The Beginnings of Liberalism

The Beginnings of Liberalism


John Locke: John Locke was an English Philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and known as the “Father of Classical Liberalism”. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social contract theory. His work greatly affected the development of epistemology and political philosophy. His writings influenced Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. His contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory are reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence. Locke developed the then radical notion that government acquires consent from the governed which has to be constantly present for the government to remain legitimate . His influential Two Treatises (1690), the foundational text of liberal ideology, outlined his major ideas. His insistence that lawful government did not have a supernatural basis was a sharp break with the dominant theories of governance. Locke also defined the concept of the separation of church and state. Based on the social contract principle, Locke argued that there was a natural right to the liberty of conscience, which he argued must, therefore, remain protected from any government authority. He also formulated a general defense for religious toleration in his Letters Concerning Toleration. Locke was influenced by the liberal ideas of John Milton, who was a staunch advocate of freedom in all its forms. Milton argued for disestablishment as the only effective way of achieving broad toleration. In his Areopagitica, Milton provided one of the first arguments for the importance of freedom of speech – ” the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties “. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of the 18th century. His Political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological, and educational thought. Rousseau’s novel, Émile, or On Education, is a treatise on the education of the whole person for citizenship. His sentimental novel, Julie, or the New Heloise, Was of importance to the development of pre-romanticism and romanticism in fiction. Rousseau’s autobiographical writings his, Confessions, which initiated the modern autobiography, and his, Reveries of a Solitary Walker, exemplified the late 18th-century movement known as the Age of Sensibility and featured an increased focus on subjectivity and introspection that later characterized modern writing. His, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, and his, On the Social Contract, are cornerstones in modern political and social thought. He argued that private property was conventional and the beginning of true civil society. Rousseau was a successful composer of music, who wrote seven operas as well as music in other forms, and made contributions to music as a theorist. During the period of the French Revolution, Rousseau was the most popular of the philosophies among members of the Jacobin Club. Rousseau was interred as a national hero in the Panthéon in Paris, in 1794, 16 years after his death. Liberalism: Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, they support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and private property. Civil Rights was most likely added in order to make it more modern. Liberalism first became a distinct political movement during the Age of Enlightenment, when it became popular among philosophers and economists in the Western world. Liberalism rejected the notions, common at the time, of hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The 17th-century philosopher John Locke is often credited with founding liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition. Locke argued that each man has a natural right to life, liberty, and property according to the social contract, governments must not violate these rights. Liberals opposed traditional conservatism and sought to replace absolutism in government with representative democracy and the rule of law. The revolutionaries of the Glorious Revolution, American Revolution, segments of the French Revolution, and other liberal revolutionaries from that time used liberal philosophy to justify the armed overthrow of what they saw as tyrannical rule. The nineteenth century saw liberal governments established in nations across Europe, Spanish America, and North America. In this period, the dominant ideological opponent of liberalism was classical conservatism. During the twentieth century, liberal ideas spread even further, as liberal democracies found themselves on the winning side in both world wars. Liberalism also survived major ideological challenges from new opponents, such as fascism and communism. In Europe and North America, there was also the rise of social liberalism, which is related to social democracy in Europe. The meaning of the word “liberalism” began to diverge in different parts of the world. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “In the United States, liberalism is associated with the welfare-state policies of the New Deal program of the Democratic administration of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, whereas in Europe it is more commonly associated with a commitment to limited government and laissez-faire economic policies. Consequently, in the U.S., the ideas of individualism and laissez-faire economics previously associated with classical liberalism, became the basis for the emerging school of right wing libertarian thought.Today, liberal political parties remain a political force with varying degrees of power and influence in many countries. One of the first recorded instances of the word liberal occurs in 1375 when it was used to describe the liberal arts in the context of an education desirable for a free-born man. The word’s early connection with the classical education of a medieval university soon gave way to a proliferation of different denotations and connotations. Liberal could refer to “free in bestowing” as early as 1387, “made without stint” in 1433, “freely permitted” in 1530, and “free from restraint”—often as a pejorative remark—in the 16th and the 17th centuries. In the 16th century England, liberal could have positive or negative attributes in referring to someone’s generosity or indiscretion. In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare wrote of “a liberal villain” who “hath…confessed his vile encounters. With the rise of the Enlightenment, the word acquired decisively more positive undertones, being defined as “free from narrow prejudice” in 1781 and “free from bigotry” in 1823. In 1815, the first use of the word liberalism appeared in English. By the middle of the 19th century, liberal started to be used as a politicized term for parties and movements all over the world. The Social Contract: Quentin Skinner has argued that several critical modern innovations in contract theory are found in the writings from French Calvinists and Huguenots, whose work, in turn, was invoked by writers in the Low Countries who objected to their subjection to Spain and, later still, by Catholics in England. Among these, Francisco Suárez (1548–1617), from the School of Salamanca, might be considered as an early theorist of the social contract, theorizing natural law in an attempt to limit the divine right of absolute monarchy. All of these groups were led to articulate notions of popular sovereignty by means of a social covenant or contract: all of these arguments began with proto-“state of nature” arguments, to the effect that the basis of politics is that everyone is by nature free of subjection to any government. However, these arguments relied on a corporatist theory found in Roman Law, according to which “a populous” can exist as a distinct legal entity. Therefore these arguments held that a group of people can join a government because it has the capacity to exercise a single will and make decisions with a single voice in the absence of sovereign authority — a notion rejected by Hobbes and later contract theorists. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), in his influential 1762 treatise The Social Contract, outlined a different version of social contract theory, as the foundations of political rights based on unlimited popular sovereignty. Although Rousseau wrote that the British were perhaps at the time the freest people on earth, he did not approve of their representative government. Rousseau believed that liberty was possible only where there was direct rule by the people as a whole in lawmaking, where popular sovereignty was indivisible and inalienable. But he also maintained that the people often did not know their “real will,” and that a proper society would not occur until a great leader (“the Legislator”) arose to change the values and customs of the people, likely through the strategic use of religion. Rousseau’s striking phrase that man must “be forced to be free” should be understood this way: since the indivisible and inalienable popular sovereignty decides what is good for the whole, then if an individual lapses back into his ordinary egoism and disobeys the leadership, he will be forced to listen to what they decided as a member of the collectivity (i.e. as citizens). Thus, the law, inasmuch as it is created by the people acting as a body, is not a limitation of individual freedom, but its expression. Thus, enforcement of the law, including criminal law, is not a restriction on individual liberty, as the individual, as a citizen, explicitly agreed to be constrained if, as a private individual, he did not respect his own will as formulated in the general will. Because laws represent the restraints of civil freedom, they represent the leap made from humans in the state of nature into civil society. In this sense, the law is a civilizing force, and therefore Rousseau believed that the laws that govern a people helped to mold their character. In moral and political philosophy, the social contract or political contract is a theory or model, originating during the Age of Enlightenment, that typically addresses the questions of the origin of society and the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual. Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. The question of the relation between natural and legal rights, therefore, is often an aspect of social contract theory. The Social Contract (Du contract social ou Principes du Droit Politique)is also the title of a 1762 book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau on this topic. Although the antecedents of social contract theory are found in antiquity, in Greek and Stoic philosophy and Roman and Canon Law, as well as in the Biblical idea of the covenant, the heyday of the social contract was the mid-17th to early 19th centuries when it emerged as the leading doctrine of political legitimacy. The starting point for most social contract theories is a heuristic examination of the human condition absent from any political order that Thomas Hobbes termed the “state of nature”.[2] In this condition, individuals’ actions are bound only by their personal power and conscience. From this shared starting point, social contract theorists seek to demonstrate, in different ways, why a rational individual would voluntarily consent to give up his or her natural freedom to obtain the benefits of political order. Hugo Grotius (1625), Thomas Hobbes (1651), Samuel Pufendorf (1673), John Locke (1689), Jean-Jacques Rousseau(1762), and Immanuel Kant (1797) are among the most prominent of 17th- and 18th-century theorists of the social contract and natural rights. Each solved the problem of political authority in a different way. Grotius posited that individual human beings had natural rights; Hobbes asserted that humans consent to abdicate their rights in favor of the absolute authority of government (whether monarchical or parliamentary); Pufendorf disputed Hobbes’s equation of a state of nature with war. Locke believed that natural rights were inalienable and that the rule of God, therefore, superseded government authority; and Rousseau believed that democracy (self-rule) was the best way of ensuring the general welfare while maintaining individual freedom under the rule of law. The Lockean concept of the social contract was invoked in the United States Declaration of Independence. Social contract theories were eclipsed in the 19th century in favor of utilitarianism, Hegelianism, and Marxism, and were revived in the 20th century, notably in the form of a thought experiment by John Rawls.

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