14. Liberalism

Political thinkers have been expressing their views from the very beginning about the aims of the state, relations between the individual and the state and the sphere of the state activity. Various political ideologies throw light on these questions. Liberalism is one of those ideologies, and was very popular in the 19th century. But it is not the philosophy of one thinker or of one age. It consists of views of various thinkers who have emphasised on the wisdom, rationality, dignity and liberty of the individual. It is a special view point towards life. Liberals have given much importance to the individual. It is a doctrine which is popular even today.
Liberalism is an important ideology of 19th century. It had its appearance in Western Europe and America, specially in those countries where middle class was dominant.
Thus ‘Free man’ is the central point of Liberalism. It is not easy to give a definition of Liberalism because it is not based upon the views of one thinker or of an age. Laski also agreed with this view. He is of the view that Liberalism is not an aggregate of some principles, but it is an idea which remains in the mind for ever.
According to Sartori, Liberalism stands for individual liberty, judicial security and constitutional government.
Mac Govern says, “Liberalism as a political creed is compound of two separate elements. One of these is democracy, the other is individualism.”
Thus it can be said that Liberalism is that ideology which advocates individual liberty, dignity of man, secularism, tolerance, constitutional democracy, limited government etc.
Rise of liberalism
Some scholars are of the view that Liberalism is an old as political philosophy. They say that we find Liberalism in the ideas of Greek philosophers who advocated for liberty of thought and political liberty. But in those days these freedoms were enjoyed only by the upper classes.
In the modern times Liberalism had its origin in the 17th century as an opposition to Divine Rights of the Kings. John Locke was the first Liberal who advocated for personal liberty. In the 18th century the Liberalists advocated for free trade and open competition. They were opposed to the state interference in the economic field. But soon there came a change in the liberalist trend in the middle of 19th century. Liberalists opposed open competition because of its bad results.
Main principles of liberalism
Liberalism has some basic principles which are given below :
Faith in the Man : All Liberal thinkers have faith in the man, in his conscience, in his wisdom in his judgment. They think that the man has got his independent thinking and what laws or principles his conscience does not support, cannot be good and such a law should not be imposed on him. The individual is the best judge of his own good or bad and he can decide best whether a particular law is useful for him or not. A law which is not useful for him should not be obeyed by him and he is not bound to obey it.
Faith in Individual Liberty : Liberty is the central point of Liberalism. Hobhouse has said, “The principles of Liberalism were born out of a struggle of middle classes against feudalism.” Thus it was a struggle for liberty. It advocates for individual liberty. They were of the view that liberty is the birth right of the individual. He should be allowed to act according to his conscience.
J.S. Mill was in favour of coordination between authority and liberty.
Prof. Laski laid more emphasis on economic freedom.
Opposed to History and Tradition : Liberal thinkers were opposed to blind faith and traditions. They raised their voice against those customs and traditions which did not stand on reason. They advocated that the individuals should adopt only those institutions, principles, laws and traditions that appealed to their reason and conscience. They should not be compelled to follow the traditional path.
Faith in Natural Rights : Almost all the Liberal thinkers had faith in natural rights. They believed that individual has been endowed with some rights by nature from birth, and they are still with him. The state cannot snatch away those rights nor it can put restrictions on them nor it can curtail them. The state has come into existence for the protection of these natural rights like right to life, right to liberty and right to property : and the state’s first duty is to perform that function.
State is a Means : Liberal thinkers consider the state to be a means, not an end in itself. The state is not a divine institution, nor a natural institution. It is a human institution which has come into existence for the development of life of individual. The state should make laws for the development of life of individuals, for getting the maximum happiness of the maximum number. This is the only criteria of good laws.
Aim of the State is the Development of Life of Individual : The state is a means and its main aim is to create such an atmosphere in which the individual can attain his best self. The individual may be able to develop his life to his satisfaction. Thus only that law which brings maximum good to the maximum number of individuals can be a good law.
Faith in Secularism : Liberalists were opposed to the special privileges of the Church and religious authorities. They were of the view that religion is the personal matter of the individual and the state has no competence to interfere in this matter. They advocated for freedom of religion and the state cannot impose religion upon the individual. They considered freedom of religion a part of individual liberty. They advocated that state should play neutral role in the religious affairs.
Opposed to Individualism : Liberalism is not Individualism. Though in the beginning it resembled Individualism and the Liberal thinkers wanted the individual to be left free in the economic field, but later when they saw the evil consequences of free trade and open competition, they opposed it and advocated for the state interference in the economic field. They even advocated for nationalisation of big and basic industries. Thus they are opposed to Individualism in this respect.
Faith in Democracy : Liberal thinkers advocated for representative institutions. This theory appeared in opposition to feudal and autocratic government. They believed that reactionary ideas should not be suppressed by force, but through free discussions and tolerance. Public opinion should be formed to guide the administration and government should be run by representative bodies. They advocated for popular sovereignty, adult franchise, free and fair elections and independent judiciary—all these are symbols of democracy.
Faith in Constitutional and Limited Government : Liberal thinkers had faith in constitutional and limited Government. They were of the view that rulers should be given constitutional and limited powers and whenever they exceeded their jurisdiction, they should be replaced by the people through their vote. This is why they advocated for representative government elected periodically through popular vote.
Faith in Capitalistic Setup : Liberalist thinkers were opposed to many principles of Capitalism but also advocated for some Capitalistic set-up. They did not support socialism and advocated for private property. Thus it supported Capitalism to some extent.
Faith in Internationalism and Universal Brotherhood : Liberalists did not favour war and expansion. They believed and advocated for humanism and supported the theory of ‘Live and Let Live’. They were of the view that the states should live in cooperation and brotherhood and march towards progress. They advocated Internationalism, Universal brotherhood and world peace.

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