Talk:Liberalism

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 Definition Economic and political doctrine advocating free enterprise, free competition and free will. [d] [e]

As an economist, I would think this useful. Liberalism is the philosophical basis for the early questioning as to how a non-authoritarian government aught to interact with the economy. A few points about your existing text:

Overall, the end of the second paragraph of the intro could probably be incorporated into the main body of the article.

Its first success was in the American Revolution, though it was largely based on British Parliamentarianism and the first, constitutional phase of the French Revolution.

The French Revolution strikes me as an inherently illiberal affair, elaborate a bit more about your notions of the "constitutional phase"... also, if the Americal Revolution is to be cited as a success (which I agree with) it seems inconsistent for the philosophy to be rooted in the slightly later French Revolution.

They tended to rein against inbuilt establishments, such as the crown, church or aristocracy.

I think it might be the case that the notion of the catholic church wielding quasi-state powers rubbed liberals the wrong way... Private established institutions and customs form the basis for rules of behavior which are necessary for the operation of society, however enforcement through private/social sanctioning rather than law allows social innovations to occur without interference by the state.

Britain could claim to be home of the 'mother of parliaments', of the rule of law (The English Common Law system), of the Bill of Rights, and of Free Trade.

"rule of law" needs further explanation. In the liberal tradition I think the important point is that laws should be above the will/preference of the individuals currently serving as government officials. When you bring up common law, I start thinking about stare decisis vs. civil code, etc... which are important disticntions, but I think muddy the bigger issue of citizens who are governed by laws rather than men.

There were Republican sympathies in Britain among some political circles, but no serious attempt was made to abolish the monarchy or to introduce a constitution.

If you're going to bring up big "R" Republican sympathies, tell us what they wanted.

Overall, this article is a nice start. However, I think notion of economic vs. political liberalism is a false dichotomy. The article can be more coherent and consise if liberalism is presented as a political philosophy which logically leads to a number of economic policies. The core components of liberalism are up front in this article, but I think they could be called out a little more explicitly:

  • Rule-of-law, that the arbitrary will of executive officials should not dictate policy, they should carry out pre-existing laws
  • Constitutional limits on state authority
  • Those limits based on negative rights to be free from interference in a known and constant domain of activities which are private
  • Those rights are rooted in either rule utilitarianism or divine/natural rights
  • The economic policy that flows from these ideas is that government policy should address the means of how the economy operates rather than the end objectives that an economy should attain. i.e. economic policy should set down rules of the game and those rules should apply equally across participants in the economy.
  • The core freedom is that individuals are free to decide which ends they wish to pursue for themselves. Economic policy which dictates ends rather than means, will necessarily make individuals the tools to attain the ends of policy makers.

Stephen Saletta 11:29, 7 April 2008 (CDT)

It would be good to coordinate this article with Republicanism and Republicanism, U.S.. There have been raging debates among hundreds of scholars in last 25 years about the relationship of the two. You can have economic liberalism (laissez-faire) today in China without republicanism (which requires rule by the people) Richard Jensen 13:24, 7 April 2008 (CDT)
I completely agree that republicanism and liberalism are intimately connected, esp. in the context of the American revolution (I enjoyed the Shalhope paper from the Republicanism article, BTW)... my biggest sticking point is the notion that there are "two" liberalisms, economic and political.
The China example is a situation where an authoritarian regime has adopted policies that are rooted in classical liberal thought... "economic liberalism" describes, perhaps a collection of policies, whereas "liberalism" describes the ideology which provided a justification for laissez-faire... Because the policies are an obvious feature, I appreciate the appeal of the "economic liberalism and political liberalism" framework, but I think this approach obscures the fact that these policies flow from a relatively coherent ideology. My preference would be for this article to describe the ideology. Stephen Saletta 15:03, 7 April 2008 (CDT)
yes but perhaps China today proves that economic and political dimensions can be separated. The political dimensions look a lot like republicanism. Richard Jensen 15:21, 7 April 2008 (CDT)
Thanks for all the feedback everyone. I always considered Liberalism to mean both political liberalism and economic Liberalism, perhaps Liberalism by itself should have an article by itself; Political Liberalism could tie in with Republicanism and this article could be left solely for economics? P.S- Derek, what did you mean by this edit summary? Denis Cavanagh 07:09, 8 April 2008 (CDT)
I really don't think an "economic liberalism" article is called for. It's so easy to chop up an idea into compartments or time-periods but it can confuse the reader and obscure the bigger picture. I think the Encyclopedia Britannica on Liberalism is a great example of how the two might be integrated. Stephen Saletta 01:03, 9 April 2008 (CDT)

French Revolution and Liberalism

I was under the impression that Liberalism had most of its roots in the French revolution; opposition to autocracy, popular government, free will, fraternity, liberty, equality and all that jazz? Denis Cavanagh 07:13, 8 April 2008 (CDT)

Let's timeline this: (or better yet, let someone else timeline it) [1]
  • John Locke comes along from 1632 to 1704 and writes Two Treatises of Civil Government in 1690
  • Voltaire (1694-1778)
  • David Hume (1711-1776)
  • I've heard rumours that the American Revolution was in 1776
  • The French revolution is in 1789
  • The Spanish Constitution of 1812 is first to use liberal or liberales as a noun
  • Oh,and Louis Armstrong comes along in 1901 (all that jazz)

The French Revolution is one of the first practical expressions of a radical form of liberalism. The American Revolution (whatever some Americans think when they hear the word liberal} is an expression of Classical Liberalism. Some might throw in the British Glorious Revolution of 1689. (Some might not)

The philosophical underpinnings of liberalism come along a bit earlier.--Derek Hodges 14:05, 8 April 2008 (CDT)

the very terms "liberal" and "conservative" originally meant supporters and opponents of the French Revolution. Burke, for example, was a leading opponent and founder of Conservatism. Jefferson was a supporter and founder of Liberalism. Richard Jensen 14:45, 8 April 2008 (CDT)
The OED would seem to support the view that such a usage was common:
applied by opponents [of the] Whig party [to suggest] that the principles [of the Whigs] were un-English, or akin to those of the revolutionaries of the Continent...
However, the noun here, liberalism:
[one who has] liberal opinions in politics or theology
and that adjective defined as:
[political views that are] Favourable to constitutional changes [and] reforms tending in the direction of freedom or democracy...
This usage of the word "liberal" was used to disparage the Whigs, I think more generally as they opposed a strong monarch and sought to extend the franchise, as did the sans-culottes in France. Rooting liberalism in the French Revolution is guilt by association.
Curiously, neither trade nor economics are mentioned in the OED. I still think we should stick with the notion of liberalism as the collection of enlightenment ideas which gave birth to policies that are today considered "classically liberal" or "libertarian". I will mail a copy of Hayek's Constitution of Liberty to anyone who wants to take up the challenge. Stephen Saletta 00:54, 9 April 2008 (CDT)

More substance needed?

The historical development of the term Liberalism in the nineteenth and early twentieth century is very thoroughly dealt with here. But should there not be more about its substance, and about the substance of battle of ideas that has surrounded it? And is it not the case that the developments of the last thirty years are of some importance, and likely to contribute more to understanding of the present concept? (For modern developments affecting economic liberalism, I recommend David Henderson's The Changing Fortunes of Economic Liberalism published by the Institute of Economic Affairs 1998). My guess is that many readers of this article will expect it to be treated as a live - and lively - intellectual issue, not just an historical curiosity. Nick Gardner 03:14, 4 May 2008 (CDT)

well, I dunno. All the states and leaders of western Europe, US, Canada, Japan etc in last 30 years have been (classical) liberals -- socialist have given up the ghost. In the US people no longer call themselves "liberal" (Obama is rated the #1 liberal in the US Senate and he repeatedly denies the word is useful). So what's there to say about it? ...said Richard Jensen (talk) 05:13, 4 May 2008
Some 18% or so of the US population describe themselves as Liberal. The reason Obama and other prominant Liberals don't say they are Liberals is because they get ridicule on conservative talk radio. Being called Liberal on that is worse than being called a murdurer, or so it seems (Especially with the Rush Limbaugh crowd) I've done all I'm going to do on this article. My primary interests with Liberalism are its development in the 19th and early 20th century in the US and Europe, as well as its more modern strands. I'm leaving to others to make a proper article of it :-) Denis Cavanagh 05:31, 4 May 2008 (CDT)



As a Canadian (eh) I have some perspective on this. The Canadian Liberal party (note the large "L") consists largely of unreconstructed social liberals. They are somewhat in disarray right now, but trust me, they will get in again.-Derek Hodges 09:43, 4 May 2008 (CDT)
I wish we had a mainstream Liberal party in Ireland. We have center left and center right, but usually its simply 'center'... Denis Cavanagh 09:46, 4 May 2008 (CDT)


I certainly agree that there is nothing to be gained from further discussion of the literal use of the term "liberal". But I suggest that the article must be considered to be lacking substance unless it contains some discussion of the current status of liberalism among rival philosophies of government - establishing, for example, the important distinction between liberalism and libertarianism. The extent to which that should be accompanied by historical background is open to debate, but some account of the degree to which the conduct of governments now conform to its generally accepted principles would also seem essential (data gathered by the Freedom of the World Project [2] would be useful for that purpose). The state of the current controversies, arising from the opposition to liberalism among some religious fundamentalists and among some opponents of globalisation, might also seem to be of interest. Nick Gardner 23:37, 4 May 2008 (CDT)
I agree Nick. Feel free to write about it, no-one here really objects. Denis Cavanagh 06:34, 5 May 2008 (CDT)
There must be others who would do it better than I could. I certainly hope so.Nick Gardner 15:50, 6 May 2008 (CDT)

The truth is Nick, there always is someone better to do something out there. Its life. But unless we get Adam Smith or Ben Franklin knocking down the door I think you'd get on fine :-) Denis Cavanagh 16:27, 6 May 2008 (CDT)

A few things I think the article should take up

  • In the U.S., the term refers primarily to political liberalism, and can readily embrace politics that would be called social democratic in most of Europe.
  • Conversely, in many European countries the term refers almost entirely to economic liberalism, and is certainly incompatible with further movement in the direction of social democracy (although sometimes accepting the greater inroads that social democracy has already made in those societies compared to the U.S.).
  • In yet other countries (Spain & France, unless I'm mistaken), the term mainly refers to anti-clericalism.
  • In the U.S. the heritage of late 18th and early 19th century liberalism is vociferously claimed by some political factions that would not be called "liberal" in present-day U.S. usage (e.g. libertarians).
  • I think we would do very well to lay out how each of these different strands descends from a common root (which can be found in Locke, in the Girondists, in the Spanish constitution of 1912, etc.) but have reacted differently to subsequent historical developments, leading them to very different politics. - Joseph L. Mabel 19:33, 4 September 2008 (CDT)

The article is tiny compared to what it should be. Work away at it if you have something to add, nobody will bite! Denis Cavanagh 18:21, 7 September 2008 (CDT)