Classical Liberalism Essay
Liberalism could be defined as the opposite of the unlimited power that a king would enjoyed for example in the17th century. The kings used to have absolute power by which they decided the fate of all their peasants, no matter they agree or not. In this unlimited power, the opinion of an individual person an his independence was nor consider at, neither it was the will of the community, the only will that was satisfied was the king’s will, even if the community was totally hurt by the king’s will. Liberalism is also divided in two branches, liberal liberalism and modern liberalism.
The modern liberalism stresses the importance of the liberty of each individual limiting the power of the government as much as possible while the modern liberalism gives more power to the government. The theorist Benjamin Constant, (1767-1838) stresses clearly the opposition of the classical liberal thinking to the unlimited power in his book “On the Limits of the Popular Sovereignty”: “No authority on earth is unlimited, neither the people’s, nor that of the men who claim to be their representatives, nor that of kings whatever their rule, nor that of the law which, being nothing but the expression of the will of the people or the prince, according to the form of government, must kept within the same bounds as the authority from which it emanates” ( Sources, 138). He claims that society could be held successfully limiting the power that governs, and by that, every individual person would enjoy independence and freedom.
One of the main points of the classical liberalism is evidently emphasized in the book of Jeremy Benetham “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and legislation”. Jeremy makes clear that in a liberal society the good of the individual in the community is more important that the satisfaction of an individual or some few people. No individual should be hurt by any of the components of the society that is pursuing his personal interest. So, there must be laws to create in order to protect the good of every single component of the community as well to protect the entire community.
The meaning of community under the liberalism point of view is also well explained by Jeremy in his book: “The community is a fictitious body, composed of the individual persons who are consider as constituting as it were its members” (Data and Documents, 107). After this statement, Jeremy says that the interest of the entire community is then the sum of all the individuals that compose it. All these reflections about community let us see the important role that individual plays under the liberalism doctrine which supports that people that live in a community have to think about all the individuals that live in the community before doing an action that may hurt any person that is included in this community.
The expanding of the suffrage in France and in England indicates a clear growth of liberalism in the society since the privilege of voting is an extension of the individual power to decide his will, and a reduction of the power that the government has by itself.
John Stuart Mill is also very concerned about the liberty and equality of the women, because, he says that the superiority of the man over the women is a clear abuse of power, as well as a violation of the principle of the individual rights. He was also in favor of the suffrage for both male and female, and he also thought that women should be able to do every kind of work in order to enjoy of a total equality “Whit regard to the fitness of women, not only to participate in elections, but themselves to hold offices or practise professions involving important public responsibilities” (The subjection of the Women, Sources, 199).
John Stuart Mill anticipates to the modern liberalism if we analyze his book “On Liberty” in which he explains that government have to have power over the community to guaranty the liberty of the community. “Power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will to prevent harm to others”(On Liberty, sources 139). So, we can see in this point how John Stuart Mill begins thinking as a modern liberalism, seeing as necessary the power of the government over the community composed by individuals in order to guaranty liberty.
During the middle of the XIX century, and especially in England, industry began growing so fast, and with this, many things were changing fast as well. People began moving from the countryside to the cities to work in factories in stead of in the fiends. With this, new social groups emerged. Many people mow work in factories in very bad conditions, working 12 hours and with low wages. They were the new worker class. Another new social group also emerged from this industrialization era. The middle class, belonging neither to the peasants nor to the nobility, this social group emerged mainly by the needed in the cities of engineers, lawyers, accountants, bankers, and doctors…
This new middle class enjoyed of new standards of comfort; running water, upholstered furniture, separate sleeping rooms, living quarters, and many more things that used to be only available for the aristocracy. As a result of this industrialization and the migration of the people to the cities, the aristocracy began participating in the new economy opportunities by becoming industrials and bankers. So, the aristocrats had to adapted to the industrialization in order to keep up with their wealth since nobles were no longer given with privileges only because of their birth, or at list not as much as before.
Things like the department store emerged from this era as a result of these new social classes. The department store, is a clear answer to the new economical power of the middle class, the department store is a big store in witch you can find all kind of things in stead of going to different stores. Another clear example of how the economy was growing is seen in the grown of the transport industries if we compare for example, the 45,000 miles of railroad that Europe had in 1860 with the 700,000 of railroad that Europe had in 1910, this point is emphasized by Alfred Marshal: “The dominant economic fact of our age is the development not of manufacturing but of transport industries”.
Many worker unifications appear as well as a result of the industrialization because of the low wages and the bad work conditions that the workers had. There also appeared an intellectual response to this oppression to the working class: the modern liberalism. The modern liberalism supported that the state has to intervene in order to share out the wealth and by doing this, to finish with the injustices that the working class was suffering. We can see at this point the change that the liberalism made being in favor of giving power to the government when it usually wanted to limit the government’s power to the minimum. And, it can also be seen the new direction that the liberalism is taking even toward the socialism since it begin advocating to share the wealth. This can be seen in John Stuart Mill, how toward the end of his life seemed to be learning toward the socialism.
The British political thinker Thomas Hill Green argued that the state had to correct abuses in the society for people to develop their capacities and enjoy freedom. This point is remarked in his book “Legislation and Freedom of Contract”: ” For the sake of that general freedom of its members to make the best of themselves, which it is the object of civil society to secure, a prohibition should be put by law, which is the deliberate voice of society, on all such contracts of service as in a general way yield such a result”. (Sources, 173). He also makes emphasis in one of the main points of the modern liberalism, the importance of the good of the community above the individual. “No one has the right to do what he will with his own [property] in such a way as to contravene this end [the common good]”.
The first chancellor of the German Empire Otto von Bismark saw the necessity of getting rid of he class struggle in order to establish the new united Germany. The speech he gave into the Richstag March 10, 1884 shows clearly his political philosophy. In this speech, he explains the necessity of giving better work conditions to the factory workers providing they with an insurance against the accidents, a reduction of labor time, and a rise of the wages. The British politician David Lloyd George had also a speech in May 4, 1911, in which he stressed the necessity to improve the workers conditions. The main points of David Lloyd George in this speech were as in the Otto von Bismarck’s, the insurance laws and the increase of wages ” There can be no doubt that the Insurance Laws, together with the increase of wages, have exercise an enormously beneficial influence upon the health, standard of living, and the efficiency of workers” (Sources 207).
With the speeches of Otto von Bismark and David Lloyd George it can be seen the will of the government to protect the good of the community, one of the main points of the modern liberalism.
In the XX century, there were three maim events that changed the way the liberal doctrine was understood. The issue of the welfare (worker’s rights), began to for part of the new modern liberalism. In the great depression of 1929, modern liberalism began to be especially concern about the freedom that investors should have in order to speculate. This last issue was stressed by Kark Mannheim in his book “The Discipline of Freedom”, written in the year of the depression. He compares the liberal view of freedom and discipline against the plutocratic concept of freedom and discipline “The plutocratic concept upholds the investors right to invest and speculate freely and the owner’s right to use his property without restrains”, (Data and Documents 130).
It is easy to see the intention of Karl Mannheim to explain the plutocratic concept of freedom to show how this concept failed in 1929. The other main event in the XIX century was the war world II; it had also a clear repercussion in the liberalism. This repercussion is seen in the work of Friedrich A. Hayek “The Pound to Serfdom”, written 1944. In this book, Friedrich critics the fascism and collectivism because, he says that in this kind doctrines the interest of the individual is not consider at all being the “general welfare” or the “general interest” the only point to consider. So, in search of this general welfare, the interest of many individuals, their freedom, and their rights to develop their personality will be in danger when these individuals interferes with the general welfare, and this is of course something totally contradictoriable to the liberalism.
Salvador De La Mandriaga, in his book “Europe and the Liberal Principles” written three years after the war world II, underline as well the right that the individual should have in order to develop his personality without the interference of anybody: ” There are two fundamental principles which liberalism has to affirm if it wishes to be worthy of Europe: The principle of free research and the principle of the sacred character of human personality ” (Data and Documents 126).
So, we can see in these two thinkers how the fascism and the war world II affected in their way of thinking. It made them return to the classical liberalism from the modern liberalism because the classical liberalism seemed to be more against the social goal or the welfare defended by Hitler than the classical liberalism, which seemed to defend more the good of the individual that the good of the hole community.
Robert Nozick, in his book ” Anarchy State, and Utopia” written in 1974, shows us how the liberalism changed from the modern liberalism to the classical liberalism around the 70’s. He is in favor of reducing the role of the government as much as possible. Point clearly defended in the classical liberalism. “The minimal state is the most extensive state that cam be justified. Any state more extensive violates people’s rights” (Data and Documents, 135).
One of the key points of the liberalism is the tolerance; this point is strongly defended for all the liberalism thinkers in all of his phases. John Stuart Mill, one of the most important men in the liberalism, clearly defends this point in his book “On Liberty”, in which he advocates the liberty of tastes as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody in the society: “Secondly, the principle requires liberty of tastes and pursuits of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character, of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong”(Sources,140). So, Mill, as all the liberal thinkers, advocated the liberty of choice in all kind of personal maters, such political tendency, religion, and even sexual tendency; of course, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.
The issue of the homosexuality in the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century wasn’t as accepted as in the end or even in the middle of the 20th century. It may be something that nobody should want to talk or write about and neither anybody would recognize to be homosexual in the case that he or she were. But, in books like for example “Maurice”, a novel about two male students that fall in love with each other, written in 1913 by E.M. Forester, we can see how this issue began to be more accepted by the fact that people began writing about this topic. But, the fact that this novel wasn’t published until 1971 shows us that this issue was not broadly tolerated until the middle-end of the 20th century. Another issue that was not so tolerated in the 19th century was the women’s emancipation. That the women’s independence was not really tolerated in the 19th century is seen in the feminist writer Amandine-Aurore Dupin, better known as George Sand. She had to change her name and use a man name because of the hostility that the intellectual women suffered in her time.
That Liberalism with his tolerance was more and more forming part of the society can be seen if we pay attention to the books about controversial themes that began to be published in the end of the 19th century. “Law of Population”, a book that advocates birth control is a clear example that society began to be more and more tolerant with topics that used to be prohibited.
It wasn’t weird that after a war as destructive and cruel as war world II a way of thinking like the existentialism would came up. Existentialism can be easily understood in the books written by Jean Paul Sartre books like “Existentialism and Humanism” in which he says that the man is in anguish and that man doesn’t choose what he will be. The sentiments of anguish, desperation, and uncontrol are strongly seen in “Nausea”, written also by Jean-Paul Sartre: “It would be much better if I could only stop thinking… My thought is me; that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think…. and I can’t stop myself from thinking. At this very moment–it’s frightful–of I exist, it is because I am horrified at existing”. This new way of thinking could also not be accepted for many people in the time that it appeared, but as the liberalism was more and more accepted in the society, these ways of thinking were also more and more tolerated by the people whether they agree or not.
In the fliend of the cinema there were also some controversial movies that could be no so tolerates as “Un Chien Andalou”, movie that shows controversial themes in a surrealistic way. But, they had to be tolerated in order to guaranty the liberty of expression, one of the main points of the liberalism strongly stressed by all the liberal thinkers and especially by John Stuart Mill in his book “On Liberty”: “The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall under a different principle, since it belongs to that part of the conduct of an individual which concerns other people, but, being almost of as much importance as the liberty of thought itself and resting in a great part on the same reasons, is practically inseparable from it.”(Sources, 140).