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The origins of rights were seen as being in an ancient constitution , which had existed from time immemorial. These rights, which some Whigs considered to include freedom of the press and freedom of speech, were justified by custom rather than as natural rights. These Whigs believed that the power of the executive had to be constrained. While they supported limited suffrage, they saw voting as a privilege rather than as a right.

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However, there was no consistency in Whig ideology and diverse writers including John Locke , David Hume , Adam Smith and Edmund Burke were all influential among Whigs, although none of them was universally accepted. From the s to the s, British radicals concentrated on parliamentary and electoral reform, emphasising natural rights and popular sovereignty. Richard Price and Joseph Priestley adapted the language of Locke to the ideology of radicalism. There was greater unity among classical liberals than there had been among Whigs.

Classical liberals were committed to individualism, liberty, and equal rights. They believed these goals required a free economy with minimal government interference. Some elements of Whiggery were uncomfortable with the commercial nature of classical liberalism.

These elements became associated with conservatism. Classical liberalism was the dominant political theory in Britain from the early 19th century until the First World War. The Anti-Corn Law League brought together a coalition of liberal and radical groups in support of free trade under the leadership of Richard Cobden and John Bright , who opposed aristocratic privilege, militarism, and public expenditure and believed that the backbone of Great Britain was the yeoman farmer.

Their policies of low public expenditure and low taxation were adopted by William Ewart Gladstone when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer and later Prime Minister. Classical liberalism was often associated with religious dissent and nonconformism. Although classical liberals aspired to a minimum of state activity, they accepted the principle of government intervention in the economy from the early 19th century on, with passage of the Factory Acts. From around to , laissez-faire advocates of the Manchester School and writers in The Economist were confident that their early victories would lead to a period of expanding economic and personal liberty and world peace, but would face reversals as government intervention and activity continued to expand from the s.

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  5. Jeremy Bentham and James Mill , although advocates of laissez-faire , non-intervention in foreign affairs, and individual liberty, believed that social institutions could be rationally redesigned through the principles of utilitarianism. The Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli rejected classical liberalism altogether and advocated Tory democracy. By the s, Herbert Spencer and other classical liberals concluded that historical development was turning against them.

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    The changing economic and social conditions of the 19th century led to a division between neo-classical and social or welfare liberals, who while agreeing on the importance of individual liberty differed on the role of the state. Neo-classical liberals, who called themselves "true liberals", saw Locke's Second Treatise as the best guide and emphasised "limited government" while social liberals supported government regulation and the welfare state. Herbert Spencer in Britain and William Graham Sumner were the leading neo-classical liberal theorists of the 19th century.

    In the United States, liberalism took a strong root because it had little opposition to its ideals, whereas in Europe liberalism was opposed by many reactionary or feudal interests such as the nobility, the aristocracy, the landed gentry, the established church and the aristocratic army officers. Thomas Jefferson adopted many of the ideals of liberalism, but in the Declaration of Independence changed Locke's "life, liberty and property" to the more socially liberal " Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness ".

    The economic ideas of the Jacksonian era were almost universally the ideas of classical liberalism.

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    Leading magazine The Nation espoused liberalism every week starting in under the influential editor Edwin Lawrence Godkin — The ideas of classical liberalism remained essentially unchallenged until a series of depressions , thought to be impossible according to the tenets of classical economics , led to economic hardship from which the voters demanded relief.

    In the words of William Jennings Bryan , " You shall not crucify the American farmer on a cross of gold ". Classical liberalism remained the orthodox belief among American businessmen until the Great Depression. The Great Depression of the s saw a sea change in liberalism, with priority shifting from the producers to consumers. Franklin D.

    Roosevelt 's New Deal represented the dominance of modern liberalism in politics for decades. In the words of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. When the growing complexity of industrial conditions required increasing government intervention in order to assure more equal opportunities, the liberal tradition, faithful to the goal rather than to the dogma, altered its view of the state.

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    Alan Wolfe summarizes the viewpoint that there is a continuous liberal understanding that includes both Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes : [47]. The idea that liberalism comes in two forms assumes that the most fundamental question facing mankind is how much government intervenes into the economy. Both of them possessed an expansive sense of what we are put on this earth to accomplish. For Keynes, monopolies were. It makes perfect sense for an eighteenth-century thinker to conclude that humanity would flourish under the market.

    For a twentieth century thinker committed to the same ideal, government was an essential tool to the same end. The view that modern liberalism is a continuation of classical liberalism is not universally shared.

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    Lerner , John Micklethwait , Adrian Wooldridge and several other political scholars have argued that classical liberalism still exists today, but in the form of American conservatism. Central to classical liberal ideology was their interpretation of John Locke 's Second Treatise of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration , which had been written as a defence of the Glorious Revolution of Although these writings were considered too radical at the time for Britain's new rulers, they later came to be cited by Whigs, radicals and supporters of the American Revolution.

    For example, there is little mention of constitutionalism , the separation of powers and limited government. James L. Richardson identified five central themes in Locke's writing: individualism , consent, the concepts of the rule of law and government as trustee, the significance of property and religious toleration. Although Locke did not develop a theory of natural rights, he envisioned individuals in the state of nature as being free and equal.

    The individual, rather than the community or institutions, was the point of reference. Locke believed that individuals had given consent to government and therefore authority derived from the people rather than from above. This belief would influence later revolutionary movements. As a trustee, government was expected to serve the interests of the people, not the rulers; and rulers were expected to follow the laws enacted by legislatures. Locke also held that the main purpose of men uniting into commonwealths and governments was for the preservation of their property. Despite the ambiguity of Locke's definition of property, which limited property to "as much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of", this principle held great appeal to individuals possessed of great wealth.

    Locke held that the individual had the right to follow his own religious beliefs and that the state should not impose a religion against Dissenters , but there were limitations. No tolerance should be shown for atheists , who were seen as amoral, or to Catholics , who were seen as owing allegiance to the Pope over their own national government. Adam Smith 's The Wealth of Nations , published in , was to provide most of the ideas of economics, at least until the publication of John Stuart Mill 's Principles of Political Economy in Smith wrote that as long as supply, demand, prices and competition were left free of government regulation, the pursuit of material self-interest, rather than altruism, would maximise the wealth of a society [15] through profit-driven production of goods and services.

    An " invisible hand " directed individuals and firms to work toward the public good as an unintended consequence of efforts to maximise their own gain.


    This provided a moral justification for the accumulation of wealth, which had previously been viewed by some as sinful. He assumed that workers could be paid wages as low as was necessary for their survival, which was later transformed by David Ricardo and Thomas Robert Malthus into the " iron law of wages ". Smith's economics was carried into practice in the nineteenth century with the lowering of tariffs in the s, the repeal of the Poor Relief Act that had restricted the mobility of labour in and the end of the rule of the East India Company over India in In addition to Smith's legacy, Say's law , Thomas Robert Malthus ' theories of population and David Ricardo 's iron law of wages became central doctrines of classical economics.

    The pessimistic nature of these theories provided a basis for criticism of capitalism by its opponents and helped perpetuate the tradition of calling economics the " dismal science ". Jean-Baptiste Say was a French economist who introduced Smith's economic theories into France and whose commentaries on Smith were read in both France and Britain.

    However, neither of those observations became accepted by British economists at the time. His most important contribution to economic thinking was Say's law, which was interpreted by classical economists that there could be no overproduction in a market and that there would always be a balance between supply and demand. Following this law, since the economic cycle was seen as self-correcting, government did not intervene during periods of economic hardship because it was seen as futile.

    Malthus wrote two books, An Essay on the Principle of Population published in and Principles of Political Economy published in The second book which was a rebuttal of Say's law had little influence on contemporary economists. In that book, Malthus claimed that population growth would outstrip food production because population grew geometrically while food production grew arithmetically. As people were provided with food, they would reproduce until their growth outstripped the food supply.

    Nature would then provide a check to growth in the forms of vice and misery. No gains in income could prevent this and any welfare for the poor would be self-defeating. The poor were in fact responsible for their own problems which could have been avoided through self-restraint.

    Ricardo, who was an admirer of Smith, covered many of the same topics, but while Smith drew conclusions from broadly empirical observations he used deduction, drawing conclusions by reasoning from basic assumptions [76] While Ricardo accepted Smith's labour theory of value , he acknowledged that utility could influence the price of some rare items. Rents on agricultural land were seen as the production that was surplus to the subsistence required by the tenants. Wages were seen as the amount required for workers' subsistence and to maintain current population levels. Ricardo explained profits as a return on capital, which itself was the product of labour, but a conclusion many drew from his theory was that profit was a surplus appropriated by capitalists to which they were not entitled. Utilitarianism provided the political justification for implementation of economic liberalism by British governments, which was to dominate economic policy from the s. Although utilitarianism prompted legislative and administrative reform and John Stuart Mill 's later writings on the subject foreshadowed the welfare state , it was mainly used as a justification for laissez-faire.

    The central concept of utilitarianism, which was developed by Jeremy Bentham , was that public policy should seek to provide "the greatest happiness of the greatest number". While this could be interpreted as a justification for state action to reduce poverty, it was used by classical liberals to justify inaction with the argument that the net benefit to all individuals would be higher.

    Classical liberals saw utility as the foundation for public policies. This broke both with conservative " tradition " and Lockean "natural rights" , which were seen as irrational.

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    Utility, which emphasises the happiness of individuals, became the central ethical value of all liberalism. However, classical liberals rejected Smith's belief that the "invisible hand" would lead to general benefits and embraced Malthus' view that population expansion would prevent any general benefit and Ricardo's view of the inevitability of class conflict. Laissez-faire was seen as the only possible economic approach and any government intervention was seen as useless and harmful.