Classical Liberalism

Classical liberalism began in the late eighteenth century and began to flourish during the nineteenth century. Classical liberalism is a political ideology that argues for a minimal relationship between the civil society, and the state or government. The goal of classical liberalism is to be the ideal society; one in which individuals have the freedom and the right to do things as they choose with minimum government interference. Some of t he main characteristics that attribute to classical liberalism are as follows: self-interest, individual rights and freedom (individualism), private property, economic freedom, competition, and rule of law.

*Watch the video below for the principles of Classical Liberalism

The well-known philosopher who is often referred to as “The Father of Classical Liberalism”, John Locke, argued that the government’s role should only be to guarantee that individuals have security while they are on their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness (which he refers to as the natural rights); and to protect private property. In Locke’s most famous writing, Second Treatise of Government, he argued that individuals should be able to choose what they feel is best for themselves as long as it is within the respects of the law. It is in Locke’s writings where he began to showcase the idea of individualism.
The essay “Self-Reliance” by the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, strongly promotes individualism. There are several similarities in thoughts and writings of Locke and Emerson. They both believe that every individual is entitled is able to do as they choose; emphasizing of individual rights. They slightly differ on the rule of law. Locke believes that individuals should be free to do as they choose while still respecting the law; while Emerson believes that submitting to the law takes away from him being able to be an individual. Emerson stated that“no law can be sacred to me but that of my nature” in the essay “Self-Reliance”.

Another early supporter of classical liberalism is Adam Smith. Smith focused more on government interference in the economy. Smith invented the term ‘invisible hand’. This term is used as metaphor for the market, favoring their natural rights; which leads business owners to have the right to make a profit, and maximize it without the need of interference from the government.

aynrand-1Ayn Rand is a philosopher from Russia, who moved to America and suddenly began to make a lot of critiques about the American government.One of Rand’s most famous book is Fountainhead; in her writings it became clear that she despised any type of assistance from the government. I feel as if Rand and Smith’s ideas are related because they both believe that the economy would be better off if the government didn’t provide assistance to individuals; they also believe that competition between businesses is what the economy needs.

In my opinion, the ideas of classical liberalism are still incorporated into today’s society. In particular I see a lot of the common ground of classical liberalism within the conservative party’s such as republicans. Republicans typically care more about themselves and their families (individualism), and they are also known not to support systems that provide assistance (government interference), the only advocate for things that are a benefit (self-interest) to them.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

-Taundra Rose

About trose91

Political Science Major @ Arizona State University
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7 Responses to Classical Liberalism

  1. ricquelln says:

    I have read about all these three mentioned people, in prior classes, and there are definitely some aspects that I love about their beliefs, but there are also some beliefs of theirs that make me want to deny the fact that I am a fan of classical liberalism. One thing I have noticed about talking to fellow peers about classical liberalism is that they confusion classical with American liberalism. I did find a video that, I think, gave a good explanation on both.

  2. malloysells says:

    Great post Rose!
    I took POS 210 last semester, and I know we covered Adam Smith and his Invisible Hand Theory, but I still had a hard time understanding the overall concept. I was truly hoping I would never hear that phrase again, or need to understand it, but when you referenced it in your post I figured it was time to do some googling and find an extremely simplified version of the definition. I mean who doesn’t love a good cartoon version of a political science reference? Anyway, I found this video super helpful, so if anyone in our class is having a hard time understanding specifically the Invisible Hand concept, y’all should take a look!

  3. pooh0bear8 says:

    Never heard of the term Invisible Hand, but it does fit perfectly with the concept of the classical liberal. Quoting the blog “…market, favoring their natural rights; which leads business owners to have the right to make a profit, and maximize it without the need of interference from the government.” That got me thinking about is government actual a ‘bad’ for society? In many ways yes because government dictate rules to how you can live your life, but then those rules insure structure to make sure society doesn’t fall apart. If was not for ‘New Deal’ and WWII during FDR’s administration what would have happen to the United States of America?

    One last thing this being completely subjective. The current Republican ‘party’ does not fit the classical liberalism stamp, and expanding upon that neither parties does. Republicans want their massive armies, NSA, etc… to protect them, and Democrats want their social program to support the less fortunate. I am not saying that either party is right or wrong, just challenging the idea if the classical liberal still exist in the United States of America today?

  4. iannukem says:

    I agree with your point that the you can see a that a large part of the current Republican party hold many Classic Liberal values. Just the Ayn Rand quote alone sounds like an argument that Republican candidates have been making on the campaign trail. But what about our Democrat party? They have held the beliefs recently that there should the government shouldn’t restrict things such as marijuana (in both legalization/decriminalization and ending mandatory minimums) and who you can marry, political items that center around granting more personal freedoms. I think both parties do their best to appeal to the individualistic desires of the American Citizen for more personal choices and freedoms but disagree on where to the increase (or decrease) personal freedoms.

  5. iramsey918 says:

    Excellent post Rose!
    I confess myself to have been a little confused learning about Classic Libertarianism lately. Looking at today’s average American Libertarian it seemed to me that they deviate from classical thought, extremely in some areas such as social and economic issues. After reading your post and the comment by ricquelln, it helped me to understand that although liberalism may have started out pure and anti-big government, it has since evolved in the U.S. to something much different, until the classical had to be replaced with American liberalism. I came across an article that helped me to further understand the original thought of classical liberalism in America and have included it here. Thank you for posting!

  6. christiesm says:

    You did an excellent job explaining classic liberalism, it helped me to understand more about it. I didn’t know the term ” invisible hand”, thanks for including this information on your post.
    I agree with you that classic liberalism are still incorporated in today’s society and we can see it in our daily lives. Republicans are a really good example of it, promoting individualism and not too much intervention of the government, but we also can observe classic liberal thoughts with the democrats, I believe both parties have individualistic thoughts and the concept of freedom have changed over time.

  7. Taundra Rose says:

    Wow. I would like to you all for responding to my post. I makes me feel great that I was able to provide some clarification Classical Liberalism. At the time I too found myself lost and confused about Classical Liberalism which is why I choose classical liberalism as the topic for my first blog. I truly appreciate and value the feedback from you all. In addition after reading all of your comments and watching the videos I gained more knowledge on the topic. Thanks to all whom have commented.

    -Taundra Rose

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