Liberalism, philosophy or movement that has as its aim the development of individual freedom.
Because the concepts of liberty or freedom change in different historical periods the specific programs of liberalism also change. The final aim of liberalism, however, remains fixed, as does
its characteristic belief not only in essential human goodness but also in human rationality. Liberalism assumes that people, having a rational intellect, have the ability to recognize problems and solve them and thus can achieve systematic improvement in the human condition. Often opposed to liberalism is the doctrine of conservatism, which, simply stated, supports the maintenance of the status quo. Liberalism, which seeks what it considers to be improvement or progress, necessarily desires to change the existing order.
Neither individualism nor the belief that freedom is a primary political good are immutable laws of history. Only in the Western world in the last several centuries have they assumed such importance as social factors that they could be blended into a political creed. Although Christianity had long taught the worth of the individual soul and the Renaissance had placed a value upon individualism in limited circles, it was not until the Reformation that the importance of independent individual thought and action were expressed in the teachings of Protestantism. At the same time, centralizing monarchs were destroying feudalism and alongside the nobility arose the bourgeoisie, a new social class that demanded the right to function in society, especially commercially, without restriction. This process took several centuries, and it may be said that the first philosopher to offer a complete liberal doctrine of individual freedom was the Englishman John Locke (1689). From this period on the doctrines of classical liberalism were evolved.
Classical liberalism stressed not only human rationality but the import... Continue Reading