Essay on Comparing Classical vs. Modern Liberalism

Essay on Comparing Classical vs. Modern Liberalism

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Typically Liberalism can be categorized into two different strands, Classical and Modern (yet some thinkers advocate a third strand that is referred to as Neo-Liberalism), each characterized by their differing and to some extent unavoidably overlapping attitudes regarding the theory behind the ideology and how it should be put into practice. Prior to examining how these relate to one another and before making any comparisons, it is important to give a definition, as best as possible, of Liberalism as a concept.


Liberalism is an ideology and due to the changing views of historical persons, who have each viewed themselves to be Liberals, is difficult to define precisely. There are five agreed defining tenants of Liberalism. The most important of these, percolating through the ideology, is the ‘Importance of the Individual’, and closely interlinked with this is ‘Freedom’, which leads on to the concept of ‘Individual Freedom or liberty’. Liberals believe that humankind is a rational species, and thus ‘Reason’ is a third tenant. Furthermore Liberalism advocates that the principle of ‘Justice’ and Toleration’ are fundamental in the well being of society and each of these aspects relates directly back to the quintessential first tenant. Liberalism, according to Habermas “emphasizes individual freedom from restraint and is usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard; c: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties.” As an individualist, rather than a collectivist ideology the individual is placed as the building block of society. J. S. Mill says ...


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...th the classical view that wages would drop to prohibit unemployment because of Trade Unions, and claim that according this view unemployment would enter a vicious spiral. The implications of this are that Modern liberal economics advocates the state managing the economy and that logically the state has a role to play in helping people achieve the self-fulfillment that liberalism works towards. This is consistent with the Modern liberal view of freedom effectively as an ‘enabling process’.

The Modern and Classical strands of liberalism share similar principles – indeed if they did not, it would be wrong to classify them as two strands of the same ideology. It seems the fundamental differences between them rely on the ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ views, which define them and which lead on to the fundamental opposition inherent in liberalism: the role of the state.

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