Liberalism: Changes from Classical Liberalism Onward

Classical liberalism, liberal change and the United States
Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix. How has liberalism changed from classical liberalism to current ideas of liberalism? (Photo: Public Domain)

Classical liberalism is an ideology that advocates freedom of the individual through minimization of state power. In economics, classical liberalism emphasizes individual freedom to hold and own private property and to do business in the free market system. It also enables individuals to fulfill their personal goals. In classical liberalism, individuals have rights based on natural law. These rights based on natural law are reserved and cannot be subject to limitation from the state. In classical liberalism, the individual has natural rights that remain even when the social contract is considered. This is contrary to the idea that the rights of the individual are transferred to the state through the social contract.

Liberalism evolves through time, such that its current meaning is not the same as the classical liberalism of the past.

Changes from Classical Liberalism to Contemporary Liberalism

The term “liberal” has changed from the time of classical liberalism to current notions of what it means to be liberal. In the United States, liberal politicians claim to advocate of classical liberalism. However, the characteristics of liberalism in the United States are just limited applications of some general ideas of classical liberalism.

Current American liberalism includes reducing the size of government, rather than reducing government power. Liberalism now also adds various freedoms that are not included in the natural rights of the individual person under classical liberalism. Moreover, liberalism now supports the idea that the economy should be under the ownership of individual persons, and without state ownership. Thus, liberalism supports privatization of public organizations and services. Liberalism today also supports some socialist programs, such as welfare programs.

The evolution of liberalism from classical liberalism to its present-day form supports the rights and freedoms of the individual person. Liberalism continues to support some forms of socialism, but the United States is unlikely to become a full-blown socialist nation. Liberalism will continue to support and protect the rights and freedoms of individuals. The change would be worse if it leads to the dismantling of state power and government and the society transforms into socialism, which looks good on paper but not in practice. Given current conditions, the changes in liberalism have been for the better.

References
  • Bilgrami, A. (2015). The Ambitions of Classical Liberalism: Mill on Truth and Liberty. Revue Internationale de Philosophie272(2), 175-182.
  • Cato Institute (2013). A New Intellectual History of Classical Liberalism.
  • Epstein, R. (2014, May 19). Why we need classical liberalism. Hoover Institution.
  • Pennington, M. (2014). Realistic Idealism and Classical Liberalism: Evaluating Free Market Fairness. Critical Review26(3-4), 375-407.
  • Poovey, M. (2013). The Search for Habit in Classical Liberalism. Body & Society19(2-3), 263-274.
  • Schnellenbach, J. (2015). Does classical liberalism imply an evolutionary approach to policy-making?. Journal of Bioeconomics17(1), 53-70.
  • Tarko, V. (2013). Mark Pennington, Robust Political Economy: Classical Liberalism and the Future of Public Policy. The Review of Austrian Economics,26(2), 243-245.
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