"Describe and analyse the main aspect of classical and modern liberalism by referring to at least two authors."
History of Liberalism
The essay aims at providing an insight into the individual, state and the society in the context of describing and analysing the aspects of the classical and the modern liberalism. Classical liberalism refers to the political philosophy of founding fathers. It pervades not only the constitution but into the papers of the Federalist and various other documents produced by people who led to the creation of the American government system. On the other hand, modern liberalism is neither entirely collectivist nor individualistic and has some elements of each of the doctrines. The essay commences with a definition of the concept of liberalism that focuses on the shared elements for all types of liberalism. The essay also describes the history of liberalism, the modern and classical liberalism until the achievement of contemporary neo-liberalism and tries to illustrate the connectivity between the primary doctrines and the historical context. The report therefore closely examines the difference between the classical and the modern liberalism.
Concept of Liberalism
As implied by the name, Liberalism refers to political ideology whose primary concern remains in protection and enhancement of the liberty of the individuals. Until the nineteenth century, liberalism did not emerge as political doctrine (Barry, Osborne and Rose 2013). However, from the sixteenth century, there has been development of liberal thoughts and values brought about by enormous social change. This can traced back to early ancient Greek and Roman culture with certain distinctions in the primary elements.
A series of the social changes during the sixteenth century laid the foundations of the classical liberalism. The late medieval century has however remained a proof to the breaking of feudalism and the gradual rise of the absolutism (Henshall 2014). However, during the time, religious reformation in the European countries weakened the power of the papacy. This led to the prevalence of the situation where the rulers enforced conformity to either Roman Protestantism or Catholicism. This led to the triggering of the conflicts within and among states. This remains evident in the Thirty Years’ War during 1618 to 1648 that caused enormous damage to Europe. However, during the next century, with industrialization gaining peace, there was the emergence of the newer social class known as the middle class. They yearned not only for economic freedom but also for greater political participation. These factors acted as the trigger for the revolution of seventeenth and the eighteenth century. However, the most notable ones were the Glorious Revolution in England during1688, the French Revolution of 1789 and the American Revolution that took place from.1775-83. Such circumstances led to the gradual emergence of liberalism as the political doctrine (Siedentop 2014).
In the light of philosophy put forward by English liberals John Locke, the French philosopher Montesquieu, the early liberals focused at restricting power of government over the individuals. In addition, the liberals also opposed the feudal privilege and the absolutism and emphasized more on the importance of the constitution and representative government. According to Aron (2017), the structure of the government designed by check and balance, that involves advocating separation of the governmental power into legislative, executive and judiciary. Nevertheless, another crucial element of the classical liberalism lay in the economic liberalism. Adam Smith in ‘The Wealth of Nations’ put the principle forward. Thus, the classical liberals advocated the laissez-faire with the belief in self-regulation of market and minimalistic intervention of the government that guaranteed the prosperity of the market and the liberty of the individuals.
The end of the nineteenth century witnessed problems in free market economy of North America and England (Murphy 2018). The profits of booming industry concentrated in the hands of the bigger companies with very little benefits to the masses. This led to the significant increase of the gap between the poor and the rich. Further, on one hand, there was no food available for the consumption of the poor and on the other hand there laid huge surplus of the surplus that resulted in the great depressions. This resulted in the rich gaining more power thereby influencing the politics and limiting competition.
These circumstances prompted the liberals of late nineteenth and the early twentieth century in seeking reforms. The ideas of the liberals were influenced by the Smith (2013), recognized as watershed philosopher of liberalism. According to the modern liberals, freedom does not represent a situation that results in the loss of the strength and thereby lesser enjoyment of liberty. This leads to the initiation of the social welfare by government. However, modern liberalism was at its peak during the period of post war that involved the reconstruction of everything, from the industries to dignity of the individuals. There was also implementation of various types of the welfare program across the Western World that included the social insurance, pension, medical care, family allowance and the government-funded higher education.
In Context of Negative Liberty versus Positive Liberty
The difference between classical and modern liberalism is rooted in the difference in understanding of the aspect of liberty. According to Berlin (2014), a profound distinction between concepts of liberty exists that implies negative and positive liberty. He also added that, being free in the negative sense implied non-interference by the others whereas the positive sense implied that the freedom meant capability of the individuals in being their own master. The Classical liberals aims at maximizing negative liberty while the modern liberals holds on the fact that government should assist individuals in realizing the positive freedom.
In Context of Minimum State versus the Social Welfare
Through advocating the concept of minimal state, the classical liberals focus on the maximization of the negative liberty where the government has only three functions. These includes, maintenance of the domestic order within organizations, enforcing agreements or contracts for the citizens and protection of the people from any type of external threat. Compared to this, the modern liberals believe the government should provide necessary assistance to the individuals for realizing positive freedom. This leads to the upholding of the social welfare program. According to Gourevitch (2014), government should only intervene when individuals remain under threat of being enslaved by liberty. In addition, social welfare should be able to help the ones who are not able in helping themselves.
In Context of Laissez-faire versus Government Intervention
According to Adam and Brock (2014), the self-interest of individuals leads to the economic well being in the free market. Therefore, for benefiting himself or herself one has to undertake production as per the market demand that he tried to explain by the phrase of ‘invisible hand’. In contrary to this, the intervention of the government seemed dangerous as it remained in hands of the man who might have enough presumption and folly in order to fancy himself. Keynes (2017), the modern liberal economist points out that an economy is not perfectly self manageable. However, monopolization remains unavoidable under the rules of the demand and the supply when profits get accumulated in the hands of the few people while the mass remains incapable of consumption. This results of a capital circulated economic prosperity. He also added that it is only the intervention of the government that enables the economy in the maintaining a prolonged prosperity.
Nevertheless it becomes notable that concept of the free market was not completely abandoned by the modern liberals. Unlike the socialists, they do not intend to nationalize the economy or undertake interference with the supply and demand mechanism. Skousen (2015), believes that the ‘visible hands’ ensures full employment through the implementation of the fiscal policy and not through the deduction in the wages. This involves spending of money on the public projects for expansion of the demand.
According to Forst (2014), the Theory of Justice, has two key principles to justifying redistribution. The first, also known as equal principle put forward suggestions that the individuals must possess equal rights to the basic liberty. The second principle, also known as the difference principle, justification of inequality takes place only when it helps in promoting the well-being of worse offs compared to condition of the equal liberty. However, the boundary holds great importance, firstly because; equality refers to an indispensable principle representing liberalism. This implies that policies designed in favour of the weak should be capable enough in compensating existing inequality and suppress the creation of newer inequality. Too much of protection would not only jeopardize the social equality but also lead to the negative influences. Secondly, the implementation of excessive welfare would increase the dependency of the people on the state and thereby loosing the motion of the self-realization. This would lead to a drive for the social progress.
Difference between Classical and Modern Liberalism
This appears to be vague for the economy. According to Hayek (2014), the government even with good intention can never posses the enough knowledge in making the right decisions. Thus, he rejected the intervention of the direct government but put forward suggestion on the fact that the government should help in maintain a value of money that is stable. During the 1970, the Keynesianism reached its bottleneck. In the next few decades, there were elimination of the concern regarding the banking, insurance and the financial industry. Although the relaxed regulations brought about good effects but the question lay in the fact whether the solution would be permanent. The answer is negative since the economic crisis during the year 2007-08 helped in portraying the inefficiency of the regulation. However, the societal development portrays a pattern representing the waving pattern where capitalism tries in finding balance between the equality and efficiency.
To conclude, one can say that, liberalism adjusted itself to the time and circumstances until revival of original ideas in recent decades. The difference in the historical contexts, led to the different perspectives of liberty in terms of the classical and modern liberalism. In comparison to the classical, the modern liberals possessed more confidence in government and thereby upheld more intervention in the economic and social affairs. In contemporary society, there has been a wider acceptance that the government should ensure protection to the positive individual liberty. However, the limitation of the government intervention will be in question.
Adams, W. and Brock, J.W., 2014. Antitrust economics on trial: a dialogue on the new laissez-faire. Princeton University Press.
Aron, R., 2017. Main currents in sociological thought: Montesquieu, comte, marx, tocqueville and the sociologists and the revolution of 1848. Routledge.
Barry, A., Osborne, T. and Rose, N., 2013. Foucault and Political Reason: liberalism, neo-liberalism and the rationalities of government. Routledge.
Berlin, I., 2014. Political Ideas in the Romantic Age: Their Rise and Influence on Modern Thought. Princeton University Press.
Forst, R., 2014. Justification and critique: towards a critical theory of politics. Polity.
Gourevitch, A., 2014. Welcome to the Dark Side: A Classical-Liberal Argument for Economic Democracy. Critical Review, 26(3-4), pp.290-305.
Hayek, F.A., 2014. The road to serfdom: Text and documents: The definitive edition (Vol. 2). Routledge.
Henshall, N., 2014. The Myth of Absolutism: Change & Continuity in Early Modern European Monarchy. Routledge.
Keynes, J.M., 2017. The economic consequences of the peace. Routledge
Murphy, N., 2018. Anglo-American postmodernity: Philosophical perspectives on science, religion, and ethics. Routledge.
Packenham, R.A., 2015. Liberal America and the Third World: Political development ideas in foreign aid and social science. Princeton University Press.
Siedentop, L., 2014. Inventing the individual: The origins of Western liberalism. Harvard University Press.
Skousen, M., 2015. The Big Three in Economics: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes. Routledge.
Smith, G.H., 2013. The system of liberty: themes in the history of classical liberalism. Cambridge University Press.
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