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Classical Liberalism

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.

Governments should 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:

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.

Natural Rights:

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 against it.

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 respected.


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 disvalue.

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 action.

Economic Liberalism:

Economic liberalism also referred to as liberal capitalism,[1] 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.[2] 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 competition.

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.[3] 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 liberal economy.


Neoliberalism or neo-liberalism[4] 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,[5] 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 representative democracy.

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.

  2. Adams 2001, p. 20.
  3. Brown, Wendy (2005). Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics.
  4. Vincent, Andrew (2009). Modern Political Ideologies
  5. Goldstein, Natalie (2011). Globalization and Free Trade

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