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  • The liberal tradition of Political Science is derived from the Latin word liber which refers to a class of free people.

  • Liberalism represents the freedom of an individual which is consistent with the freedom of the society the individual inhabits.

  • It works on the premise of constitutionalism and consent and the state under liberal tradition works under the principle of Laissez-Faire i.e., leave the man alone.

  • The pillar of liberalism is to protect the citizen from the tyranny of the government.

  • Liberalism as a political alternative emerged after the breakdown of Feudalism in Western Europe.

  • The English civil war in the 17th, French Revolution in 1789, and the American Revolution in 1776. These were based on questioning the divine rights of monarchial powers which derived their legitimacy from an unelected aristocracy.

  • The development of Liberalism as a political tradition was also a result of industrialization happening in 19th century Europe.

  • Industrialization offered economic mobility to a certain section of society that was previously not in a position to assert its rights.

  • Liberalism thus opened doors for a “rising middle class” that was previously out of the decision-making processes.

  • The context of liberal tradition as mention is 18th & 19th century Europe. It was largely influenced by Enlightenment.


1. Individualism

  • Now individualism does not mean some simplistic faith that individuals live in an atomistic way.

  • No individuals are social beings and that is also precisely why they need rights: individual rights are to be understood in relation to others.

  • The idea that an individual should have the full autonomy to develop their potential to the maximum extent possible is an article of faith of liberal tradition.

  • Immanuel Kant expressed a belief in the dignity and equality of all human beings and how individuals are an end to themselves.

  • Whereas, C.B Macpherson characterizes liberalism as “possessive individualism” due to liberalism overemphasis on individual who is first and foremost concerned with their interest and welfare rather than the welfare of the society.

2. Freedom

  • The idea of freedom is the unifying force of the entire liberal ideology.

  • Human existence is not fulfilled unless nourished by the idea of liberty.

  • Freedom is the means to the ends of individuals.

  • John Stuart Mill terms this as a harm principle where the liberty of one person does not harm the liberty of anyone else such as “self-regarding” and “other-regarding”.

  • Self regarding action allows the individual to enjoy absolute freedom and the other regarding which can restrict the freedom of others or do them damage

  • Freedom of choice is essential for civilized society worthy of the name – that is, a society made of free and responsible individuals.

  • John Rawls endorses the idea that everyone has entitled to the widest possible liberty that is consistent with a like liberty for all.

  • Isaiah Berlin for example distinguishes between two kinds of liberty - Negative Liberty and Positive Liberty.

  • The former is negative in the sense that it denotes an absence of external restrictions or constraints i.e., an individual is to be left alone and must be able to act in a way he or she prefers.

  • Positive Liberty on the other hand represents that one is autonomous or one’s own master.

3. Reason

  • The liberal tradition gains its legitimacy from the idea of reason.

  • Individuals are free or are at liberty because they are capable of thinking rationally and deciding on and pursuing their best interests.

  • Liberals are strongly biased against the values of paternalism which is authority exercised from above and is modeled on the relationship between father and child.

  • The second key of the reason is the idea of progress and advancement.

  • The third pillar for the case of the reason is Knowledge.

  • Finally, Reason dictates the ideas of supporting discussion debate, and arguments, the liberals staunchly believe that conflict can be settled through debate and negotiation, the use of violence is only justified for self-defense, countering oppression, and defending one’s liberty.

4. Justice

  • Justice in a more general sense if giving an individual what they are due i.e., what is entitled to them.

  • The liberal idea of justice on the other hand represents different types of equality.

  • The tenets of equality for liberals are based on the idea that individuals have equal moral worth.

  • The second foundational principle is the idea of equal citizenship i.e., each citizen is entitled to rights and liberties extended to the next citizen.

  • Factors such as class, caste, gender, race, color. Liberalism in this sense is “difference blind”.

  • The idea of liberty enforces the principle of legality in the decision-making and electoral process where every citizen gets a vote and that vote has one value.

  • The third tenant of liberal justice is the idea of equality of justice, there needs to be an equal playing field.

  • The idea is that an individual must have equal opportunities to develop their unique skills and abilities.

  • This leads to the idea of “meritocracy” that is one’s social position is defined by one’s ability and hard work.

5. Toleration

  • Spinoza or Voltaire for example were great thinkers who understood the value – the human value – of tolerance

  • Toleration is built on the fact that individuals may differ in endowments, opinions, gender, caste, religious inclinations sexualities, etc., but they must be free to pursue their for liberal tradition stand.

  • John Locke for example defended an individual right to pursue his or her religion without the interference of the state.

  • J.S Mill in his treatise titled On Liberty defended the right to freedom of speech.

  • “I detest what you say but will defend till death your right to say it” – Voltaire.

The Liberal State

  • The values of liberal tradition cannot be realized on their own, they require a mechanism and a political social order to be implemented.

  • Liberals staunchly believe that both law and governance are necessary to prevent individuals from exploiting each other.

  • The liberty of one person must not become a license to abuse another.

  • Freedom must therefore be exercised within the means of law.

  • John Locks and Thomas Hobbes proposes the idea of a social contract where individuals get into a contract with a sovereign state whose purpose is to defend the individual’s life and liberty.

  • In exchange, the individual is expected to follow the laws and obey the government.

  • The social contract is based on two premises that political authority comes in the sense “from below” (authority elected by the people) and that the state acts as an umpire or a neutral referee in society.

  • The liberal state follows the idea of constitutionalism where the government derives its power and legitimacy from an agreed-upon set of laws and principles that are consensually agreed upon by the citizens.

  • This prevents any potential tyranny by the government which also has to work within the constraints of a constitution.

The Schools of Liberal Thought

Classical Liberalism

  • Classical Liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom.

  • Three principles of classical liberalism:

1. Individualism:

  • Belief in the supreme importance of individual and individual autonomy.

  • "Individuals are rational creatures that are entitled to the greatest possible freedom."

  • Believe in complete freedom to every individual for the complete possible personality development.

2. Social Contract Theory: (By John Locke)

  • Locke is the first liberal giving the concept of natural rights and is also the representative thinker of this age.

  • He considered human nature to be cooperative and friendly that must be given freedom.

  • He believed that men being rational can live in harmony with others.

3. Laissez Faire and Minimal State

  • Adam Smith gave the concept of "Laissez Faire" in his book Wealth of Nations which means minimum intervention.

  • It means that state will intervene minimally in the market.

  • Markets should be left completely free.

Social Darwinism

The idea of Social Darwinism is derivative of the theory proposed by Darwin in the origin of species by Darwin of the doctrine of the survival of the fittest. Here the individual will only survive based on his one merit and hard work. Neoliberalism or Neoclassical Liberalism: The idea of neoclassical liberalism was “counter-revolution” which was to halt or reverse the trend towards big government and state intervention. The idea of the market was supreme to the government and must be free from any political control.


  • Set of economic policies that have become widespread since last 25 years.

  • Thinkers like Robert Nozick, Milton Friedman etc.

  • Attempt to bring back the principles of classical liberalism.

  • They denounced the concept of welfare state,and tries to restore back the concept of Laissez

  • Faire not only in economic sphere but also in social and political sphere.

  • They supported the concept of free market economy and for that they proposed the least control of government in economic and social life.

  • It is against any kind of social and legal restrictions on individual's freedom.

Modern Liberalism

  • The idea of modern liberalism developed in the 20th century in the later stages of industrialization to address the spread of slums, poverty, ignorance, and disease.

  • The idea of unrestricted freedom of individuals and a free market could not translate into an equally just society.

  • Modern Liberalism was based on certain values which differed from the classical ones: The idea of Individuality- According to J.S Mill liberty did not just mean the absence of constraints but also a positive and constructive force where individuals take control of their destiny and achieve self-realization.

  • He believed in the idea of individuality which is the fulfillment of self achieved through the realization of an individual distinctive or unique identity or qualities that distinguish one person from all others.

  • The second value endorsed by the Modern Liberals is the idea of Positive Freedom advocated by T.H Green .

  • Social Liberalism was sought by the Modern Liberals where the minimal state was to be replaced by a welfare state which takes the responsibility for the social welfare of its citizens discharged through a range of social security, health education, and other services.

  • The final tenant of modern liberalism is the idea of economic management. The modern liberals discarded the idea of Lassiez Faire and instead replaced it with the Keynesian doctrine which is named after John Maynard Keynes who in his The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (Keynes,1936) argued that government could manage their economies by influencing the levels of aggregate demand.

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11 juil.
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Thank you! It helped me lot during my exams.


17 sept. 2023
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