Key Liberal Figures


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Page 1

John Locke (1632-1704)

John Locke is commonly known as the 'Father of Liberalism'. Locke influenced the writings of the Declaration of Independence and produced famous works on toleration and family life. Contrary to most of history, liberalism brought forward the idea that legitimacy rests in the consent of the people rather than divine providence i.e. You are not king because God ordained you to be. Locke wanted to demonstrate two main things: How we leave a peaceful state of nature to a system that guards fundamental liberties Illustrate why governments can be seen as legitimate and why people may obey laws they are not in favour of

Contrary to Hobbes:  Locke took on Hobbes' ideas of the state of nature. However, Locke argued that the state of nature would have been broadly peaceful and even in agreeing to submit to government people still possessed inalienable rights. People gave up some personal freedoms as it better preserved their rights. Natural Rights: Basic rights derived from the law of nature: life, liberty and property The theory of natural rights for Locke puts emphasis on the preservation of the self and whatever is necessary to achieve this Locke is not promoting self-egoism, rather a call to consider others as equal e.g. the right to life is applicable to every human We need to preserve others too; this meaning not to harm or kill them Locke defines the right to acquire property as a liberty - you do not take property that is already owned or steal it Locke’s natural rights are somewhat similar to the idea of modern human rights; they are natural in the sense that they are pre-political   Everyone in the state of nature is entitled to these rights "Men being by nature all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of the this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent." (Second Treatise) Locke argues that natural rights are an entitlement for people as we do not own ourselves but are the property of God He also promoted the idea of property rights: “the chief end of people placing themselves under government is the preservation of property” Locke summed up property in the sense of ‘life, liberty and estate’ Locke claims the natural right to property is connected to the right to one’s life and labour; men have a right to preserve their lives and a man’s labour is his own   Liberty and Individualism: Divinely granted liberty of all individuals - absolute right to preserve one’s life and lay claim to the goods one requires Locke insisted there was no natural basis that justified the submission of one person to another Each individual is the keeper of their own physical and mental abilities and talents Locke is considered a proponent of the doctrine known as ‘possessive individualism’ Locke believes that humans are rational enough in the sense they constrain their freedom to the laws of nature For a government to be in place it must rule based on consent that strictly upholds and protects natural liberties

            "All mankind... being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions."

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John Locke (1632-1704) Continued

The Social Contract: Locke’s aim was to create a liberal framework around the principles of limited government, rights of the individual and government by consent To construct this framework, Locke begins with the assumption that individuals are rational entities When an individual offers their consent to the state they are in some way promoting their own self-interest Because we are rational, we fully understand that our liberties are best protected under the guiding governance of the state The state is the only body that can truly protect our basic liberties and guard us from the threat of social chaos or foreign invasion How is consent expressed? Through an election: government is seeking mandate and is easily identifiable Through tacit consent: consent is evident from the people's’ behaviour and the absence of major social problems With the social contract - the state is obliged to protect the individual, while the individual must accept the laws of the land (if people decide to cause disorder the government has the right to impose sanctions).   Limited Government:  There needs to be a state in order to protect our freedom; a stateless society is one where freedom does not exist: “where law does not exist, man has no freedom” The rights of the individual seem to come second to the majority will in the Lockean state Locke appears as some precursor to Rousseau’s notion of the ‘general will’ Locke could be considered a ‘collectivist’ in the sense that he wishes us to forego the individual purpose for society Locke furthered believed that there should be checks and balances for the government An absolute sovereign cannot sufficiently protect all rights A government is obligated to protect but also enforce rights - therefore, a limited government would be more sensible in order to complete tasks “There can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must subordinate, yet the legislative being only a fiduciary power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them.”  People therefore have right to withdraw their consent against a government that is abusing its power and not completing its duty of upholding natural rights (this is the purpose of limited government). The government has violated the contract and people are free in order to best preserve their lot.   

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John Stuart Mill (1806–73)

Harm Principle:  Mill wanted to investigate: When can the government restrict your freedoms when it comes to law?  For this he developed the harm principle: If your action harms another person then the government has a legitimate basis to interfere and stop you from committing that action, or punish you if you commit it No one should get involved with how someone lives their life, given that they do not harm anyone in the process Mill believed in freedom of speech and argues that merely causing offence to someone is never a grounds for intervention from any body. He was a classical liberal that thought the individual is not accountable to society so far as they concern no one but themselves. The individual has the best access to their own interests and desires.  When a person is only hurting themselves Mill argues people can advise them to adopt self-regarding virtues: If they do not adopt self-regarding virtues then society cannot publicly denounce them Mill contends that in a harmful self-regarding action the only harmed person is the one giving and receiving punishment to themselves The avoidance of harm to others is an other-regarding action The individual is sovereign over himself in mind and body

Utilitarianism and Hedonism:  Utilitarianism is a means of assessing morality, instead of determining what is right and wrong, it observes the result of an action. The consequences of an action are judged and a decision is made whether the action was right or wrong. “The greatest good for the greatest number” - an action is only right or wrong in its effect: Mill argues what will lead society to the greatest good is liberty; allowing people in society to make decisions for themselves Allows individual people do what they feel is best for themselves This is promotion of the philosophy of consequentialism; in the words of Niccolò Machiavelli “the ends justify the means”. Mill begins with the principles that as sovereign entities, humans have the capability to exercise free will - we need to take responsibility for charting a path for our own lives. Otherwise, “he who lets the world … choose his plan of life for him has no need of any other faculty than the apelike one of imitation”.  Mill's utilitarian attitude is closely connected to his ideas of hedonism.  “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” When it came to the topic of happiness, Mill left behind the claims of his own tutor, Bentham, and addressed happiness along his own lines.  Mill thought, above all happiness (pleasure and avoidance of pain), was the highest good. Further, he argued that pleasures could vary in terms of higher or lower pleasures: Lower pleasures: those associated with the physical body; quenching your thirst would be a pleasure Higher pleasures: those associated with the mind, unique to humans e.g. pleasure from listening to opera Mill contended that those who have experienced both types of pleasure recognise that higher pleasures contain much more value. He dismissed those who criticised him by claiming they were lacking or were inexperienced in higher pleasures. Mill argues for a kind of Qualitative Hedonism.  Further, Mill was also one of the very few people in political theory who could be labelled a feminist: Advocated for female emancipation Also hugely in favour of Proportional Representation before it became widespread in politics

"A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

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John Stuart Mill (1806–73) Continued

Mill on Tolerance:  Mill viewed public opinion is uninspiring, calling it the despotism of custom. Public opinion had a tendency to tell everyone to conform to the same manner of acting. The despotism of custom wants to crush self-expression, contrary to the true goal of a liberal society. A liberal society is one that truly tolerates the full diversity of lifestyles. To avoid the despotism of custom people must be willing to avoid forcing their opinions on others unless they are certain that their opinion is true fact. Truth is found when an idea enters the marketplace of ideas and comes out from discussion and experience Mill argued this is most applicable to religion Belief in a deity comes with the followers of such a deity trying to convert others However, throughout history the desire to convert has come at a price of appalling bloodshed and repression Many have sought the advice of Mill in not trying to convert people to their faith Further, Mill notes that the majority can be wrong - they hold no true authority or ultimate certainty - e.g. what was popular in the past is rejected by contemporary society today. Also, that which is seen as right in the present may be seen as wrong in the future. Mill argued we must have the freedom to question beliefs within society. Moreover, the majority may reject certain measures, that in doing so, prevent circumstances arising that would have improved society.

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Thomas Hill Green (1836–1882)

Green was a British intellectual who contributed greatly to the fields of philosophy and politics, in doing so his work was effectively applied to practical politics.  Green believed the state could play a positive role in the lives of people, once people were given the ability to “make the most and best of themselves”. He argued that abject poverty was the root cause of moral degradation: For the self-development of those people in poverty, what is needed is to remove them from their condition He believed the fight against poverty would make men moral and this fight could only be led by the political authority of the state   Theory of Freedom: Green does not promote a negative or unlimited concept of freedom His conception of freedom is positive; the positive power of doing and enjoying something Individuals,for Green, enjoy freedom in cooperation with other citizens, freedom is commonly enjoyed Green is an idealist when it comes to freedom; he wants man to do only those things that will benefit society as a whole If everyone has the opportunity to enjoy this kind of freedom, then morality will arise Green believed that ultimately freedom occurs when people obey the common good The common good is the supreme guide for all people   Theory of Right: Green understood for the flourishing of society people needed freedom and rights. A man has every right to seek his own good in society, but he must remember his duty that his goodness remains contingent upon the goodness of others. The implication of rights and liberty of one individual are dependent on the rights and liberty of another person. Green’s rights are idealistic. When a citizen does not fulfil moral conditions, and shares interests in line with the general interests, then he cannot claim rights: The duty of the state lies in protecting men so their rights are not hindered Green mostly viewed rights from a moral viewpoint The state as an institution does not create rights, rather brings them into full reality and protects them with laws   Theory of State: Green argued the state has to act as a coercive power and it exercises power when required in order to prevent the disturbance of right. For Green, the state makes no discrimination - it develops good relations with all groups and associations within its boundaries. Once again, Green had an ideal conception of the state - the state is a means to an end; the end is to uplift the morals of its citizens and attain the common good. Moreover, Green noted that the state cannot ever legislate in a way that violates the common good of its people The laws of the state are important and should be obeyed “A law is not good because it enforces natural rights, but because it contributes to the realisation of certain end”: Law is meant to promote the habits of a true citizen and does so by freeing the individual of obstacles A true citizen will always seek to participate to promote the general welfare for the common good

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John Rawls (1921-2002)

Rawls aims to identify what is truly unfair in modern politics in his book 'A Theory of Justice'. He notes that things at the moment in the world are inherently unfair. Statistics show the unfairness of society But it can be hard to take this seriously Rawls contended the American Dream was deeply regressive (argued the 'American Dream' prevented rich and powerful members of society tackling unfairness within society) Rawls was after a simple way to show this injustice: those who are born into riches are unaware of what it would have been like to have been born into different circumstances. For Rawls, the concepts of freedom and equality are not mutually exclusive. Rawls was attempting to construct an account of social justice through a social contract standpoint. He argues that the contract in society is a hypothetical one - doesn’t argue that people had existed outside the state or made agreements prior to establishing a particular society. Rawls discusses the idea of justice as fairness - identifies the basic structure of society to begin Considers justice to be a matter of the organisation and internal divisions of a society He then asks the question: what type of organisation of society would a rational person choose, if their initial position was one of freedom and equality This leads Rawls to two principles of justice:  Everyone should have rights to an extensive range of liberties consistent with everyone else enjoying the same liberties (liberty principle) Inequalities should be ordered to everyone’s advantage and arranged so that no person is unable to occupy any position in society (difference principle) This is an egalitarian conception of justice - offers more attention to those born into poor circumstances and lower social status The Liberty principle is egalitarian as it highlights the idea of extensive liberties shared equally between all persons.The Difference principle is egalitarian in the sense it offers opportunities for offices and positions in an equal manner. The Difference principle is non-egalitarian in the sense it makes benefits for those with greater talents, training, abilities etc.

‘The Veil of Ignorance’: Imagine yourself in a conscious intelligible state before your actual birth But without any awareness of the circumstances you are going to be born into Rawls asks us to contemplate this important question: “if we knew nothing about the where we would end up, what sort of a society would it feel safe to enter?” The Veil of Ignorance prevents us from thinking about those who have done quite well and draws our attention to the appalling risks of entering society as if it was a lottery However, it ignores the notion of people being risk-averse; some people may not mind taking the chance of being born into favourable social circumstances The Veil of Ignorance highlights what you want to be fixed in society: Schools need to be good Hospitals should function brilliantly Everyone should have unimpeachable and fair access to the law Housing for everyone Rawls develops a very clear, objective outlook on what we want society to look like. Moreover, there are many different things wrong with the society. Also, different societies will have varying priorities. Rawlsian philosophy seeks to display the notion of ‘justice is fairness’ - principles of justice everyone would agree to in circumstances of ignorance.

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Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

Best known work ‘A Vindication of the Rights of the Woman’ - Wollstonecraft argued that men and women should be treated as equally rational human beings: Women were not naturally inferior to men They may appear this way because they were denied the same educational chances One of the greatest quotes to surface in feminism was from her “the mind has no gender”. Wollstonecraft was an advocate for formal equality: Women and men should be entitled to the exact same civil liberties Women could then experience life free from the chains of patriarchy Women should be even allowed to have a career outside of the home in this form of equality  This led to Wollstonecraft being the founder of the feminist movement She ignited the first wave of feminism by standing out in a society that would not accept her ideas   Reason: She argued that women need to be educated in body and mind, this would allow them to be better wives, mothers and citizens. This would also make them fully human - beings ruled by reason (rational) and characterised by self-command The development of reason is what would aspire women to obtain full citizenship This is would allow rational women can perceive their real duties "Reason should cultivate and govern those instincts which are implanted in us to render the path of duty pleasant—for if they are not governed they will run wild; and strengthen the passions which are ever endeavouring to obtain dominion—I mean vanity and self-love."   In ‘A Vindication of the Rights of the Woman’, Wollstonecraft made important contributions to: aristocracy and republicanism Aristocracy: She states that there are many similarities between aristocracy and patriarchal rule of the time - a hierarchical system that rates the educated male above everyone else and ultimately subjugates the female. Further, because the aristocracy lack any seriousness they cannot function in a way that is worthy and influential to all people. Republicanism: Believes in a republic that leads to the overthrowing of all titles, including those of the monarchy. The majority of Wollstonecraft’s political criticism is in relation to morality. Her view of virtue focuses on society as a whole; she explains natural rights to proceed ultimately from God and that there are duties attached to those rights. For her, the individual is taught republicanism in the family.   The Revolution Controversy: This was a British debate that occurred over the French Revolution from 1789-1795 Wollstonecraft was one figure to respond to the revolution, defending it, just as Edmund Burke did The Revolution led to her producing ‘A Vindication of the Rights of the Woman’ It was in this text that Wollstonecraft highlighted how the French revolution needed to include the reforming of political and social structures of women in society and their personal space. Through debates, Wollstonecraft pushed the idea that women should be equal, receiving education regardless of their race or class. Wollstonecraft wanted to give women an opportunity to develop themselves and deliver them from the stereotype that a woman is concerned only with herself.

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Betty Friedan (1921−2006)

Friedan was crucial in beginning the second wave of feminism. Her main contribution to the movement was ‘The Feminine Mystique’ - highlighted the main issues facing the American housewife: Friedan identified the boundaries that were being placed on American housewives Outlined the frustrations of those who felt trapped by the confines of what society expected of them Friedan’s research led to the devastating question of ‘is this all?’ - this is what she called the “the problem with no name” - a tangible dissatisfaction that lay in the minds of American wives Due to this cultural stereotype, Friedan argued that women were prevented from fulfilling their full potential According to Friedan; “the feminine mystique says that the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfilment of their own femininity.” Women are taught to believe that their lives revolve around marriage, home and family and material well-being Women want more from life though Friedan, in a time of conservative social attitudes, argued that women were just as capable of men in performing any type of work and pursuing any career path. She lobbied constantly in trying to raise awareness of the oppression of women and wanted legislative reform to address inequalities in gender. Friedan is an example of a women’s works that strengthened the liberal position of pursuing female emancipation.   Civil Rights and Feminist Contributions: Helped found the National Organisation for Women (NOW) in 1966, she became the first president of the organisation: The organisation worked for political reforms in order to secure the legal equality of women The organisation also worked had to enforce the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act: this prohibited employers discriminating on the basis of sex NOW achieved a number of other things: Lobbied for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment Called for federally funded day care centres to be established Legalization of abortion and development of abortion rights Friedan was one of the feminist leaders who formed the National Women’s Political Caucus. She became an influential spokesperson for women’s rights nationally and internationally e.g. in 1974, meeting with Pope Paul VI, she called the Catholic Church to understand the full personhood of women.

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