Classical Liberalism: Review

Classical Liberalism is a modern ideology, which is based around a notion of natural rights. It was established in the late 17th and 18th centuries by a series of foundational writings from three famous authors. Among these works are John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1689) and Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Classic Liberal authors did not stop producing books after the enlightenment, and the lecture contains the most noteworthy examples from various periods in history.

As mentioned before, the Classic Liberal ideology has a core idea regarding natural rights. The term should not be confused with human rights, as they could have a drastically different meaning, and do not necessarily align with Classic Liberalism. These rights originate from the natural abilities and needs of all human beings and cannot be altered or removed. While social rights are given to a person by the majority of their community and are meant to protect the interest of the society, natural rights serve to protect the needs of an individual.

Among the natural rights protected by Classic Liberalism is the right to private property. It is considered a natural right because of the way people obtain it. In most cases, individuals receive property, such as money, in exchange for some goods or services they produced. Goods or services are made using the individual’s mental faculties – their natural ability to reason, to will, and to feel. These faculties add value to the product, warranting the individual’s right to possess something in exchange for that product. In this ideology, such exchange is regulated by the free market – an economic system where individuals, not the government, decide what to produce, sell, buy, and consume, as well as the prices and all other aspects.

Modern Liberalism

Modern Liberalism is an ideology that appeared soon after the debut of Classical Liberalism and developed alongside it. Some of the books contributing to it are The New State (1918) by Mary Parker Follet and The Theory of the State (1875) by Johann Bluntschli. As can be seen from the titles of these works, the followers of this ideology do not agree with Classic Liberals regarding the role of government and the amount of power it should have. Consequently, they are also opposed to the idea of natural rights of an individual prevailing over society.

The Modern Liberal view of democracy is also different, as it is centered around the idea of overcoming differences and unifying all members of society by eliminating conflicts. This is a departure from Classic Liberalism, which states that the purpose of democratic systems is to express conflict peacefully and that all people are naturally diverse. Modern Liberals disagree with this, as they believe that humans are capable of evolving past their differences and becoming part of an all-inclusive community. In their view, the ideal society is controlled by one purpose and is devoid of disagreements. They see freedom as the right to contribute to the shared consciousness of the community and express will through the state, not as a set of individual rights.

Inseparable from the Modern Liberal ideology is the notion of a Welfare State. The first function of such a state is redistributing wealth – usually by taxing the rich to provide essential services for the less fortunate. A welfare state also regulates some aspects of the economy by restricting the supply of some products or services to sustain a desired level of prices. The regulation can also happen indirectly, as is the case with American private healthcare depending heavily on the income from the socialized Medicare health insurance program.


Communism is a modern ideology that was conceptualized by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto (1848). This worldview is based on a view of society as two distinct classes – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie was also known as factory owners and described a relatively small group of people who owned the technology or the equipment used to make products for sale. The proletariat represents an overwhelming majority of society – the workers who use the technology but do not own it and get paid only for their time. Marx and Engels view these groups as radically opposed to each other and deny the existence of any diversity within them.

Marx and Engels had a grim vision of the future of industrial societies. They believed that industrialization would create more wealth, but feared that almost all of it will be controlled by the bourgeoisie, leaving the vast majority of people in subsistence poverty. The creators of communism predicted that such conditions would eventually force the oppressed but numerous proletariat to overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish communism by the beginning of the 20th century.

This prediction did not turn out to be correct, as the quality of life in most industrialized societies gradually improved instead of declining as Marx and Engels expected. Moreover, the states where communist revolutions did occur were far from perfect, with totalitarian regimes and concentration camps. Still, Marx and Engels had a lasting impact on society, as some elements of their ideas can be seen in modern socialist ideologies.


Socialism is a modern ideology based on the idea of state officials controlling the economy, as opposed to capitalism, where private individuals control the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. This philosophy was created as a revised version of communism by the German philosopher Eduard Bernstein in his book The Preconditions of Socialism (1899). Bernstein though to alter Marx and Engels’ original idea because their predictions regarding the failure of capitalism did not come true.

Bernstein’s version of communism noted the fact that the living condition of the working class improved over time, and there was no motivation for a violent revolution, so he proposed a new 3-step plan. First, the proletariat, or the working class, would organize socialist political parties. Next, working-class voters use democracy to put the aforementioned parties in control of the state. Finally, socialist parties would change property laws to allow for state ownership of all means of production.

A prominent example of this would be the rise of the British Labour Party when it won a major election in 1945. The party implemented numerous socialist policies which granted the state control over energy, transportation, healthcare, and more. Some policies had to be reverted to a certain degree, as they seemed to hinder economic development. By the end of the 20th century, Great Britain became a Welfare State with some socialist policies, such as the National Health Service. The essential difference between a socialist state and a Welfare State is that socialism aims to eliminate capitalism, while a Welfare State is not opposed to and only regulates certain parts of the economy.

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