Useful Notes on “Liberalism”–Idea, Origin, Evolution and Basic Features

While classical liberals conceived of state as hindrance of hindrances, contemporary liberals acknowledge concerns that go beyond pure individualism.

However, it should not have been observed as a single comprehensive doctrine, rather there have arisen a number of off shoots.

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Origin and Evolution:

The word liberalism has Latin root liber which means liberty. But as a word, first it was used to refer a political party in Spain.

Perhaps the best illustration of historical role of liberalism is given by Harold J. Laski, in his State in Theory and Practice, has significantly observed: “The birth of the Liberal tradition can only be explained by the shift in the residence of economic power which accompanied it.

At bottom it was a way of justifying the transfer of political authority from a land­owning aristocracy to a commercial middle class, and, like all philosophies which seek to justify such a transfer, it stated its principles in terms of logic wider in theory than it was prepared to admit in practice.”

It played a crucial role in particular historical setting. It was an ideology of the newly emerged class who wanted an economic system of free trade based on the principle of laissez-faire in place of mercantilism. In place of absolute monarchy and factual patronages, they sought supremacy of Parliament.

However with the passage of time it moved from purely laissez-faire individualistic premiers to welfare and even interventional state. It sought to incorporate principles and principles for development of individual personalities.

David G. Smith,

“Liberalism is the belief in and commitment to a set of methods and policies that have as their common aim greater freedom for individual men.”

L.T. Hobhouse,

“Liberalism is the belief that society can safely be founded on self directing power of personality, that it’s only on it his foundation that a true community can be built, and that so established its foundations are so deep and so wide that there is no limit that we can place to the extent of the building.”

Grimes,

“Liberalism represents a system of ideas that aims the realization of pluralist society, forcing diversity in politics, economy, religion and our cultural life.”

Basic Feature:

1. Man as the embodiment of reason.

2. Man is capable of deciding his good and bad.

3. Primacy of procedure.

4. Contract as mechanism of social relations.

5. No incompatibility between individual interest and social good.

6. Upholder of civil and political liberties.

7. Emphasis on toleration.

8. Conceive of civil society as the arena of realization of freedom.