The Meaning of Liberalism: Philosophy, and the Early History of the Ideology of Liberalism

Etymology, Philosophy, and Early History of Liberalism Ideology – Liberalism is a political and moral philosophical view based on freedom, consent from the governed and equality before the law. Liberals support a variety of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support individual rights (including civil and human rights), democracy, secularism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and market economy.

Liberalism became one of the main movements in the Age of Enlightenment and became popular among Western philosophers and economists. Liberalism seeks to replace the norms of hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, divine right of kings and traditional conservatism with representative democracy and the rule of law. The liberals also ended mercantilist policies, government monopolies and other trade barriers. This is meant to promote free trade and marketization.

Philosopher John Locke is often considered the founder of liberalism, a tradition based on the social contract, arguing that everyone has a natural right to life, liberty and property and that the government cannot violate these rights. If the British liberal tradition emphasizes the expansion of democracy, French liberalism emphasizes the rejection of authoritarianism and is related to the development of the nation.

The leaders in the Great British Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789 used liberal philosophy to overthrow the absolute sovereignty of the government by arms. Liberalism began to spread rapidly, especially after the French Revolution. In the 19th century, many liberal governments were established in most countries in Europe and South America. This coincides with the establishment of republicanism in the United States.

Liberalism in Victorian England was used to criticize established political institutions, referring to science and common sense in the name of the people. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, liberalism in the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East influenced reform periods such as the Tanzimat and Al-Nahda and the emergence of constitutionalism, nationalism, and secularism.

Before 1920, the main ideological opponents of liberalism were communism, conservatism, and socialism. However, liberalism then faced major ideological challenges from fascism and Marxism-Leninism as a new opponent. During the 20th century, liberal ideas spread further, especially in Western Europe, when liberal democracy emerged victorious in both world wars.

The formation of social liberalism (often called moderate liberalism in the United States) in Europe and North America became an important element in the expansion of the welfare state. Today, many liberal parties hold power and influence around the world. The fundamental elements of contemporary society have liberal roots.

The early wave of liberalism popularized economic individualism while expanding constitutional government and parliamentary authority. Liberals seek and establish a constitutional order that values ​​important individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech and freedom of association; freedom of religion, independent courts, public trials by jury; and the abolition of aristocratic privileges.

The wave of modern liberal thought and struggle has been strongly influenced by the need to expand civil rights. Liberals often support gender equality and racial equality in their efforts to promote civil rights. The global civil rights movement in the 20th century aimed to achieve these goals. Other goals often promoted by liberals include universal suffrage and universal access to education.


Etymology and Meaning of Liberalism

Words like liberal, liberty, libertarian , and libertine all have historical roots to the Latin liber , meaning “free.” One of the first recorded examples of the use of the word liberal occurred in 1375, when it was used to describe the liberal arts in the context of education desired for free people.

The early connection of the word with the classical education of medieval universities paved the way for the emergence of different denotations and connotations. Liberal can refer to “free to bestow” as early as 1387, “made free of duty” in 1433, “freely permitted” in 1530 and “free from restraint”—often as a derogatory comment—in the 16th and 20th centuries. -17.

In 16th century England, liberal could have a positive or negative attribute in referring to someone’s generosity or recklessness. In Much Ado About Nothing , William Shakespeare writes of “a liberal villain” who “has […] acknowledged his vile meeting”. With the advent of the Age of Enlightenment, the word liberal acquired a more positive meaning which was defined as “free from narrow prejudice” in 1781 and “free from bigotry” in 1823.

In 1815, the first use of the word “liberalism” appeared in the English language. In Spain, the liberals, the first group to use the liberal label in a political context, fought for several decades to implement the Constitution of 1812. From 1820 to 1823 during the Trienio Liberal , King Ferdinand VII was forced by the liberals to swear to uphold the Constitution. In the mid-19th century, the word liberal was used as a political term for parties and movements around the world.

As time went by, the meaning of the word liberalism started to become different in various parts of the world. According to Encyclopædia Britannica : “In the United States, liberalism is associated with welfare state policies from the New Deal program of the Democratic administration of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, while in Europe it is more often associated with limited government commitment and laissez-faire economic policy .

As a result, in the United States the ideas of individualism and laissez-faire economics that were previously associated with classical liberalism became the basis for the emergence of libertarian thought and are an important part of American conservatism.

In Europe and Latin America, the word liberalism means a moderate form of classical liberalism, unlike in North America. This term includes center-right conservative liberalism (right liberalism) and center-left social liberalism (left liberalism).

Unlike Europe and Latin America, the word liberalism in North America almost exclusively refers to social liberalism (left liberalism). The dominant Canadian party is the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party is usually considered liberal in the United States. In the United States, conservative liberals are usually called conservatives in a broad sense.

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Philosophy of Liberalism

Liberalism—both as a political current and as an intellectual tradition—is largely a modern phenomenon that began in the 17th century, although some liberal philosophical ideas had antecedents in classical times and in Imperial China. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius praised, “the idea of ​​government which is organized with regard to equal rights and the same freedom of speech, and the idea of ​​government which respects almost all the liberties of the governed”.

Scholars recognize a number of principles common to contemporary liberals in the works of several Sophists and in the Funeral Oration by Pericles. Liberal philosophy represents a broad intellectual tradition that has examined and popularized some of the most important and controversial principles in the modern world. Its extraordinary scientific and academic output is considered to have “richness and diversity”, but that diversity often means that liberalism comes in different formulations and presents a challenge for anyone to find the right definition.

Continental European liberalism is divided between moderates and progressives, with moderates tending to elitism and progressives supporting the universalization of fundamental institutions such as universal suffrage, universal education and the expansion of property rights. Over time, moderates replaced progressives as the main guardians of continental European liberalism.

History of Liberalism

John Locke was the first to develop liberal philosophy, including the right to private property and the consent of the governed.

Isolated liberal thought has existed in Western philosophy since Ancient Greece and in Eastern philosophy since the Song and Ming periods. These ideas were first brought together and systematized as different ideologies by the English philosopher John Locke, who is generally regarded as the father of modern liberalism.

The first major signs of liberal politics appeared in modern times. These ideas began to coalesce during the English Civil War. During the war, the Levellers, a radical political movement, called for religious freedom and equality before the law. The influence of these ideas continued to grow during the 17th century in England, culminating in the Great Revolution of 1688, which enshrined parliamentary sovereignty and revolutionary rights and was influential in the formation of what many consider to be the first modern liberal state.

The development of liberalism continued throughout the 18th century with the development of Enlightenment ideals at that time. During this time, intellectuals questioned the old traditions and influenced the conduct of several European monarchies throughout the 18th century. Political tension between England and the American colonies occurred after 1765 and the Seven Years’ War due to the problem of taxation without representation, which culminated in the new republic’s Declaration of Independence, and the American Revolutionary War which was fought to defend that independence.

After the war, leaders debated how to move forward. The Articles of Confederation, written in 1776, now seem inadequate to provide security, or even functional government. The Confederate Congress called the Constitutional Convention in 1787 resulted in the writing of a new United States Constitution to form a federal government. In these periods, the Constitution was a republican and liberal document. The United States Constitution remains the oldest liberal governing document in force in the world.

In Europe, liberalism has a long tradition, especially since the 17th century. The French Revolution began in 1789. Two important events that marked the victory of liberalism were the abolition of feudalism in France on the night of August 4, 1789, which marked the collapse of traditional feudal rights and special rights and the limitation of power with the ratification of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen on the month of August.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the French influenced the countries of Western Europe with the abolition of the feudal system, the liberalization of property laws, the end of seigneurial dues, the abolition of unions, the legalization of divorce, the disintegration of the Jewish ghetto, the collapse of the Inquisition, the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, the abolition of church courts and authorities religion in the public sphere, the formation of a metric system, and the recognition of legal equality for all people.

One of the most enduring French influences, the Civil Code, has been adopted in many countries around the world”, but also perpetuates further discrimination against women under the concept of “natural order”.

The development of classical liberalism occurred before and after the French Revolution in England. Adam Smith’s work, The Wealth of Nations , published in 1776, provided most of the economic ideas at least until the publication of John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy in 1848.

Smith discussed the motivation of economic activities, the causes of prices and distribution of wealth and policies that the country should follow to maximize wealth. The radical liberal movement began in the 1790s in England and concentrated on parliamentary and electoral reform, emphasizing natural rights and people’s sovereignty. Radicals such as Richard Price and Joseph Priestley saw parliamentary reform as the first step to address many of their grievances, including the treatment of Protestant Dissenters, the slave trade, high prices and high taxes.

In Latin America, liberal unrest began in the 18th century, when liberal agitation in Latin America led to independence from the Spanish and Portuguese imperial powers. These new regimes were generally liberal in their political views and used the philosophy of positivism, which emphasized the truth of modern science, to support their positions.

In the United States, the great civil war resulted in the abolition of slavery in the South. Historian Don Doyle argues that the Union’s victory in the American Civil War (1861–1865) gave a great impetus to the path of liberalism.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries in the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East, liberalism influenced reform periods such as the Tanzimat and Al-Nahda; the rise of secularism, constitutionalism and nationalism; and the emergence of different intellectual and religious groups and movements, such as the Young Ottomans and Islamic Modernism.

Prominent figures at that time were Rifa’a al-Tahtawi, Namık Kemal and Brahim Inasi. However, reformist ideas and trends did not succeed in reaching the general public because books, magazines, and newspapers were only accessible to intellectuals and segments of the emerging middle class, while many Muslims saw it as a foreign influence in the Islamic world.

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That perception complicates reformist efforts in Middle Eastern countries. These changes, along with other factors, created a sense of crisis in Islam, which continues to this day. This also led to the rise of Islamism.

Abolitionist and suffrage movements spread, along with ideals of representation and democracy. France established the third republic in the 1870s. However, nationalism also spread rapidly after 1815. A mixture of liberal and nationalist sentiments in Italy and Germany led to the unification of the two countries at the end of the 19th century.

A liberal regime came to power in Italy and ended the power of the Popes. However, the Vatican launched a crusade against liberalism. Pope Pius IX issued the Syllabus of Errors in 1864 which condemned liberalism in all its forms. In many countries, liberal forces responded by expelling the Jesuit order.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the principles of classical liberalism were increasingly opposed and the ideal of the independent individual seemed increasingly to be considered absurd. Victorian English writers such as Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle and Matthew Arnold were early influential critics of social injustice.

As a liberal nationalist, KJ Ståhlberg (1865–1952), President of Finland, anchored the country in liberal democracy, maintained the rule of law, and initiated internal reforms.

Liberalism gained momentum in the early 20th century. The bastion of autocracy, the Tsar of Russia, was overthrown in the first phase of the Russian Revolution. The victory of the Allies in the First World War and the fall of the four kingdoms seemed to mark the triumph of liberalism across the European continent. Not only among the victorious allied countries, but also in Germany and the newly formed Eastern European countries.

Militarism, as symbolized by Germany, was defeated and discredited. As Blinkhorn puts it, liberal themes are very influential in terms of “cultural pluralism, religious and ethnic tolerance, national self-determination, free market economy, representative and responsible government, free trade, trade unions, and the peaceful settlement of international disputes through a new way, the League of Nations”.

Color photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt as Time’s Man of the Year in January 1933.

In the United States, modern liberalism began with the popular presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who initiated the New Deal in response to the Great Depression and won an unprecedented four elections. The New Deal coalition established by Roosevelt left a legacy that defined and influenced many future American presidents, including John F. Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the definitive liberal response to the Great Depression was given by British economist John Maynard Keynes, who had begun a theoretical work examining the relationship between unemployment, money, and prices in the 1920s. The Great Depression around the world, beginning in 1929, accelerated the discrediting of liberal economics and strengthened calls for state control over economic affairs. Economic woes led to widespread unrest in European politics, leading to the rise of fascism as an ideology and movement opposed to liberalism and communism, especially in Nazi Germany and Italy.

The rise of fascism in the 1930s eventually culminated in World War II, one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. The Allied Bloc won the war in 1945 and their victory started a new chapter for the Cold War between the Communist Eastern Bloc and the liberal Western Bloc.

In Iran, liberalism enjoyed wide popularity. In April 1951, the National Front became the governing coalition when a democratically elected politician, Mohammad Mosaddegh, a liberal nationalist, became Prime Minister. However, his way of governing was against Western interests and he was removed from power through a coup on August 19, 1953. The coup ended the dominance of liberalism in the country’s politics.

Among various regional and national movements, the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1960s highlighted liberal efforts to create equal rights. The Great Society project launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson oversaw the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, the creation of Head Start and the Job Corps as part of the War on Poverty and the ratification of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a series of events that some historians have dubbed “the Liberal Hour.  “.

The 2017 Russian protests were organized by Russia’s liberal opposition.

The Cold War featured extensive ideological rivalry and several proxy wars, but the feared World War III between the Soviet Union and the United States never occurred. While communist countries and liberal democracies competed with each other, the economic crisis of the 1970s inspired a move away from Keynesian economics, especially under Margaret Thatcher in England and Ronald Reagan in the United States.

This trend, known as neoliberalism, is a paradigm shift from the post-war Keynesian consensus that lasted from 1945 to 1980. Meanwhile, towards the end of the 20th century, the communist countries of Eastern Europe collapsed drastically. This made liberal democracy the only major form of government in the West.

At the beginning of World War II, the number of democracies around the world was about the same as it had been forty years earlier. After 1945, liberal democracy spread very quickly, but then suffered a setback. In The Spirit of Democracy , Larry Diamond argued that in 1974 “dictatorship, not democracy, is the way of the world” and that “almost a quarter of independent nations choose their government through competitive, free, and fair elections”. Diamond further said that democracy rose again and in 1995 the world became “very democratic”.