Classical liberalism is not a fixed ideology, but a spectrum of views on social,
economic and political issues, grounded in a belief in freedom and an aversion
to the coercion of one individual by another. It has enjoyed a revival in recent
decades, but now faces new and urgent questions � such as the freedom that
should be extended to groups who wish to destroy freedom. Classical liberals
give priority to individual freedom in social, political and economic life.
They recognise that different people's freedoms may conflict, and disagree on where
the limits to freedom lie, but broadly agree that individual freedom should be maximised and the use of force should be minimised. They see the individual as
more important than the collective and call for a limited, representative
government that draws its legitimacy from the people.
themselves be bound by the rule of law, and justice should be dispensed
according to accepted principles and processes. Classical liberals disagree
about the exact role of the state, but generally wish to limit the use of force,
whether by individuals or governments. They call for states that are small and
kept in bounds by known rules. The main problem of politics is not how to choose
leaders, but how to restrain them once they have power.
In this paper, we are going to discuss classical liberalism, natural
rights, utilitarianism, economic liberalism and neo-liberalism.
Classical liberalism is a political ideology that favours the protection of
individual liberty and economic freedom by limiting government power. Classical
liberalism emerged during the 18th and early 19th centuries in response to the
sweeping social changes precipitated by the Industrial Revolution. Today,
classical liberalism is viewed in contrast to the more politically-progressive
philosophy of social liberalism.
A strong theme among many classical liberals, from John Locke through the
American founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson (1743�1826) and still today,
is the assertion that individuals have certain natural rights. These they see as
an inherent part of our humanity which we cannot give up and which do not depend
on laws or governments for their existence.
Our natural rights, they say, do not come from laws, customs, religions,
beliefs, culture or government, but exist naturally in human beings. They are
universal to us all, and inalienable � we cannot sell them, give them away or
deny them because they are part of our very humanity.
There are different views on what these core rights actually are, though Locke
spoke for many when he listed life, liberty and property: people have a right to
live, and to do as they choose provided they do not infringe the equal right of
others, and to enjoy all that they create or gain through gifts or trade � but
not by force. Being an essential part of us, we cannot give these rights away.
We cannot sign ourselves into slavery, because we would be violating our own
rights, trying to give up something we cannot give up. Nor can they be
legislated away or taken by others.
This the idea of natural rights, enjoyed by everyone, challenged the supposedly
divine right of kings; and the American colonists cited the British government's
attempts to suppress their basic rights as justification for their rebellion
This line of thinking elevates freedom above all else. For there to be any
rights at all, there must first be liberty, since if we are not free to act, we
cannot exercise any of our other rights (other than our freedom of thought,
which nobody could prevent). Liberty is an essential condition that allows us to
exercise our rights and the state of affairs in which those rights are
Utilitarianism, in normative ethics, a tradition stemming from the late 18th-
and 19th-century English philosophers and economists Jeremy Bentham and John
Stuart Mill according to which an action is right if it tends to promote
happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness-not just the
happiness of the performer of the action but also that of everyone affected by
it. Such a the theory is in opposition to egoism, the view that a person should
pursue his own self-interest, even at the expense of others, and to any ethical
theory that regards some acts or types of acts as right or wrong independently
of their consequences (see deontological ethics).
Utilitarianism also differs from ethical theories that make the rightness or
wrongness of an act dependent upon the motive of the agent, for, according to
the utilitarian, it is possible for the right thing to be done from a bad
motive. Utilitarians may, however, distinguish the aptness of praising or
blaming an agent from whether the act was right.
In the notion of consequences, the utilitarian includes all of the
good and bad produced by the act, whether arising after the act has been
performed or during its performance. If the difference in the consequences of
alternative acts is not great, some Utilitarians do not regard the choice
between them as a moral issue.
According to Mill, acts should be classified as morally right or wrong only if
the consequences are of such significance that a person would wish to see the
agent compelled, not merely persuaded and exhorted, to act in a preferred
manner. In assessing the consequences of actions, utilitarianism relies upon
some theory of intrinsic value: something is held to be good in itself, apart
from further consequences, and all other values are believed to derive their
worth from their relation to this intrinsic good as a means to an end. Bentham
and Mill were hedonists; i.e., they analysed happiness as a balance of pleasure
over pain and believed that these feelings alone are of intrinsic value and
Utilitarians also assume that it is possible to compare the intrinsic values
produced by two alternative actions and to estimate which would have better
consequences. Bentham believed that a hedonic calculus is theoretically
possible. A moralist, he maintained, could sum up the units of pleasure and the
units of pain for everyone likely to be affected, immediately and in the future,
and could take the balance as a measure of the overall good or evil tendency of
an action. Such precise measurement as Bentham envisioned is perhaps not
essential, but it is nonetheless necessary for the utilitarian to make some
interpersonal comparisons of the values of the effects of alternative courses of
Economic liberalism also referred to as liberal capitalism, is an economic
system organized on individual lines, meaning that the greatest possible number
of economic decisions are made by individuals or households rather than by
collective institutions or organizations. It includes a spectrum of different
economic policies but its basis is on strong support for a market economy and
private property in the means of production. Although economic liberals can also
be supportive of government regulation to a certain degree, they tend to oppose
government intervention in the free market when it inhibits free trade and open
Economic liberalism is associated with free markets and private ownership of
capital assets. Historically, economic liberalism arose in response to
mercantilism and feudalism. Today, economic liberalism is also considered
opposed to non-capitalist economic orders such as socialism and planned
economies. It also contrasts with protectionism because of its support for
free trade and open markets.
An economy that is managed according to these precepts may be described as a
Neoliberalism or neo-liberalism is the 20th-century resurgence of
19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism and
free-market capitalism. It is generally associated with policies of economic
liberalization including privatization, deregulation, globalization, free trade,
austerity, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the
role of the private sector in the economy and society; however, the defining
features of neoliberalism in both thought and practice has been the subject of
substantial scholarly debate. Neoliberalism constituted a paradigm shift away
from the post-war Keynesian consensus which had lasted from 1945 to 1980.
English-speakers have used the term "neoliberalism" since the start of the 20th
century with different meanings, but it became more prevalent in its current
meaning in the 1970s and 1980s, used by scholars in a wide variety of social
sciences as well as by critics. The term is rarely used by proponents of free
market policies. Some scholars have described the term as meaning different
things to different people as neoliberalism has "mutated" into geopolitically
distinct hybrids as it travelled around the world. As such, neoliberalism shares
many attributes with other concepts that have contested meanings, including
The definition and usage of the term have changed over time. As an economic
philosophy, neoliberalism emerged among European liberal scholars in the 1930s
as they attempted to revive and renew central ideas from classical liberalism as
they saw these ideas diminish in popularity, overtaken by recognition of the
need to control markets, following the great depression and manifested in
policies designed to counter the volatility of free markets, and mitigate their
negative social consequences. The impetus for this development arose from a
desire to avoid repeating the economic failures of the early 1930s, which was
identified to be created by the economic policy of classical liberalism.
When the term entered into common use in the 1980s in connection with Augusto
Pinochet's economic reforms in Chile, it quickly took on negative connotations
and was employed principally by critics of market reform and laissez-faire
capitalism. Scholars tended to associate it with the theories of Mont Pelerin
Society economists Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and James M. Buchanan,
along with politicians and policy-makers such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald
Reagan and Alan Greenspan.
Once the new meaning of neoliberalism became established as a common usage among
Spanish-speaking scholars, it diffused into the English-language study of
political economy. By 1994, with the passage of NAFTA and with the Zapatistas'
reaction to this development in Chiapas, the term entered global circulation.
The above paper outlines ideas and expands on the topic of classical liberalism.
Classical liberalism is a political philosophy and ideology belonging to
liberalism in which primary emphasis is placed on securing the freedom of the
individual by limiting the power of the government. It advocates civil liberties
with a limited government under the rule of law, private property, and belief in
laissez-faire economic policy.
- Adams 2001, p. 20.
- Brown, Wendy (2005). Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and
- Vincent, Andrew (2009). Modern Political Ideologies
- Goldstein, Natalie (2011). Globalization and Free Trade
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