, the belief in freedom
and human rights
, is historically associated with thinkers such as John Locke
, and with constitutionally limiting
the power of the monarch
, affirming parliamentary supremacy, passing the Bill of Rights
and establishing the principle of "consent of the governed
". The 1776 Declaration of Independence
of the United States
founded the nascent republic on liberal principles without the encumbrance of hereditary aristocracy—the declaration stated that "all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness",
echoing John Locke's phrase "life, liberty, and property". A few years later, the French Revolution
overthrew the hereditary aristocracy, with the slogan "liberty, equality, fraternity" and was the first state in history to grant universal male suffrage
. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
, first codified in 1789 in France, is a foundational document of both liberalism and human rights. The intellectual progress of the Enlightenment
, which questioned old traditions about societies and governments, eventually coalesced into powerful revolutionary movements that toppled what the French called the Ancien Régime
, the belief in absolute monarchy and established religion, especially in Europe
, Latin America
and North America
During 19th and early 20th century in the Ottoman Empire and Middle East, liberalism influenced periods of reform such as the Tanzimat
and the rise of secularism, constitutionalism and nationalism. These changes, along with other factors, helped to create a sense of crisis within Islam which continues to this day—this led to Islamic revivalism
. During the 20th century, liberal ideas spread even further as liberal democracies
found themselves on the winning side in both world wars. In Europe and North America, the establishment of social liberalism
(often called simply "liberalism
" in the United States) became a key component in the expansion of the welfare state
Today, liberal parties
continue to wield power, control and influence throughout the world
, but it still has challenges to overcome in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Later waves of modern liberal thought and struggle were strongly influenced by the need to expand civil rights
Liberals have advocated for gender equality
, marriage equality
and racial equality
and a global social movement for civil rights in the 20th century achieved several objectives towards those goals.
Isolated strands of liberal thought had existed in Western philosophy
since the Ancient Greeks
and in Eastern philosophy
since the Song
but the first major signs of liberal politics emerged in modern times. Many of the liberal concepts of Locke were foreshadowed in the radical ideas that were freely aired at the time.
The pamphleteer Richard Overton
wrote: "To every Individuall in nature, is given an individual property by nature, not to be invaded or usurped by any...; no man hath power over my rights and liberties, and I over no mans".
These ideas were first unified as a distinct ideology
by the English philosopher John Locke
, generally regarded as the father of modern liberalism.
Locke developed the radical notion that government acquires consent from the governed
, which has to be constantly present for a government to remain legitimate.
His influential Two Treatises
(1690), the foundational text of liberal ideology, outlined his major ideas.
His insistence that lawful government did not have a supernatural
basis was a sharp break from previous theories of governance.
Locke also defined the concept of the separation of church and state
Based on the social contract
principle, Locke argued that there was a natural right to the liberty of conscience, which he argued must therefore remain protected from any government authority.
He also formulated a general defence for religious toleration
in his Letters Concerning Toleration
Locke was influenced by the liberal ideas of John Milton
, who was a staunch advocate of freedom in all its forms.
Milton argued for disestablishment
as the only effective way of achieving broad toleration
In his Areopagitica
, Milton provided one of the first arguments for the importance of freedom of speech
– "the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties". Algernon Sidney
was second only to John Locke in his influence on liberal political thought in eighteenth-century Britain and Colonial America, and was widely read and quoted by the Whig
opposition during the Glorious Revolution
Sidney's argument that "free men always have the right to resist tyrannical government" was widely quoted by the Patriots
at the time of American Revolutionary War
and Thomas Jefferson
considered Sidney to have been one of the two primary sources for the Founding Fathers
' view of liberty.
Sidney believed that absolute monarchy
was a great political evil and his major work, Discourses Concerning Government
, was written during the Exclusion Crisis
, as a response to Robert Filmer
, a defence of divine right
monarchy. Sidney firmly rejected the Filmer's reactionary principles and argued that the subjects of the monarch were entitled by right to share in the government through advice and counsel.
Isolated strands of liberal thought that had existed in Western philosophy
since the Ancient Greeks
began to coalesce at the time of the English Civil War
. Disputes between the Parliament
and King Charles I
over political supremacy sparked a massive civil war in the 1640s, which culminated in Charles' execution and the establishment of a Republic
. In particular, the Levellers
, a radical political movement of the period, published their manifesto Agreement of the People
which advocated popular sovereignty
, an extended voting suffrage
, religious tolerance
and equality before the law
. The impact of these ideas steadily increased during the 17th century in England, culminating in the Glorious Revolution
of 1688, which enshrined parliamentary sovereignty
and the right of revolution
, and led to the establishment of what many consider the first modern, liberal state.
Significant legislative milestones in this period included the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679
, which strengthened the convention that forbade detention lacking sufficient cause or evidence. The Bill of Rights
formally established the supremacy of the law and of parliament over the monarch and laid down basic rights for all Englishmen
. The Bill made royal interference with the law and with elections to parliament illegal, made the agreement of parliament necessary for the implementation of any new taxes and outlawed the maintenance of a standing army
during peacetime without parliament's consent. The right to petition the monarch was granted to everyone and "cruel and unusual punishments
" were made illegal under all circumstances.
This was followed a year later with the Act of Toleration
, which drew its ideological content from John Locke
's four letters advocating religious toleration.
The Act allowed freedom of worship to Nonconformists
who pledged oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy to the Anglican Church
. In 1695, the Commons
refused to renew the Licensing of the Press Act 1662
leading to a continuous period of unprecedented freedom of the press
. The Licensing of the Press Act 1662
, which sanctioned government censorship of the printing press
, expired in 1692 at the end of the existing session of parliament. In 1695, the Commons
refused to renew the legislation,
leading to a continuous period of unprecedented freedom of the press
(apart from seditious libel
Age of Enlightenment
The development of liberalism continued throughout the 18th century with the burgeoning Enlightenment ideals
of the era. This was a period of profound intellectual vitality that questioned old traditions and influenced several European monarchies throughout the 18th century. In contrast to England, the French experience in the 18th century was characterised by the perpetuation of feudal payments and rights and absolutism
. Ideas that challenged the status quo were often harshly repressed. Most of the philosophes
of the French Enlightenment
were progressive in the liberal sense and advocated the reform of the French system of government along more constitutional and liberal lines. The American Enlightenment
is a period of intellectual ferment in the thirteen American colonies
in the period 1714–1818, which led to the American Revolution
and the creation of the American Republic. Influenced by the 18th-century European Enlightenment and its own native American Philosophy
, the American Enlightenment applied scientific reasoning to politics, science and religion, promoted religious tolerance, and restored literature, the arts, and music as important disciplines and professions worthy of study in colleges.
A prominent example of a monarch who took the Enlightenment project seriously was Joseph II of Austria
, who ruled from 1780 to 1790 and implemented a wide array of radical reforms, such as the complete abolition of serfdom
, the imposition of equal taxation policies between the aristocracy
and the peasantry
, the institution of religious toleration
, including equal civil rights
for Jews and the suppression of Catholic religious authority throughout his empire, creating a more secular
Besides the Enlightenment, a rising tide of industrialization
in Western Europe during the 18th century also contributed to the growth of liberal society by spurring commercial and entrepreneurial activity.
In the 1760s, the "Middlesex
radicals", led by the politician John Wilkes
who was expelled from the House of Commons for seditious libel
, founded the Society for the Defence of the Bill of Rights and developed the belief that every man had the right to vote and "natural reason" enabled him to properly judge political issues. Liberty consisted in frequent elections. This was to begin a long tradition of British radicalism
In contrast to England, the French experience in the 18th century was characterized by the perpetuation of feudalism
. Ideas that challenged the status quo were often harshly repressed. Most of the philosophes
of the French Enlightenment
were progressive in the liberal sense and advocated the reform of the French system of government along more constitutional and liberal lines.
wrote a series of highly influential works in the early 18th century, including Persian letters
(1717) and The Spirit of the Laws
(1748). The latter exerted tremendous influence, both inside and outside France. Montesquieu pleaded in favor of a constitutional system of government
, the preservation of civil liberties and the law and the idea that political institutions ought to reflect the social and geographical aspects of each community. In particular, he argued that political liberty required the separation of the powers of government
. Building on John Locke
's Second Treatise of Government
, he advocated that the executive, legislative and judicial functions of government should be assigned to different bodies, so that attempts by one branch of government to infringe on political liberty might be restrained by the other branches. In a lengthy discussion of the English political system, which he greatly admired, he tried to show how this might be achieved and liberty secured, even in a monarchy. He also notes that liberty cannot be secure where there is no separation of powers, even in a republic. He also emphasized the importance of a robust due process in law, including the right to a fair trial
, the presumption of innocence
and proportionality in the severity of punishment
Another important figure of the French Enlightenment was Voltaire
. Initially believing in the constructive role an enlightened monarch could play in improving the welfare of the people, he eventually came to a new conclusion: "It is up to us to cultivate our garden". His most polemical and ferocious attacks on intolerance and religious persecutions indeed began to appear a few years later.
Despite much persecution, Voltaire remained a courageous polemicist who indefatigably fought for civil rights
—the right to a fair trial
and freedom of religion
—and who denounced the hypocrisies and injustices of the Ancien Régime
Era of revolution
The intellectual underpinnings for independence were provided by the English pamphleteer Thomas Paine
. His Common Sense
pro-independence pamphlet was anonymously published on January 10, 1776 and became an immediate success.
It was read aloud everywhere, including the Army.
He pioneered a style of political writing that rendered complex ideas easily intelligible.
The American theorists and politicians
strongly believe in the sovereignty of the people rather than in the sovereignty of the King. As one historian writes: "The American adoption of a democratic theory that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, as it had been put as early as the Declaration of Independence, was epoch-marking".
The American Revolution had its impact on the French Revolution and later movements in Europe. Leopold von Ranke
, a leading German historian, in 1848 argued that American republicanism played a crucial role in the development of European liberalism:
By abandoning English constitutionalism and creating a new republic based on the rights of the individual, the North Americans introduced a new force in the world. Ideas spread most rapidly when they have found adequate concrete expression. Thus republicanism entered our Romanic/Germanic world.... Up to this point, the conviction had prevailed in Europe that monarchy best served the interests of the nation. Now the idea spread that the nation should govern itself. But only after a state had actually been formed on the basis of the theory of representation did the full significance of this idea become clear. All later revolutionary movements have this same goal.... This was the complete reversal of a principle. Until then, a king who ruled by the grace of God had been the center around which everything turned. Now the idea emerged that power should come from below.... These two principles are like two opposite poles, and it is the conflict between them that determines the course of the modern world. In Europe the conflict between them had not yet taken on concrete form; with the French Revolution it did.
The march of the women
in October 1789, one of the most famous examples of popular political participation during the French Revolution, forced the royal court back to Paris—it would remain there until the proclamation of the First Republic
Historians widely regard the French Revolution as one of the most important events in history.
The Revolution is often seen as marking the "dawn of the modern era",
and its convulsions are widely associated with "the triumph of liberalism".
Four years into the French Revolution, German writer Johann von Goethe
reportedly told the defeated Prussian soldiers after the Battle of Valmy
that "from this place and from this time forth commences a new era in world history, and you can all say that you were present at its birth".
Describing the participatory politics of the French Revolution, one historian commented that "thousands of men and even many women gained firsthand experience in the political arena: they talked, read, and listened in new ways; they voted; they joined new organizations; and they marched for their political goals. Revolution became a tradition, and republicanism
an enduring option".
For liberals, the Revolution was their defining moment, and later liberals approved of the French Revolution almost entirely—"not only its results but the act itself," as two historians noted.
The next few years were dominated by tensions between various liberal assemblies
and a conservative
monarchy intent on thwarting major reforms. A republic
was proclaimed in September 1792 and King Louis XVI
was executed the following year. However, conflict between rival political factions, the Girondins
and the Jacobins
, culminated in the Reign of Terror
, that was marked by mass executions of "enemies of the revolution", with the death toll reaching into the tens of thousands.
came to power in 1799, ended any form of democracy with his dictatorship, ended internal civil wars, made peace with the Catholic Church, and conquered much of Europe until he went too far and was finally defeated in 1815. The rise of Napoleon
as dictator in 1799, heralded a reverse of many of the republican and democratic gains. However Napoleon did not restore the ancien regime. He kept much of the liberalism and imposed a liberal code of law, the Code Napoleon
First page of Napoleon
's Civil Code
which removed inherited privilege and allowed freedom of religion
During the Napoleonic Wars
, the French brought to Western Europe the liquidation of the feudal system
, the liberalization of property laws
, the end of seigneurial dues
, the abolition of guilds
, the legalization of divorce
, the disintegration of Jewish ghettos
, the collapse of the Inquisition
, the final end of the Holy Roman Empire
, the elimination of church courts and religious authority, the establishment of the metric system
, and equality under the law
for all men.
Napoleon wrote that "the peoples of Germany, as of France, Italy and Spain, want equality and liberal ideas,"
with some historians suggesting that he may have been the first person ever to use the word "liberal" in a political sense.
He also governed through a method that one historian described as "civilian dictatorship", which "drew its legitimacy from direct consultation with the people, in the form of a plebiscite".
Napoleon, however, did not always live up to the liberal ideals he espoused.
Outside France the Revolution had a major impact and its ideas became widespread. Furthermore, the French armies in the 1790s and 1800s directly overthrew feudal remains in much of western Europe. They liberalised property laws
, ended seigneurial dues
, abolished the guild
of merchants and craftsmen to facilitate entrepreneurship, legalised divorce
, and closed the Jewish ghettos
. The Inquisition
ended as did the Holy Roman Empire
. The power of church courts and religious authority was sharply reduced, and equality under the law
was proclaimed for all men.
Artz emphasises the benefits the Italians gained from the French Revolution:
For nearly two decades the Italians had the excellent codes of law, a fair system of taxation, a better economic situation, and more religious and intellectual toleration than they had known for centuries ... Everywhere old physical, economic, and intellectual barriers had been thrown down and the Italians had begun to be aware of a common nationality.
Likewise in Switzerland
the long-term impact of the French Revolution has been assessed by Martin:
It proclaimed the equality of citizens before the law, equality of languages, freedom of thought and faith; it created a Swiss citizenship, basis of our modern nationality, and the separation of powers, of which the old regime had no conception; it suppressed internal tariffs and other economic restraints; it unified weights and measures, reformed civil and penal law, authorised mixed marriages (between Catholics and Protestants), suppressed torture and improved justice; it developed education and public works.
His most lasting achievement, the Civil Code
, served as "an object of emulation all over the globe,"
but it also perpetuated further discrimination against women under the banner of the "natural order".
This unprecedented period of chaos and revolution had irreversibly introduced the world to a new movement and ideology that would soon criss-cross the globe. For France, however, the defeat of Napoleon
brought about the restoration of the monarchy
and an ultra-conservative order was reimposed on the country.
Improved economic conditions after 1821, improvements in economic and criminal law and the abandoning of policies of repression led to decreasing polarisation and a more consensual form of reform politics that was to dominate in Britain for the next two centuries. In 1823, Jeremy Bentham
co-founded the Westminster Review
with James Mill
as a journal for Philosophical Radicals, setting out the utilitarian
The Reform Act 1832
was put through with the support of public outcry, mass meetings of political unions and riots in some cities. This now enfranchised the middle classes, but it failed to meet radical demands. Following the Reform Act, the mainly aristocratic Whigs
in the House of Commons
were joined by a small number of parliamentary Radicals
as well as an increased number of middle-class Whigs. By 1839, they were informally being called the Liberal Party
. The Liberals produced one of the greatest British Prime Ministers—William Ewart Gladstone
, also known as the Grand Old Man, who was the towering political figure of liberalism in the 19th century.
Under Gladstone, the Liberals reformed education, disestablished
the Church of Ireland
and introduced the secret ballot for local and parliamentary elections.
's philosophy counseled government to adopt policies that could bestow the greatest possible social benefit
Commitment to laissez-faire
was not uniform. Some economists advocated state support of public works and education. Classical liberals were also divided on free trade
. David Ricardo
expressed doubt that the removal of grain tariffs would have any general benefits. Most classical liberals also supported legislation to regulate the number of hours that children were allowed to work and usually did not oppose factory reform legislation.
Despite the pragmatism of classical economists, their views were expressed in dogmatic terms by such popular writers as Jane Marcet
and Harriet Martineau
The strongest defender of laissez-faire
was The Economist
founded by James Wilson
in 1843. The Economist
criticised Ricardo for his lack of support for free trade and expressed hostility to welfare, believing that the lower orders were responsible for their economic circumstances. The Economist
took the position that regulation of factory hours was harmful to workers and also strongly opposed state support for education, health, the provision of water and granting of patents and copyrights.
Liberal economic theory
argued for free trade and low levels of government regulation
The primary intellectual influences on 19th century liberal trends were those of Adam Smith
and the classical economists as well as Jeremy Bentham
and John Stuart Mill
. Smith's The Wealth of Nations
, published in 1776, was to provide most of the ideas of economics, at least until the publication of Mill's Principles
Smith addressed the motivation for economic activity, the causes of prices and the distribution of wealth as well as the policies the state should follow in order to maximise wealth.
Smith's economics was carried into practice in the 19th century with the lowering of tariffs in the 1820s, the repeal of the Poor Relief Act
that had restricted the mobility of labour in 1834 and the end of the rule of the East India Company
over India in 1858.
provided the political justification for the implementation of economic liberalism
by British governments which was to dominate economic policy from the 1830s. Although utilitarianism prompted legislative and administrative reform and Mill's later writings on the subject foreshadowed the welfare state
, it was mainly used as a justification for laissez-faire
The central concept of utilitarianism which was developed by Jeremy Bentham
was that public policy should seek to provide "the greatest happiness of the greatest number". While this could be interpreted as a justification for state action to reduce poverty, it was used by classical liberals to justify inaction with the argument that the net benefit to all individuals would be higher.
His philosophy proved to be extremely influential on government policy and led to increased Benthamite attempts at government social control, including Robert Peel
's Metropolitan Police
, prison reforms
, the workhouses
for the mentally ill.
By the end of the 19th century, the principles of classical liberalism were being increasingly challenged by downturns in economic growth, a growing perception of the evils of poverty, unemployment and relative deprivation present within modern industrial cities and the agitation of organized labour
. The ideal of the self-made individual, who through hard work and talent could make his or her place in the world, seemed increasingly implausible. A major political reaction against the changes introduced by industrialisation
and laissez-faire capitalism
came from conservatives
concerned about social balance, although socialism
later became a more important force for change and reform. Some Victorian writers—including Charles Dickens
, Thomas Carlyle
and Matthew Arnold
—became early influential critics of social injustice.
The New Liberalism or social liberalism
movement emerged about 1900 in Britain.
John Stuart Mill and liberal political theory
John Stuart Mill
contributed enormously to liberal thought by combining elements of classical liberalism with what eventually became known as the New Liberalism. Mill's 1859 On Liberty
addressed the nature and limits of the power
that can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual
He gives an impassioned defence of free speech, arguing that free discourse
is a necessary condition
for intellectual and social progress. Mill defined social liberty
as protection from "the tyranny of political rulers". He introduced a number of different concepts of the form tyranny can take, referred to as social tyranny and tyranny of the majority
, respectively. Social liberty meant limits on the ruler's power through obtaining recognition of political liberties or rights and by the establishment of a system of constitutional
Liberal philosopher Thomas Hill Green
began to espouse a more interventionist government approach
The Liberal Party
led in Parliament by William Ewart Gladstone
drew from across the intellectual and social spectrum. On one hand, there were progressive elites who sought to fuse the methods of science with liberal political economy. For example, the anthropologist and MP Sir John Lubbock
followed the strategy of using cognitive science to challenge and shape public policy. Lubbock famously applied this approach to parliamentary debates relating to universal education, the preservation of monuments and the introduction of Bank Holidays.
On the other hand, the Liberal Party also had a strong base in evangelical
religious elements. At Balliol College, Oxford, Thomas Hill Green
argued that the state should foster and protect the social, political and economic environments in which individuals will have the best chance of acting according to their consciences. The state should intervene only where there is a clear, proven and strong tendency of a liberty to enslave the individual. Green regarded the national state as legitimate only to the extent that it upholds a system of rights and obligations that is most likely to foster individual self-realisation.
The Gladstonian liberals in 1891 adopted "the Newcastle Programme
that included home rule for Ireland, disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales and Scotland, tighter controls on the sale of liquor, major extension of factory regulation and various democratic political reforms. The Programme had a strong appeal to the nonconformist middle-class Liberal element which felt liberated by the departure of the aristocratic leaders of the Liberal Party.
The German savant Wilhelm von Humboldt
(1767-1835) made a major contribution to the development of liberalism by envisioning education as a means of realizing individual possibility rather than a way of drilling traditional ideas into youth to suit them for an already established occupation or social role. Benjamin Constant
(1767-1830), in Switzerland, refined the concept of liberty, defining it as a condition of existence that allowed the individual to turn away interference from the state or society. 
movements spread, along with representative and democratic ideals. France established an enduring republic
in the 1870s. Meanwhile, nationalism also spread rapidly after 1815. A mixture of liberal and nationalist sentiment in Italy and Germany brought about the unification of the two countries in the late 19th century. A liberal regime came to power in Italy, and ended the secular power of the popes. The Vatican, however, launched a counter crusade against liberalism. Pope Pius IX
issued the Syllabus of Errors
in 1864, condemning liberalism in all its forms. In many countries, liberal forces responded by expelling the Jesuit order.
Liberalism gained momentum in the beginning of the 20th century. The bastion of autocracy, the Russian Tsar
, was overthrown in the first phase
of the Russian Revolution
in 1917, but liberalism lasted only a matter of months before Bolshevism triumphed. The Allied victory in World War I and the collapse of four empires seemed to mark the triumph of liberalism across the European continent, including Germany and the newly created states of Eastern Europe
. Militarism, as typified by Germany, was defeated and discredited. As Martin Blinkhorn argues, the liberal themes were ascendant in terms of "cultural pluralism, religious and ethnic toleration, national self-determination, free-market economics, representative and responsible government, free trade, unionism, and the peaceful settlement of international disputes through a new body, the League of Nations
The worldwide Great Depression
, starting in 1929, hastened the discrediting of liberal economics and strengthened calls for state control over economic affairs. Economic woes prompted widespread unrest in the European political world, leading to the strengthening of fascism
and communism. Their rise in 1939 culminated in World War II
. The Allies
, which included most of the important liberal nations as well as communist Russia, won World War II, defeating Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and militarist Japan. After the war, there was a falling out between Russia and the West, and the Cold War
opened in 1947 between the Communist Eastern Bloc
and the liberal Western Alliance
Meanwhile, the definitive liberal response to the Great Depression was given by the British economist John Maynard Keynes
, who had begun a theoretical work examining the relationship between unemployment, money and prices back in the 1920s.
Keynes was deeply critical of the British government's austerity measures during the Great Depression. He believed that budget deficits were a good thing, a product of recessions. He wrote, "For Government borrowing of one kind or another is nature's remedy, so to speak, for preventing business losses from being, in so severe a slump as to present one, so great as to bring production altogether to a standstill."
At the height of the Great Depression
in 1933, Keynes published The Means to Prosperity
, which contained specific policy recommendations for tackling unemployment in a global recession, chiefly counter cyclical public spending. The Means to Prosperity
contains one of the first mentions of the multiplier effect
Keynes's magnum opus
, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money
was published in 1936,
and served as a theoretical justification for the interventionist policies Keynes favoured for tackling a recession.
The Cold War featured extensive ideological competition and several proxy wars
, but the widely feared Third World War
between the Soviet Union and the United States never occurred. While communist states and liberal democracies competed against one another, an economic crisis
in the 1970s inspired a move away from Keynesian economics
, especially under Margaret Thatcher
in the UK and Ronald Reagan
in the US. This classical liberal renewal, called pejoratively "neoliberalism
" by its opponents, lasted through the 1980s and the 1990s. Meanwhile, nearing the end of the 20th century, communist states in Eastern Europecollapsed precipitously
, leaving liberal democracies as the only major forms 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 before.
After 1945, liberal democracies spread very quickly, but then retreated. In The Spirit of Democracy
, Larry Diamond argues that by 1974, "dictatorship, not democracy, was the way of the world", and that "Barely a quarter of independent states chose their governments through competitive, free, and fair elections." Diamond goes on to say that democracy bounced back and by 1995 the world was "predominantly democratic".
A major liberal accomplishment includes the rise of liberal internationalism
, which has been credited with the establishment of global organisations such as the League of Nations
and, after World War II, the United Nations
The idea of exporting liberalism worldwide and constructing a harmonious and liberal internationalist order has dominated the thinking of liberals since the 18th century.
"Wherever liberalism has flourished domestically, it has been accompanied by visions of liberal internationalism," one historian wrote.
But resistance to liberal internationalism was deep and bitter, with critics arguing that growing global interdependency would result in the loss of national sovereignty and that democracies represented a corrupt order incapable of either domestic or global governance.
Liberalism is frequently cited as the dominant ideology
of modern times.
Politically, liberals have organised extensively throughout the world. Liberal parties
, think tanks
, and other institutions are common in many nations, although they advocate for different causes based on their ideological orientation. Liberal parties can be centre-left
, or centre-right
depending on their location.
Liberals are committed to build and safeguard free, fair and open societies, in which they seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity [...] Liberalism aims to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity.
In long-term historical perspective, Norman Davies
has argued that Freemasonry was a powerful force on behalf of Liberalism in Europe and its colonies, from about 1700 to the twentieth century. It expanded rapidly during the Age of Enlightenment
, reaching practically every country in Europe, as well as the British and Spanish overseas colonies. It was especially attractive to royalty, powerful aristocrats and politicians as well as intellectuals, artists and political activists. Its great enemy was the Roman Catholic Church, so that in countries with a large Catholic element, such as France, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Spain, and Mexico, much of the ferocity of the political battles involve the confrontation between the conservatives centered around the Church and liberals who were often Freemasons.
By the 1820s, every regiment of the British Army had at least one Masonic chapter, and they set about to form chapters among civilians everywhere they were stationed in the British Empire.
In the French, Spanish, and Portuguese empires, Army chapters were also active in spreading Freemasonry.
In 19th and early 20th century Mexico, practically all the important leaders of liberalism were active Freemasons; they used their lodges as devices for political organization.
Twentieth century totalitarian movements, especially the Fascists and Communists when they came to power, set out to systematically crush the Freemason organizations in their countries.
Africa and Asia
In the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire the effect of liberalism was significant. During the 19th century, Arab, Ottoman, and Persian intellectuals visited Europe to study and learn about Western literature, science and liberal ideas. This led them to ask themselves about their countries' underdevelopment and concluded that they needed to promote constitutionalism, development, and liberal values to modernize their societies.
At the same time, the increasing European presence in the Middle East and the stagnation of the region encouraged some Middle Eastern leaders, including Mahmud II
and his son Abdülmecid I
, Muhammad Ali Pasha
, and Amir Kabir
, to make socio-political changes and start modernization projects.
In 1826, intellectual and academic Rifa'a al-Tahtawi
was sent to Paris in one of the Muhammad Ali's scholar missions. Tahtawi studied ethics, social and political philosophy, and mathematics. He read works by Condillac
, among others, during his séjour in France.
In 1831, Tahtawi returned home to be part of the statewide effort to modernize the Egyptian infrastructure and education in what became an Egyptian renaissance (Nahda
) that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, later moving to Ottoman-ruled Arabic-speaking regions including Lebanon, Syria and others. He founded the School of Languages (also known as School of Translators) in 1835, which become part of Ain Shams University
Upon his return, Al-Tahtawi became an advocate of parliamentarian, the rights of citizens to political participation, and the rights of women to education.
The School of Languages graduated the earliest modern Egyptian intellectuals, who formed the basis of the emerging grassroots mobilization against British colonialism in Egypt. Three of his published volumes were works of political and moral philosophy
. They introduced his Egyptian audience to the liberal ideas of the Enlightenment such as secular authority and political rights and liberty, his ideas regarding how a modern civilized society ought to be and what constituted by extension a civilized or "good Egyptian", and his ideas on public interest and public good.
In the Ottoman Empire, to secure its territorial integrity against internal nationalist movements and external aggressive powers, the Empire launched a series of reforms. This period is called Tanzimat
(reorganization). Although liberal ministers and intellectuals tried to influence the reforms, the motives for the implementation of Tanzimât were bureaucratic.
These changes were made to improve civil liberties. However, the reformist ideas and trends of the Nahda and Tanzimat didn't reach the common population successfully, as the books, periodicals, and newspapers were accessible primarily to intellectuals and segments of an emerging middle class, while many Muslims saw them as foreign influences on the world of Islam. That perception complicated reformist efforts made by Middle Eastern states.
A policy called Ottomanism
was meant to unite all the different peoples living in Ottoman territories, "Muslim and non-Muslim, Turkish and Greek, Armenian and Jewish, Kurd and Arab". The policy officially began with the Edict of Gülhane
of 1839, declaring equality before the law for both Muslim and non-Muslim Ottomans.
(1840–1888) on the left and İbrahim Şinasi
(1826–1871) on the right are two of the most prominent members of the Young Ottomans
, both of whom published and printed reformist newspapers and other works in support of constitutionality and democracy in the Ottoman Empire
In 1865, a group of Ottoman Turkish
intellectuals, who were dissatisfied with the Tanzimat
reforms in the Ottoman Empire
, established a secret society called the Young Ottomans
. They believed the reforms did not go far enough and wanted to end the autocracy in the empire.
They sought to transform Ottoman society by preserving the empire and modernizing it along European lines, adopting a constitutional government.
Though the Young Ottomans were frequently in disagreement ideologically, they all agreed that the new constitutional government should continue to be somewhat rooted in Islam
to emphasize "the continuing and essential validity of Islam as the basis of Ottoman political culture."
However, they syncretize Islamic idealism with modern liberalism and parliamentary democracy; to them the European parliamentary liberalism was a model to follow, in accordance with the tenets of Islam. They "attempted to reconcile Islamic concepts of government with the ideas of Montesquieu, Danton, Rousseau, and contemporary European Scholars and statesmen."
, who was influential in the formation of the Young Ottomans, admired the constitution of the French Third Republic
; he summed up the Young Ottomans' political ideals as "the sovereignty of the nation, the separation of powers, the responsibility of officials, personal freedom, equality, freedom of thought, freedom of press, freedom of association, enjoyment of property, sanctity of the home".
The Young Ottomans believed that one of the principal reasons for the decline of the empire was abandoning Islamic principles in favor of imitating European modernity with unadvised compromises to both, and they sought to unite the two in a way that they believed would best serve the interests of the state and its people.
They sought to revitalize the empire by incorporating certain Europeans models of government, while still retaining the Islamic foundations the empire was founded on.
Among the prominent members of this society were writers and publicists such as İbrahim Şinasi
, Namık Kemal
, Ali Suavi
, Ziya Pasha
, and Agah Efendi
The emerging internal financial and diplomatic crises of 1875–1876 allowed the Young Ottomans their defining moment, when Sultan Abdülhamid II
appointed liberal-minded Midhat Pasha
as Grand Vizier
and reluctantly promulgated the Ottoman constitution of 1876
, the first attempt at a constitution in the Ottoman Empire, ushering in the First Constitutional Era
and ending the Tanzimat.
Thanks to liberal intellectuals who tried to modernize their society by promoting development, progress, and liberal values, constitutionalism
was introduced in the Ottoman Empire,
Midhat Pasha is often considered to be one of the founders of the Ottoman Parliament
Although this period was short lived, with Abdülhamid ultimately suspending the constitution and parliament in 1878 in favor of a return to absolute monarchy with himself in power,
the legacy and influence of the Young Ottomans continued to endure until the collapse of the empire. Several decades later, another group of reform-minded Ottomans, the Young Turks
, repeated the Young Ottomans' efforts, leading to the Young Turk Revolution
in 1908 and the beginning of the Second Constitutional Era
The Nahda period sought to modernize Islam and society. Thinkers and religious reformers rejected traditional views and encourage modernization through the abandonment of taqlid
(imitation, conformity to legal precedent) and emphasis on ijtihad
(intellectual effort, reasoning and hermeneutics), which they saw as a return to Islamic origins.
The Islamic Modernist
movement, also sometimes referred to as Modernist Salafism
, has been described as "the first Muslim ideological response to the Western cultural challenge"[a]
Islamic modernism was the first of several movements – including secularism
– that emerged in the middle of the 19th century in reaction to the rapid changes of the time, especially the perceived onslaught of Western Civilization
on the Muslim world.
The founders of Islamic modernism include Muhammad Abduh
, a Sheikh of Al-Azhar University
for a brief period before his death in 1905, Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani
, and Muhammad Rashid Rida
(d. 1935). The movement started with Rifa'a al-Tahtawi but gained popularity when al-Afghani organized a group of Muslim scholars to discuss the socio-political and theological challenges that Islam was facing.
The movement attempted to reconcile Islamic faith with modern Western values such as nationalism
, civil rights
, and progress
It featured a "critical reexamination of the classical conceptions and methods of jurisprudence" and a new approach to Islamic theology and Quranic exegesis (Tafsir
Islamic modernism and liberal nationalism
were interconnected, both were factors in the retreat of Islamic orthodoxy and the decline of the absolutist state. Although Middle Eastern liberal nationalism took Western liberalism as inspiration, favoring national integration via cultural and educational reforms, the promotion of indigenous national languages, and the separation of religion and politics, concepts of nationalism, and the principles of democratic institutions. It was a response to colonialism and interventionism and collided with Western interests in the region.
In Egypt, Islamic modernism let liberal nationals reach a wider audience. This ended in the 1920s and 1930s when liberal nationalism took a strong secularist orientation, weakening Islamic modernism.
All these changes in the Muslim world created a sense of crisis within Islam that favored Islamic revivalism
In Japan, which was generally liberal in the 1920s, saw liberalism wither away in the 1930s under pressure from the military.
Taha Hussein and Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed were among the most influential 20th-century Egyptian
Hussein was opposed to Islamism and one of his major contributions to the liberal movement was an examination of how Egyptian liberalism and Islam could be reconciled. He believed in freedom and equality and that Egypt should be developed as a modern, enlightened society in line with the ideas of the French Revolution and the Industrial Age.
El-Sayed was one of the architects of modern Egyptian nationalism
, and liberalism. Fondly known as the "Professor of the Generation", he was an influential person in the Egyptian nationalist movement and an anti-colonial activist.
el-Sayed believed in equality and rights for all people. He was the first director of Cairo University
, in which he served from 1925 to 1941.
He was considered one of the first Egyptian officials to introduce Mill's works to the general Arab public, so they could educate themselves on concepts of liberalism. He believed that people should have a say in what goes on in their government and country, and that all people had certain civil rights that could not be taken away.
In 1949, the National Front of Iran
was founded by Mohammad Mosaddegh
, Hossein Fatemi
, Ahmad Zirakzadeh
, Ali Shayegan
and Karim Sanjabi
It is the oldest pro-democracy
group operating inside Iran
The front was conceived to be a broad alliance of like-minded associations, included various, nationalist, liberal, and social democratic parties, with the aim of strengthening democracy, press freedom, and constitutional government.
The most important groups in the Front were the Iran Party, the Toilers Party, the National Party, and the Tehran Association of Bazaar Trade and Craft Guilds.
The Iran Party
, which was founded in 1946 as a platform for Iranian liberals, included figures such as Karim Sanjâbi
, Gholam Hossein Sadighi
, Ahmad Zirakzadeh
and Allah-Yar Saleh
In April 1951, The National Front became the governing coalition when democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddegh took office as the Prime Minister
. Mosaddegh was liberal nationalist and prominent parliamentarian who advocated for the rule of law and freedom of foreign intervention
his administration introduced a range of progressive social and political reforms such as social security and land reforms, including taxation of the rent on land. His government's most notable policy, however, was the nationalization
of the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control since 1913 through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company
) (later British Petroleum and BP
), becoming the first country in the Middle East in nationalize its oil industry.
Mossadegh's liberal and independent way of governing gained him the popular support but also alienated various groups. It entered in direct conflict with the Western interests in the region, challenged the shah's authority and Mossadegh's tolerance with lefties groups offended the traditionalist and the ulama
In favour of strengthening the monarchical rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
, Winston Churchill
and the Eisenhower administration
decided to overthrow Iran's government, though the predecessor Truman administration
had opposed a coup.
Mosaddegh was removed from power in a coup
on 19 August 1953, organised and carried out by the CIA
at the request of MI6
, which chose Iranian General Fazlollah Zahedi
to succeed Mosaddegh.
The 1953 coup ended the dominance of liberalism in the country's government. Before 1953 and throughout the 1960s, the National Front was torn by strife between secular and religious elements and over the time has splintered into various squabbling factions,
gradually emerging as the leading organization of secular liberals
with nationalist members adhering to liberal democracy
and social democracy
In the middle of the 20th century, the Liberal Party
and the Progressive Party
were formed to oppose the apartheid
policies of the government. The Liberals formed a multiracial
party that originally drew considerable support from urban
Blacks and college-educated Whites.
It also gained supporters from the "westernised sectors of the peasantry
", and its public meetings were heavily attended by Blacks.
The party had 7,000 members at its height, although its appeal to the White population as a whole was too small to make any meaningful political changes.
The Liberals were disbanded in 1968 after the government passed a law that prohibited parties from having multiracial membership.
In India, the INC was founded in the late 19th century by liberal nationalists
demanding the creation of a more liberal and autonomous India.
Liberalism continued to be the main ideological current of the group through the early years of the 20th century, but socialism
gradually overshadowed the thinking of the party in the next few decades.
A famous struggle led by the INC eventually earned India's independence from Britain
. In recent times, the party has adopted more of a liberal streak, championing open markets while simultaneously seeking social justice. In its 2009 Manifesto
, the INC praised a "secular and liberal" Indian nationalism
against the nativist, communal, and conservative ideological tendencies it claims are espoused by the right
In general, the major theme of Asian liberalism in the past few decades has been the rise of democratization as a method facilitate the rapid economic modernization of the continent.
In nations such as Myanmar, however, liberal democracy has been replaced by military dictatorship
Recently, liberal parties and institutions have made a major push for political power. On a continental level, liberals are organised in the Africa Liberal Network
, which contains influential parties such as the Popular Movement
in Morocco, the Democratic Party
in Senegal, and the Rally of the Republicans
in Côte d'Ivoire. In Asia, several Asian nations have explicitly rejected important liberal principles. Continentally, liberals are organized through the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats
, which includes powerful parties such the Liberal Party
in the Philippines, the Democratic Progressive Party
in Taiwan, and the Democrat Party
in Thailand. A notable example of liberal influence can be found in India. In India
, the most populous democracy in the world, the Indian National Congress
has long dominated political affairs.
In Latin America
, liberal unrest dates back to the 18th century, when liberal agitation in Latin America led to independence
from the imperial power of Spain and Portugal. The new regimes were generally liberal in their political outlook, and employed the philosophy of positivism
, which emphasized the truth of modern science, to buttress their positions.
The liberal and conservative struggles in Spain also replicated themselves in Latin America
. Like its former master, the region was a hotbed of wars, conflicts, and revolutionary activity throughout the 19th century. In Mexico, the liberales
instituted the program of La Reforma
in the 1850s, reducing the power of the military and the Catholic Church.
were outraged at these steps and launched a revolt, which sparked a deadly conflict. From 1857 to 1861, Mexico was gripped in the bloody War of Reform
, a massive internal and ideological confrontation between the liberals and the conservatives.
The liberals eventually triumphed and Benito Juárez
, a dedicated liberal and now a Mexican national hero, became the president of the republic. After Juárez, Mexico suffered from prolonged periods of dictatorial repression, which lasted until the Mexican Revolution
in the early 20th century.
Another regional example of liberal influence can be found in Ecuador. As with other nations throughout the region at the time, Ecuador was steeped in conflict and uncertainty after gaining independence from Spain. By the middle of the 19th century, the country had descended into chaos and madness, with the people divided between rival liberal and conservative camps. From these conflicts, García Moreno
established a conservative government that ruled the country for several years. The liberals, however, were incensed at the conservative regime and overthrew it completely in the Liberal Revolution of 1895
. The Radical Liberals
who toppled the conservatives were led by Eloy Alfaro
, a firebrand who implemented a variety of sociopolitical reforms, including the separation of church and state, the legalization of divorce, and the establishment of public schools.
In the United States, a vicious war
ensured the integrity of the nation and the abolition of slavery in the south
. Historian Don Doyle has argued that the Union victory in the American Civil War
(1861–65) gave a major boost to the course of liberalism.
The Union victory energized popular democratic forces. A Confederate victory, on the other hand, would have meant a new birth of slavery, not freedom. Historian Fergus Bordewich, following Doyle, argues that:
The North's victory decisively proved the durability of democratic government. Confederate independence, on the other hand, would have established An American model for reactionary politics and race-based repression that would likely have cast an international shadow into the twentieth century and perhaps beyond."
In Canada, the long-dominant Liberal Party, founded in 1867 and colloquially known as the Grits
, ruled the country
for nearly 70 years during the 20th century. The party produced some of the most influential prime ministers in Canadian history
, including Pierre Trudeau
, Lester B. Pearson
and Jean Chrétien
, and has been primarily responsible for the development of the Canadian welfare state
. The enormous success of the Liberals – virtually unmatched in any other liberal democracy
– has prompted many political commentators over time to identify them as the nation's natural governing party
In the United States, modern liberalism
traces its history to the popular presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
, who initiated the New Deal
in response to the Great Depression
and won an unprecedented four elections
. The New Deal coalition
established by Franklin Roosevelt left a decisive legacy and influenced many future American presidents, including John F. Kennedy
, a self-described liberal who defined a liberal as "someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions ... someone who cares about the welfare of the people".
The social liberal program launched by President Roosevelt in the United States, the New Deal
, proved very popular with the American public. In 1933, when FDR came into office, the unemployment rate
stood at roughly 25 percent.
The size of the economy, measured by the gross national product
, had fallen to half the value it had in early 1929.
The electoral victories of FDR and the Democrats
precipitated a deluge of deficit spending and public works programs. In 1940, the level of unemployment had fallen by 10 points to around 15 percent.
Additional state spending and the gigantic public works program sparked by the Second World War eventually pulled the United States out of the Great Depression. The social liberal programme
reduced the unemployment rate
from roughly 25 percent to about 15 percent by 1940.
Additional state spending and the very large public works programme sparked by the Second World War eventually pulled the United States out of the Great Depression. From 1940 to 1941, government spending increased by 59 percent, the gross domestic product
increased 17 percent, and unemployment fell below 10 percent for the first time since 1929.
In France, the fall of Napoleon in 1814–15 brought back to power in France the reactionary Bourbon kings.
However even they were unable to reverse the liberalization of the French Revolution and they were overthrown in 1830.
Likewise The fall of Napoleon brought conservatives to power across much of Europe.
The July Revolution of 1830
, orchestrated by liberal politicians and journalists, removed the Bourbon monarchy
and inspired similar uprisings elsewhere in Europe. Frustration with the pace of political progress in the early 19th century sparked even more gigantic revolutions in 1848
. Revolutions spread throughout the Austrian Empire
, the German states
, and the Italian states
. Governments fell rapidly. Liberal nationalists demanded written constitutions, representative assemblies, greater suffrage rights, and freedom of the press.
A second republic
was proclaimed in France. Serfdom was abolished in Prussia
, and Hungary. The indomitable Metternich, the Austrian builder of the reigning conservative order, shocked Europe when he resigned and fled to Britain in panic and disguise.
Eventually, however, the success of the revolutionaries petered out. Without French help, the Italians were easily defeated
by the Austrians. With some luck and skill, Austria also managed to contain the bubbling nationalist sentiments in Germany and Hungary, helped along by the failure of the Frankfurt Assembly
to unify the German states into a single nation. Two decades later, however, the Italians and the Germans realised their dreams for unification and independence. The Sardinian
Prime Minister, Camillo di Cavour
, was a shrewd liberal who understood that the only effective way for the Italians to gain independence was if the French were on their side. Napoleon III
agreed to Cavour's request for assistance and France defeated Austria in the Franco-Austrian War
of 1859, setting the stage for Italian independence. German unification transpired under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck
, who decimated the enemies of Prussia in war after war, finally triumphing against France
in 1871 and proclaiming the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, ending another saga in the drive for nationalisation. The French proclaimed a third republic
after their loss in the war.
In Germany, unification brought to power the leading conservative of the nineteenth century, Otto von Bismarck
, a member of the landholding Junker
In order to secure the loyalty of the working classes to the ruling aristocracy, Bismarck introduced both universal male suffrage and the first welfare state.
Bismarck first formed a coalition with the liberals, with a focus on ending trade restrictions and reducing the power of the Catholic Church.
By the late 1870s he then reversed positions, and began collaborating with Catholics. He's best known for a foreign-policy that balanced multiple competing interests to produce a peaceful era.
In the United Kingdom, the repeal of the Corn Laws
in 1846 was a watershed moment and encapsulated the triumph of free trade
and liberal economics. The Anti-Corn Law League
brought together a coalition of liberal and radical groups in support of free trade under the leadership of Richard Cobden
and John Bright
, who opposed militarism and public expenditure. Their policies of low public expenditure and low taxation were later adopted by the liberal chancellor of the exchequer
and later prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone
Although classical liberals aspired to a minimum of state activity, they eventually accepted the principle of government intervention in the economy from the early 19th century with the passage of the Factory Acts
. From around 1840 to 1860, laissez-faire
advocates of the Manchester School
and writers in The Economist
were confident that their early victories would lead to a period of expanding economic and personal liberty and world peace but would face reversals as government intervention and activity continued to expand from the 1850s. Jeremy Bentham
and James Mill
, although advocates of laissez-faire, non-intervention in foreign affairs, and individual liberty, believed that social institutions could be rationally redesigned through the principles of Utilitarianism
. By the 1870s, Herbert Spencer
and other classical liberals concluded that historical development was turning against them.
By the First World War, the Liberal Party
had largely abandoned classical liberal principles.
The People's Budget
of 1909, championed by David Lloyd George
and fellow liberal Winston Churchill
, introduced unprecedented taxes on the wealthy in Britain and radical social welfare programmes to the country's policies.
It was the first budget with the expressed intent of redistributing wealth among the public. It imposed increased taxes on luxuries, liquor, tobacco, incomes, and land, – taxation that disproportionately affected the rich – so that money could be made available for new welfare programmes as well as new battleships. In 1911 Lloyd George succeeded in putting through Parliament his National Insurance Act
, making provision for sickness and invalidism, and this was followed by his Unemployment Insurance Act
Historian Peter Weiler argues the following:
Although still partially informed by older Liberal concerns for character, self-reliance, and the capitalist market, this legislation nevertheless, marked a significant shift in Liberal approaches to the state and social reform, approaches that later governments would slowly expand and that would grow into the welfare state after the Second World War. What was new in these reforms was the underlying assumption that the state could be a positive force, that the measure of individual freedom [...] was not how much the state left people alone, but whether he gave them the capacity to fill themselves as individuals.
At the turn of the 20th century, the incompetence of the ruling class in Russia discredited the monarchy and aristocracy. Russia was already reeling from earlier losses
and political struggles with the Kadets
, a powerful liberal bloc in the Duma
. Facing huge shortages in basic necessities along with widespread riots in early 1917
, Czar Nicholas II
abdicated in March, bringing to an end three centuries of Romanov rule
and paving the way for liberals to declare a republic. Russia's liberals, repeatedly used the slogans, symbols and ideas of the French Revolution
—plastering liberté, égalité, fraternité
over major public spaces—to establish an emotional attachment to the past, an attachment that liberals hoped would galvanize the public to fight for modern values.
But democracy was no simple task, and the Provisional Government
that took over the country's administration needed the cooperation of the Petrograd Soviet
, an organization that united leftist industrial laborers, to function and survive. Under the uncertain leadership of Alexander Kerensky
, however, the Provisional Government mismanaged Russia's continuing involvement in the war, prompting angry reactions from the Petrograd workers, who drifted further and further to the left. The Bolsheviks
, a communist group led by Vladimir Lenin
, seized the political opportunity from this confusion and launched a second revolution
in Russia during the same year. The communists violently overthrew the fragile liberal-socialist order in October, after which Russia witnessed several years of civil war
between communists and conservatives wishing to restore the monarchy.
The worldwide Great Depression
, starting in 1929, hastened the discrediting of liberal economics and strengthened calls for state control over economic affairs. Economic woes prompted widespread unrest in the European political world, leading to the rise of fascism
as an ideology and a movement arrayed against both liberalism and communism, especially in Nazi Germany
The rise of fascism in the 1930s eventually culminated in the Second World War
, the deadliest conflict in human history. The Allies
prevailed in the war by 1945, and their victory set the stage for the Cold War
between the communist Eastern Bloc
and the liberal Western Alliance
In the United Kingdom, the Liberal Party lost its influence in the early 20th century due to the growth of the Labour Party
. In Russia, liberalism was defeated when the Communists came to power under Vladimir Lenin
in October 1917, in Italy when Mussolini set up his dictatorship in 1922, in Poland in 1926 under Józef Piłsudski
, and in Spain in 1939 after the Spanish Civil War
. Before World War I, liberal parties dominated the European political scene, but they were gradually displaced by socialists and social democrats in the early 20th century. The fortunes of liberal parties since World War II have been mixed, with some gaining strength while others suffered from continuous declines.
The fall of the Soviet Union
and the breakup of Yugoslavia
at the end of the 20th century, however, allowed the formation of many liberal parties throughout Eastern Europe. These parties developed varying ideological characters. Some, such as the Slovenian Liberal Democrats
or the Lithuanian Social Liberals
, have been characterised as centre-left
Others, such as the Romanian National Liberal Party
, have been classified as centre-right
French intellectual Michel Foucault
locates the emergence of liberalism, both as a political philosophy and a mode of governance, in the sixteenth century.
He especially focuses on Adam Smith
, David Hume
and Adam Ferguson
. According to Foucault, it was through a double movement, of state centralisation on the one hand and of dispersion and religious dissidence on the other, that this problem of government presented itself clearly for the first time.
The central question, or problem of government, in relation to the birth of liberalism, was how to apply the form of governance of the family, the ‘economy’, to the state as a whole. How to introduce the meticulous attention of the father within the family home and the family unit, to the management of the state?
The birth of liberalism can be located in the response to this question or problem of government. The response witnessed the shift from the dominance of sovereign power to the apparatus of the state, and can be characterised in three important developments:
Liberalism, as a ‘rationality’ of governing was, in Foucault's mind, unique from other previous technologies of governing, as it had as its foundation the assumption that human behaviour should be governed, in the pursuit of fostering the idea that society be understood as a realm separate from the state, not just something that was drawn off of and violated in order to strengthen the state.
In a Foucauldian sense, liberalism did not emerge as a doctrine of how to simply govern people, but rather as a technology of governing that arose from the timeless critique of excessive government—"a search for a technology of government that could address the recurrent complaint that authorities were governing too much".
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- Lyons, Martyn. Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc., 1994. ISBN 0-312-12123-7.
- Shlapentokh, Dmitry. The French Revolution and the Russian Anti-Democratic Tradition. Edison, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997. ISBN 1-56000-244-1.
Last edited on 7 May 2021, at 14:23
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