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The word ‘liberalism’ is from the Latin word ‘liber’ meaning literally ‘to be free’. The ideology came about as a reaction to the break down of feudalism and to challenge the absolute power of monarchy in Europe in the eighteenth century. Liberalism is based on five main tenants of belief; the individual, freedom, reason, justice and tolerance.
According to liberalism the individual is paramount. Emanating from the ‘Enlightenment’ period, the belief is that every individual should have the freedom to achieve his or her full potential to the benefit of society as a whole.
State intervention should be kept to a minimum and even constitutionally restrained because man is inherently ‘good’ and interference is counter-productive.
Liberalism is a progressive ideology and freedom is the only way in which human being can further and better themselves. Classic liberal thinker John Stuart Mill said: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will is to prevent harm to others”.
This extends to the liberal of the economy. The ‘free market’ is self regulatory and, particularly where neo-liberals are concerned, a superior entity. Government should not intervene because people are not capable, intellectually, of regulating the market as well as the market regulates itself. However, although classic liberals uphold a belief in capitalism as the only way an individual can reach their full potential, neo-liberals believe that capitalism has led to new forms of social injustice which create inequality.
Liberalism upholds a strong belief in democracy.
Political and legal justice is highly regarded because equality is important. However, it is the equality of opportunity in which liberals believe. Everyone should have the ‘equal right to develop their unequal skills’ (Heywood).
The word ‘Conservatism’ literally means ‘to conserve’. Upholding and ‘conserving’ tradition is central to the ideology. The five main tenants of belief in conservatism are: Tradition, Human imperfection, organic society, hierarchy and authority, and the nation.
Conservatives believe that human beings are ‘imperfect and unperfectable’ therefore social ills such as crime stem from the individual not inequality in social circumstance. Strong law and order in needed to give people the security they need which is found in social order. Conservatives tend to trust what they know from ‘tradition, experience and history’ therefore preserving customs and institutions is paramount.
Belief in organic society is important. Society is like an organ with individuals in social groups (e.g. the family) joined to other social groups by bonds of duty and obligation to form a society whole. This organic society is prior to the individual. The family and the nation are the fundamental foundations on which society is built and they maintain security and order for society. The nation is thought to be the most important institution and sovereignty must be preserved. Preservation on the Socio-economically, Conservatives believe inequality to be undesirable but naturally occurring because people gain in accordance with their willingness to work. They do however believe in the idea of ‘noblesse oblige’ and would therefore advocate a minimal level of welfare. Attached to this is the idea that authority is naturally occurring through this system and thus we should be led by ‘elite, experienced and capable’. In effect, one should know ‘ones place’. Like Liberals, Conservatives believe in minimal state-intervention because the state is superior to government and economically, in Capitalism because is endorses freedom, generates wealth and rewards those who work hard.
Classic conservatism which is explained above is libertarian and individualist in nature and influenced by Edmund Burke (1727-1797). There is also Disraelian Conservatism also known as One Nation Toryism. This is collectivist and paternalist in nature. It allowed conservatism to adopt the intervention list welfare state and managed economy. It was the dominant strand of Conservatism in the UK from 1874 when Disraeli became prime minister until the rise of Thatcherism in the 1970’s.
Socialism developed as a reaction to the social conditions created by the rapid industrialization of Europe in the nineteenth century. It is based on four main tenants of belief: Community, equality, social class and common ownership.
Collectivism is central to Socialist belief. An individual, according to Socialism is always inferior to society as a whole. Society should co-operate and work for the general good rather than competing against each other. This is the only way to overcome social ills such as crime. Social equality is central. Socialists believe that inequality in rife in society and everyone should be given the same opportunities and the government should intervene in day-to-day like to eradicate inequality. For example, the NHS is present in the UK in order for everyone to receive healthcare regardless of social class or financial background.
Socialism is a critique of Capitalism. Capitalism promotes selfishness in society. Economically, it is detrimental to society because as a society, productivity is higher than when individuals compete and every individual has a moral obligation to work. Capitalism requires unemployment and is therefore unacceptable. Socialists support state intervention of the economy because the free, unregulated market is wasteful and because it produces for profit, it negates the needs of society. Common ownership is also important because it benefits society. Therefore the state ownership of industry is advocated as far as government controlling all means of production, distribution and exchange. An economy should be centrally planned and controlled by government.
According to Karl Mark, production should be on the basis ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’. Therefore there is no need for competition. Equality is important in Socialism and this system fulfils the ‘need-satisfaction’ of humans i.e. food, water, shelter and companionship. Social Class is seen as entwined with Capitalism. The break-away from Capitalism would give society freedom from class identity leading to a more co-operative society which works for the greater good. However, there emerges two classes; the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This leads to irreconcilable conflict and eventually revolution and the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.
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