted sense, however in the context of spirituality and religion, more reasoning and rights was advocated. In current times, liberalism as applicable to religion and to politics might be taking a more balance sense. Being more liberal in questioning politicians and rulers has not led to a state of anarchy. As a tradition of thought, in current times the questioning of how liberalism worked in the past leads people to better understanding of how they can draw on intellectual and social freedom in the present. Mills views on liberty is more utility constrained, it can be argued that he is a Hobbesian liberal because of this standpoint. However, in comparison to Hobbes, Mills is more liberal in his thinking as he argued for the utility context which is key to life and not just with religious aspects to it. While the Hobbesian foundation as applied to the political life and liberty is more secure, the Mills approach lends itself to more flexibility here.
Most understandings on liberalism and liberty for the individual however seem to balance between more true holistic meanings such as that of Hobhouse’s and also the religious aspects related meaning. As an example consider the first world war. American liberalism as defined during this time was had its roots in the seventeenth century and was more focused on religious toleration aspects. Liberalism became heavily centered and understood in the context of religious toleration and was also established in much of the publications during the 1920s especially.
Fraternity, Equality and the New Liberalism
Liberalism of the late nineteenth century saw a change. Fraternity in context was established as a movement from individual rights to community rights. As Spragens states, "liberalism became divorced from its original morel culture and consequently became the atomistic brute contemporary communitarians rose up to slay". This was when liberalism also got slit up into libertarian and egalitarian values. The communications born in this time where forming a new liberalism.
Although according to Spragen’s, in this time neither of the libertarian group nor the egalitarian group were seen to be attending to problems that was being caused because of nature of humans, or the needed goals of the community, it could be said that both were formed as two separate camps with individuals coming into fraternity for what they believed to be ideology changes in society. The new liberalism in its transition however, considered both the individual and the community in a much more serious sense. Of the three goals in liberalism, fraternity as seen to be understood as a civic friendship that is critical and needed in order to make a flourishing community. So liberal individualism which was in change in order to make way for a new liberalism should not be considered as a normative atomism. Instead it should only be viewed according to Spragens as an insistence of autonomy which helps the individual develop their moral values and personal development in order to meet community needs. Fraternity as is observed by Spragens in this sense, is one that should be a capstone goal for society. He believes that fraternity must be considered as communitarian and for this it was necessary for fraternity to be closely linked with the values of liberty. Fraternity, in the community sense can have quality only if it is connected with extensive liberties. Spragens definition of the new liberalism, and the arguments of fraternity and liberty being connected with one another makes sense, as an individual without autonomy and rights would not be part of a healthy community. I believe this argument of Spragens for understanding new liberalism, community, fraternity and liberty is what is wrong in society in current times. People might believe themselves to have too little autonomy to exercise their personal values because they are constrained in the macro environment. With little moral and personal development, they still manage to end up in a community, a group or fraternity so to speak. This leads to the formation of unhealthy communities as these are individuals who lack the proper moral and personal development to be a healthy member of the community.
Furthermore, Spragens in his arguments is able to present a communitarian liberalism that is seen to be distinguished from either that of conservativism and socialism. The new liberalism that was born arose because of the issues with classical liberalism and hence it can be understood why this distinguishing was necessary. The classical liberalism crises were not only in the 19th century, but then it was in the understanding of history of liberalism before the 19th century that lead to the birth of the new liberalism. Classical liberalism believed in the rhetoric of liberty, fraternity and quality, however fraternity and equality was not really considered in the same context as it was discussed on paper. The spread of liberalism was not exactly equal and fraternization was not exactly aimed at improving everybody to the same level. There were very separate interests at stake here. More specifically it could be said that the key beneficiaries in the spread of liberalism who also were seen to be benefitting because of improved fraternity and efforts were that of the white and the middle class men. Not everybody was equally benefitting here. Liberalism and its corner stone of equality was not met here.
Additionally, the issues that were caused was not just because of economic ones or financial elements, but there was inequality in social levels as in the case of women, the lower working class population etc. Much of the literature records on liberalism in the case of Britain during the 19th century as recorded by European historian Elis Barker, seem to present the fact that liberalism was in a crises situation, an almost failure because it merely served to be reimposed as an older system. The older system that was based on privileges was only being used here again in a different form and there was no real change observed here. According to him, the old liberalism pretended to be democratic. Democratic ideals of equality were seen to be emphasized here but were not in actuality kept. Where in the past there was equality issues based on the privileged or the people with landed property, the spread of liberalism resulted in a different set of issues where the money merchants and the manufacturers took up the lead in supremacy. Dukes and earls of yesteryears who were observed to indulge in power play handed out to the merchants and the manufacturers. So equality was not in fact improved by the spread of liberalism but merely was a superimposition of the existing order in a different state.
As an example consider the case of the corn law in England. Where a free trade could have supported better equality during these times, the free trade would have hurt the manufacturers. The corn law was specifically proposed in order to ensure that this situation did not happen. The Corn law in England was an example of using liberalism in order to falsely promote democracy. Sir Robert Peel in endorsing the corn law was in fact ensuring that a cotton policy conducive to the growth of the manufacturers was being followed. This is a lesson to take from history on how liberalism has been used for the wrong reasons. It was as if liberalism was being applied in a sense to ensure that one industry, manufacturers or the new elites were being benefitted and not everybody. True liberalism would have ensured equality was given proper pride of place. A similar form of failure in liberalism was also observed during the 1845 in England. This was a time when there was a potato famine in Ireland. Till date this is considered as one of the critical shortcomings of Liberalism. The potato famine was a crucial one as the land was dependent on potatoes as a main food. The population was very dependent on the crop and the potato blight in 1845 led to a famine like situation in Ireland. The country then had to rely on relief in order to get through the situation. During this time England worked as best as it could in collecting information and ensuring the blight was met. Some of the officials were seen to work with a bureaucratic earnestness in order to organize relief for the country. However, the criticism that is presented here is that in doing so, they attempted to follow liberal policies that were in fact prohibiting the very nature of how they should have been helping in reality. Only a meager relief was arranged here and millions starved as a result.
Given this context, New Liberalism was a better answer to the equality problem. New liberalism is not a cure to many inequality issues, however it makes an attempt to solve some of them. For instance, consider how the new liberals view the poverty issue. The poverty issue is considered as a threat to both the liberty of an individual and also to their social progress. The argument connecting liberty with equality in reduction of poverty is a consideration that was apparently not that well recognized in classical liberalism. New liberals considered poverty as a threat as it was a corner stone for other inequality issues to develop. In the eradication of poverty, it would be possible to have an impetus to solve many more inequality issues in future. In the eradication of poverty, the fraternity of people that are formed in order to voice their political thoughts or religious thinking’s might improve. According to the communitarian that Sparge presented, the moral and personal development of the individual is what would help in development of better quality communitarians and where there is poverty this would not be possible. On the other hand, where there is better advancement in the context of alleviating poverty and related issues then key principles of social democracy, equality and fraternity comes to be respect. Because of the growth of the healthy individual and healthy communities, liberty in sense is not accomplished but instead becomes a way of life. A coherent system of government would then be formed. Samuel in a pamphlet in 1902 writes about poverty as the foremost evil. He states that of all obstacles that might stop a man from advancing towards a good living and of all the evils the one that politics must actually work to help stop is poverty.
Given this understanding of poverty, it is hence easy to state how poverty will breed poverty, poverty breeds inequality, political injustices, impeded individual liberty and more. In current society, at the core of these issues poverty is still being handled. In the early twentieth century poverty was considered and fought for in a similar way. Not everybody viewed poverty as a social failure or as a problem that had roots in many things. In fact, some of the population viewed poverty as an individual failure. Conservative critics believed that poverty was created because of the individual. They believed that the individual failed in his work or actions and that was the reason he was in poverty. They also believed that poverty as such was a natural order meaning poverty was a part of society and that every individual should self-help themselves in order to rise above poverty. However, new liberalism did not view poverty as a natural order, it was considered as the failure of society more than that of the individual and the concept of self-help in poverty was viewed differently. The liberalism that came to be did not considered self-help as not being necessary, self-help was a good way to come out of poverty and people should use whatever was in their means in order to rise above their poverty situation, however it was also acknowledged that this alone might not be enough. People in poverty might not have the social and economic advantage that could have helped them in finding opportunities and hence it was necessary to consider poverty as a social failure. Mistakes of the past indeed highlighted how poverty was seen to be a problem area where self-help alone would not be useful, so for a cure of poverty it was necessary to identify the roots of it. When poverty situation was prevented or was addressed, then self-help works, and personal efficiency also came to form a role here. The industry, the energy, dedication and more of the ill-nurtured child would come to be better acknowledged and with time there would be effective means to restore everything to equality. New liberalism which came to be was one that focused on the reasons that old liberalism failed. Lessons were taken from old liberalism to understand how education, health and employment situations of people could be improved. The new liberals however were not without their challenges. They were challenges in how to restore better economic order and equality in such a way so as to not interfere with the personal liberty of people. Personal liberty of people was at stake here as not everybody would want to follow a social order that was more giving to the society, it was necessary to consider the elites of society as well as the downtrodden. In this way, it could be said that liberalism is constantly changing, learning from the past. There are beneficial changes but there are also issues as seen in the context of change from classical liberalism to new liberalism which supposedly challenged personal liberty in considering communication values and also challenges the rights of free trade and more.
“Liberalism is a tradition of thought which re-understands its own past and is open to changes in the future”. This is indeed true as the discussion based on existing research articles indicate. Liberalism in an attempt to understand its past and its failures is actually able to better construct its future. It is seen that liberalism as presented in the context of liberty, equality and fraternity does hold much implications for change, be it the classical liberalism or the new liberalism. The scope of the essay was to consider classical liberalism and new liberalism in the context of understanding how lessons in history lead to a better one for the future. Some key aspects were discussed more, such as that of poverty which is seen to be a main factor in the issues of equality. Poverty as affecting and poverty related policies as implicated with liberty of the individual was also discussed. The limitations of this essay was that it does not present the ways modern liberalism came to be, nor discuss how the new liberals came to understand and work on ensuring policies of supporting equality in the context of poverty without touching upon concepts of competitive and free market economy. Taxation was considered as one of the solution for this issue, however even in current times the issues of poverty and more exist. The concept of liberalism can be said to be still developing and still modifying based on lessons of the past.
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