Sociology Index

Liberalism

Liberalism is defined as a social ethic that advocates liberty, and equality in general. Liberalism, however, with its compromising, vague attitude, incapable of precise formulation, incapable also of rousing precise feelings, either affirmative or negative, is not an idea of political force. Liberalism considers individual liberty and equality to be the most important political goals. Classical liberalism emphasizes the importance of individual liberty. Classical liberals oppose all government regulation of business and the economy and support free market laissez-faire capitalism. Classical liberalism or progressive liberalism is a political and economic philosophy emerging along with the growth of capitalism. Market economies may include hypothetical laissez-faire, free market, regulated markets and interventionist variants. What distinguishes Liberalism, Neo-liberalism and Ordoliberalism is the approach to the freedom of the individual.

Liberalism wagers that a state can be strong but constrained. Rights to education and other requirements for human development and security aim to advance equal opportunity and personal dignity and to promote a creative and productive society. To guarantee those rights, liberals have supported a wider social and economic role for the state, counterbalanced by more robust guarantees of civil liberties and a wider social system of checks and balances anchored in an independent press and pluralistic society. - Paul Starr.

The central belief in classical liberalism is that unregulated free markets are the best means to allocate productive resources and distribute goods and services and that government intervention should be minimal. Behind classical liberalism is an assumption about individuals being rational, self-interested and methodical in the pursuit of their goals.

By the end of the 19th century, the belief in free markets became moderated in some versions of liberalism to acknowledge the growing conviction that liberty or freedom for the individual was a hollow promise if the social conditions of society made liberty meaningless.

Classical liberalism philosophy believed that the state must become more involved in managing the economy in order to soften the negative effects of market economies and maximize the well-being of each individual.

Liberalism in America: A Note for Europeans - by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
In a sense all of America is liberalism. "The great advantage of the American," Tocqueville wrote over a century ago, "is that he has arrived at a state of democracy without having to endure a democratic revolution and that he is born free without having to become so." With freedom thus a matter of birthright and not of conquest, the American assumes liberalism as one of the presuppositions of life.

"The program of liberalism, therefore, if condensed into a single word, would have to read: property, that is, private ownership of the means of production... All the other demands of liberalism result from his fundamental demand. - Liberalism, In The Classical Tradition - Ludwig von Mises

This view of liberalism was so prevalent in 1962, when the English translation of this book appeared, that Mises believed then that to translate literally the original title, Liberalismus, would be too confusing. So he called the English version The Free and Prosperous Commonwealth. By the following year, however, Mises had decided that the advocates of freedom and free markets should not relinquish liberalism to the philosophical socialists.