Liberal

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American Liberalism

"Liberals believe that government, at its best, is the way we come to together to tackle problems we can't solve on our own. I'm a liberal, and as turns out, most Americans are liberals too." Source: Al Franken. 2005. The Truth (with jokes). Dutton. ISBN 0525949062. p. 305.

History of Liberalism

Liberalism in the Ancient World

Liberalism as commonly understood is a modern philosophy, which developed in the wake of the Renaissance and in conjunction with the Enlightenment. It is concerned with the individual and human freedom. However, liberalism is also associated with equality, progress, and empiricism, all of which were elements found in ancient Greek culture.


Eric Alfred Havelock argues in The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics (find a library copy near you) that there was a recognizably "liberal" tradition in Greek culture, which involved an interaction of these three elements, despite the fact that individualism as we know it--including the framework of individual rights--did not yet exist.

In contrast to the conservative myth of a past Golden Age, laid out most fully in Hesiod's Works and Days, early Greek natural philosophers developed a progressive, evolutionary view of the world, including human civilization. This became the fountainhead of a broader liberal tradition, which included among its fruits the Athenian democracy.

This tradition left only fragmentary evidence of its existence, as it was strongly opposed by the conservative anti-democratic figures who came to dominate Western philosophy--Aristotle and Plato.

Modern Liberalism

Pending an update of information on this page, an excellent overview is available from the Dictionary of the History of Ideas, at its entry for liberalism, and there's a shorter introduction (with copious excerpts) to this essay at MyDD.com.

The essay cites three contributing sources for the modern liberal idea of freedom: (1) Greek philosophy; (2) Roman conceptions of law, and (3) the Judeo-Christian religious tradition affirming the closeness of man's relations with God, but focuses almost exclusively on what has happened in modern times as liberalism has evolveed.

Economic Liberalism

Adam Smith...

Also see neoliberal.

Philosophical Works

"...there is a sphere of action in which society, as distinguished from the individual, has, if any, only an indirect interest; comprehending all that portion of a person's life and conduct which affects only himself, or if it also affects others, only with their free, voluntary, and undeceived consent and participation."

From John Stuart Mill's On Liberty "Introductory"

In International Relations Theory

Liberal international relations (IR) theory developed in response to some of the fundamental fallacies of neorealist IR theory:

  • actors do have memory
  • IR need not be a zero-sum game, it can be win-win
  • order can be imposed on the anarchic interstate system with multilateral agreements

In IR, liberals belive that multilateral institutions can improve the rules of the interstate system. They believe that the resulting peace, stability, and order is preferable and potentially persistent.

See Also

External links

  • Liberals Vs Conservatives Liberal forum for debate.
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