Liberty can mean the absence of restraint, or the ability to act without consideration. In philosophy the idea of liberty involves free will as contrasted with determinism. In politics liberty is freedom from government coercion. In theology liberty is freedom from the bondage of sin.
The Statue of Liberty donated to the U.S. by France, an artistic personification of liberty.
Civil Liberties are personal guarantees and freedoms that the government cannot abridge, either by law or by judicial interpretation. Though the scope of the term differs amongst various countries, some examples of civil liberties include the freedom from torture and death, the right to liberty and security, freedom of conscience, freedom of press, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, the right to privacy, the right to equal treatment and due process and the right to a fair trial and the right to life. Other civil liberties include the right to own property, the right to defend oneself, and the right to bodily integrity. Within the distinctions between civil liberties and other types of liberty, distinctions exist between positive liberty/positive rights and negative liberty/negative rights.
Political Freedom (also known as political autonomy or political agency) is a central concept in Western history and political thought and one of the most important (real or ideal) features of democratic societies. It has been described as a relationship free of oppression or coercion; the absence of disabling conditions for an individual and the fulfilment of enabling conditions; or the absence of lived conditions of compulsion, e.g. economic compulsion, in a society. Although political freedom is often interpreted negatively as the freedom from unreasonable external constraints on action, it can also refer to the positive exercise of rights, capacities and possibilities for action and the exercise of social or group rights. The concept can also include freedom from ‘internal’ constraints on political action or speech (e.g. social conformity, consistency, or inauthentic behaviour.) The concept of political freedom is closely connected with the concepts of civil liberties and human rights, which in democratic societies are usually afforded legal protection from the state.
Various groups along the political spectrum naturally differ on what they believe constitutes “true” political freedom. Left wing political philosophy generally couples the notion of freedom with that of positive liberty, or the enabling of a group or individual to determine their own life or realize their own potential. Freedom, in this sense, may include freedom from poverty, starvation, treatable disease, and oppression, as well as freedom from force and coercion, from whomever they may issue. Friedrich Hayek, a well-known classical liberal criticized this as a misconception of freedom:
“The use of “liberty” to describe the physical “ability to do what I want”, the power to satisfy our wishes, or the extent of the choice of alternatives open to us … has been deliberately fostered as part of the socialist argument … the notion of collective power over circumstances has been substituted for that of individual liberty.”
Many social anarchists see negative and positive liberty as complementary concepts of freedom. They describe the negative liberty-centric view endorsed by capitalists as “selfish freedom”. Some notable philosophers, such as Alasdair MacIntyre, have theorized freedom in terms of our social interdependence with other people. According to political philosopher Nikolas Kompridis, the pursuit of freedom in the modern era can be broadly divided into two motivating ideals: freedom as autonomy or independence; and freedom as the ability to cooperatively initiate a new beginning. Political freedom has also been theorized in its opposition to (and a condition of) “power relations”, or the power of “action upon actions,” by Michel Foucault. It has also been closely identified with certain kinds of artistic and cultural practice by Cornelius Castoriadis, Antonio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse, Jacques Ranciere, and Theodor Adorno. Environmentalists often argue that political freedoms should include some constraint on use of ecosystems. They maintain there is no such thing, for instance, as “freedom to pollute” or “freedom to deforest” given that such activities create negative externalities. The popularity of SUVs, golf, and urban sprawl has been used as evidence that some ideas of freedom and ecological conservation can clash. This leads at times to serious confrontations and clashes of values reflected in advertising campaigns, e.g. that of PETA regarding fur. John Dalberg-Acton stated that, “The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.”
Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and private property. Liberalism first became a distinct political movement during the Age of Enlightenment, when it became popular among philosophers and economists in the Western world. Liberalism rejected the notions, common at the time, of hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The 17th-century philosopher John Locke is often credited with founding liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition. Locke argued that each man has a natural right to life, liberty and property and according to the social contract, governments must not violate these rights. Liberals opposed traditional conservatism and sought to replace absolutism in government with representative democracy and the rule of law. The revolutionaries of the Glorious Revolution, American Revolution, segments of the French Revolution, and other liberal revolutionaries from that time used liberal philosophy to justify the armed overthrow of what they saw as tyrannical rule. The 19th century saw liberal governments established in nations across Europe, Spanish America, and North America. In this period, the dominant ideological opponent of liberalism was classical conservatism. Liberalism also survived major ideological challenges from new opponents, such as fascism and communism. 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, there was also the rise of social liberalism which is related with social democracy in Europe. The meaning of the word “liberalism” began to diverge in different parts of the world. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “In the United States, liberalism is associated with the welfare-state policies of the New Deal program of the Democratic administration of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, whereas in Europe it is more commonly associated with a commitment to limited government and laissez-faire economic policies.” Consequently in the U.S., the ideas of individualism and laissez-faire economics previously associated with classical liberalism, became the basis for the emerging school of libertarian thought. Today, liberal political parties remain a political force with varying degrees of power and influence on many countries.
The Liberal Party was a liberal political movement that formed one of the two major political parties in the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its influence then waned, but not before it had moved toward social liberalism and introduced important elements of Britain’s welfare state. The party arose from an alliance of Whigs and free-trade Peelites and Radicals during the 1850s. By the end of the nineteenth century, it had formed four governments under William Gladstone – one of the party’s most significant leaders – although they were punctuated by heavy election defeats. Despite becoming divided over the issue of Irish Home Rule, the party returned to power in 1906 with a landslide victory and, between then and the onset of World War I, Liberal governments oversaw the welfare reforms that created a basic British welfare state. During this time, the party’s other two most significant leaders came to the fore: H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister between 1908 and 1916; and David Lloyd George, who followed Asquith as Prime Minister for the rest of World War I and thereafter until 1922. 1922 marked the end of the coalition the party had formed with the Conservative Party during the war and the last time the party was, in government, anything more than a junior coalition partner. By the end of the 1920s, the Labour Party had replaced it as the Tories’ primary rival and the party went into a decline that, by the 1950s, saw it winning no more than six seats at general elections. Apart from a few notable by-election victories, the party’s fortunes did not improve significantly until it formed the SDP–Liberal Alliance with the newly formed Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. At the next general election, in 1983, the Alliance received over a quarter of the overall vote, but only secured 23 of the 650 seats contested. After the 1987 general election saw this share fall below 23%, the Liberal and SDP parties formally merged in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats. A small splinter Liberal Party was formed in 1989 by former party members opposed to the merger. Two of the most prominent intellectuals associated with the Liberal Party were the economist John Maynard Keynes and social planner William Beveridge.
The Liberal Democrats are a social-liberal political party in the United Kingdom. It identifies itself as a party of the radical centre. In terms of number of seats in the House of Commons, it is the third-largest party in the UK. The party was formed in 1988 by a merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The two parties had formed the electoral SDP–Liberal Alliance for seven years prior. The Liberals had been in existence for 129 years and in power under leaders such as Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George. During these times in government, the Liberals are credited with the Liberal Reforms, which saw the creation of the welfare state. In the 1920s, the Labour Party replaced the Liberals as the largest opponent of the Conservative Party. Nick Clegg was elected leader in 2007. At the 2010 general election, the Liberal Democrats won 57 seats with 23% of the vote, making them the third-largest party in the House of Commons behind the Conservatives with 307 and Labour with 258. No party having an overall majority, the Liberal Democrats joined a coalition government with the Conservatives, with Clegg becoming Deputy Prime Minister and other Liberal Democrats taking up ministerial positions.
Classical liberalism is a political philosophy and ideology belonging to liberalism in which primary emphasis is placed on securing the freedom of the individual by limiting the power of the government. The philosophy emerged as a response to the Industrial Revolution and urbanization in the 19th century in Europe and the United States. It advocates civil liberties with a limited government under the rule of law, private property rights, and belief in laissez-faire economic liberalism. Classical liberalism is built on ideas that had already arisen by the end of the 18th century, including ideas of Adam Smith, John Locke, Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo. It drew on a psychological understanding of individual liberty, natural law, utilitarianism and a belief in progress. In the early 20th century, liberals split on several issues and in the United States in particular, a distinction grew up between classical liberals and social liberals.
Social liberalism is the belief that liberalism should include a social foundation. Social liberalism seeks to balance individual liberty and social justice. Like classical liberalism it endorses a market economy and the expansion of civil and political rights and liberties, but differs in that it believes the legitimate role of the government includes addressing economic and social issues such as poverty, health care and education. Under social liberalism, the good of the community is viewed as harmonious with the freedom of the individual. Social liberal policies have been widely adopted in much of the capitalist world, particularly following World War II. Social liberal ideas and parties tend to be considered centrist or centre-left. The term social liberalism is used to differentiate it from classical liberalism, which dominated political and economic thought for several centuries, until social liberalism branched off from it around the Great Depression. A reaction against social liberalism in the late twentieth century, often called neoliberalism, led to monetarist economic policies and a reduction in government provision of services. However, this reaction did not result in a return to classical liberalism, as governments continued to provide social services and retained control over economic policy.
Gladstonian liberalism is a political doctrine named after the British Victorian Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party, William Ewart Gladstone. Gladstonian liberalism consisted of limited government expenditure and low taxation whilst making sure government had balanced budgets and the classical liberal stress on self-help and freedom of choice. Gladstonian liberalism also emphasised free trade, little government intervention in the economy and equality of opportunity through institutional reform. It is referred to as laissez-faire or classical liberalism in the UK. Gladstonian financial rectitude had a partial lasting impact on British politics and the historian John Vincent contends that under Lord Salisbury‘s premiership, he “left Britain’s low tax, low cost, low growth economy, with its Gladstonian finance and its free trade dogmas and no conscript army, exactly as he had found it…. Salisbury reigned, but Gladstone ruled.” However in the early twentieth-century the Liberal Party began to move away from Gladstonian liberalism and instead developed new policies based on social liberalism (or what Gladstone called Constructionism). The Liberal government of 1906-1914 is noted for its social reforms and these included old age pensions and National Insurance. Taxation and public expenditure was also increased and New Liberal ideas led to David Lloyd George‘s People’s Budget of 1909-10. The first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden had Gladstonian economic views. This was demonstrated in his first Budget in 1924; government expenditure was curtailed, taxes were lowered and duties on tea, coffee, cocoa and sugar were reduced. A. J. P. Taylor has written that this budget “would have delighted the heart of Gladstone.” Ernest Bevin remarked upon becoming Minister of Labour in 1940, “They say that Gladstone was at the Treasury from 1860 to 1930″.
Economic liberalism is the ideological belief in organizing the economy on individualist lines, meaning that the greatest possible number of economic decisions are made by individuals and not by collective institutions or organizations. It includes a spectrum of different economic policies, but it is always based on strong support for a market economy and private property in the means of production. Although economic liberalism can also be supportive of government regulation to a certain degree, it tends to oppose government intervention in the free market when it inhibits free trade and open competition. However, economic liberalism may accept government intervention in order to remove private monopoly, as this is considered to limit the decision power of some individuals. While economic liberalism favours markets unfettered by the government, it maintains that the state has a legitimate role in providing public goods. Economic liberalism is often associated with support for free markets and private ownership of capital goods and is usually contrasted with similar ideologies such as social liberalism and social democracy, which generally favor alternative forms of Capitalism such as welfare capitalism, state capitalism or mixed economies. Economic liberalism also contrasts with protectionism because of its support for free trade and open markets. Historically, economic liberalism arose in response to mercantilism and feudalism. Today, economic liberalism is also generally considered to be opposed to non-capitalist economic orders, such as socialism, market socialism and planned economies.
Cultural liberalism is a liberal view of society that stresses the freedom of individuals from cultural norms. It is often expressed in the words of Thoreau as the right to “march to the beat of a different drummer”. Cultural liberals believe that society should not impose any specific code of behaviour and they see themselves as defending the moral rights of nonconformists to express their own identity however they see fit, as long as they do not harm anyone. The culture wars in politics are disagreements between cultural liberals and cultural conservatives. Cultural liberals are strongly opposed to censorship, or any kind of oversight of spoken or written material in peacetime. They believe that the structure of one’s family and the nature of marriage should be left up to individual decision and they argue that, as long as one does no harm, no lifestyle is inherently better than any other. Because cultural liberalism expresses the social dimension of liberalism, it is often referred to as ‘social liberalism’, but it is not to be confused with the ideology of that name.
Neoliberalism is a label for economic liberalism which advocates – under reference to neoclassical economic theory – support for great economic liberalization, privatization, free trade, open markets, deregulation and reductions in government spending, in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. Neoliberalism was an economic philosophy that emerged among European liberal scholars in the 1930s attempting to trace a so-called ‘Third’ or ‘Middle Way’ between the conflicting philosophies of classical liberalism and collectivist central planning. The impetus for this development arose from a desire to avoid repeating the economic failures of the early 1930s, which conventional wisdom of the time tended to blame on unfettered capitalism. In the decades that followed, neoliberal theory tended to be at variance with the more laissez-faire doctrine of classical liberalism and promoted instead a market economy under the guidance and rules of a strong state, a model which came to be known as the social market economy. In the 1960s, usage of the term ‘neoliberal’ heavily declined. When the term was reintroduced in the 1980s in connection with Augusto Pinochet’s economic reforms in Chile, the usage of the term had shifted. It had not only become a term with negative connotations employed principally by critics of market reform, but it also had shifted in meaning from a moderate form of liberalism, to a more radical and laissez-faire capitalist set of ideas. Scholars now tended to associate it with the theories of economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Once the new meaning of neoliberalism was established as a common usage among Spanish-speaking scholars, it diffused directly into the English-language study of political economy. The term neoliberal is now used mainly by those who are critical of legislative initiatives that push for free trade, deregulation, enhanced privatization and an overall reduction in government control of the economy. American scholar Robert W. McChesney notes that the term neoliberalism, which he defines as “capitalism with the gloves off”, is largely unknown by the general public, especially in the United States. Today the term is mostly used as a general condemnation of economic liberalization policies and their advocates.
The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism is a book written by a group of prominent British Liberal Democrat politicians, and edited by David Laws and Paul Marshall in 2004. Beside Laws and Marshall, contributors include Vincent Cable, Nick Clegg, Edward Davey, Chris Huhne, Susan Kramer, Mark Oaten, and Steve Webb. In the book the group offers liberal solutions—often stressing the role of choice and competition—to several societal issues, such as public healthcare, pensions, environment, globalisation, social and agricultural policy, local government, the European Union and prisons. It is usually seen as the most economically liberal publication that the Liberal Democrats have produced in recent times.
The Libertarian Party is an American national political party that reflects, represents and promotes the ideas and philosophies of libertarianism (freedom as a political end) and free-market, laissez-faire capitalism (no government interference in economy). The Libertarian Party was formed in Colorado Springs in the home of David F. Nolan on 11th December 1971. The founding of the party was prompted in part due to concerns about the Vietnam War, conscription and the end of the gold standard. Although there is not an explicitly-labeled ‘left’ or ‘right’ designation of the party, many members, such as 2012 presidential nominee Gary Johnson, state that they are more Socially Liberal than the Democrats, but more Fiscally Conservative than the Republicans. The party has generally promoted a Classical Liberal platform, in contrast to the Social Liberal and Progressive platform of the Democrats and the more Conservative platform of the Republicans. Current policy positions include lowering taxes, allowing people to opt-out of Social Security, abolishing welfare, ending the prohibition of illegal drugs (especially Cannabis) and supporting gun ownership.
In the 30 states where voters can register by party, there are a combined total of 330,811 voters registered under the party. By this count the Libertarian Party is the third-largest party by membership in the United States and it is the third-largest political party in the United States in terms of the popular vote in the country’s elections and number of candidates run per election. Due to this, it has been labelled by some as the United States’ third-largest political party. It is also identified by many as the fastest growing political party in the United States. Hundreds of Libertarian candidates have been elected or appointed to public office and thousands have run for office under the Libertarian banner. The Libertarian Party has many firsts to its credit, such as being the party under which the first electoral vote was cast for a woman in a United States presidential election, due to a faithless elector. The party has also seen electoral success in state legislative races. Three Libertarians were elected in Alaska between 1978 and 1984, with another four elected in New Hampshire in 1992.
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