The Political Doctrine of Liberalism: Protecting Individual Freedom

Liberalism is a political doctrine that places protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual at the center of politics. According to this doctrine, government is necessary to protect individuals from being harmed by others, but it must also be designed in a way that prevents those who govern from abusing their power and violating individual liberty.

The Origins of Liberalism

  • Liberalism is rooted in two key features of Western culture. The first is the emphasis on individuality, which is in contrast to the emphasis on status, caste, and tradition in other civilizations. Throughout much of history, individuals have been submerged in and subordinate to their clan, tribe, ethnic group, or kingdom. Liberalism represents the emancipation of the individual from complete subservience to the group and the relaxation of the tight hold of custom, law, and authority.
  • The second key feature of Western culture that underpins liberalism is the practice of adversariality, or the institutionalized competition that exists in European political and economic life. This process generates a dynamic social order through competition between different political parties in electoral contests, between prosecution and defense in adversary procedure, or between different producers in a market economy.

The Development of Liberalism

  • The belief in adversariality as an essential part of a political system and the idea that good government requires a vigorous opposition was still considered strange in most European countries in the early 19th century. However, as the 19th century progressed, the liberal belief in the importance of individual freedom and the value of adversariality began to gain traction.
  • In the late 19th century, most liberals began to insist that the powers of government could be used to promote individual freedom as well as protect it. This new conception of liberalism, known as modern liberalism, holds that the chief task of government is to remove obstacles that prevent individuals from living freely or from fully realizing their potential. Such obstacles include poverty, disease, discrimination, and ignorance.

The Differences Between American and European Liberalism

  • The disagreement among liberals over whether government should promote individual freedom or merely protect it is reflected in the different prevailing conceptions of liberalism in the United States and Europe.
  • In the United States, liberalism is associated with the welfare-state policies of the New Deal program of the Democratic administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In contrast, in Europe, liberalism is more commonly associated with a commitment to limited government and laissez-faire economic policies.

Synopsis

Liberalism is a political doctrine that takes protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual to be the central problem of politics. It is rooted in the emphasis on individuality in Western culture and the practice of adversariality in European political and economic life. While different versions of liberalism have emerged in the United States and Europe, the core belief in the importance of individual freedom remains consistent.

Written by IAS POINT

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