This essay will examine the core ideas that unite all Liberals but ultimately separate them on their interpretations, which has divided their policy both socially and economically. Although their ideologies have separated, we will look at what links they have with their core beliefs and how this enables both Classical and Modern Liberal thinking to remain liberal. Finally, we will look at how this conflict has shaped political debate and led to broaden ideologies.
Liberalism came about as a consequence of ‘the age of enlightenment’. With the rise of the middle class, throughout the western world, Liberalism developed as a product of the breakdown in feudalism and the growth of a capitalist society. The aspirations of the middle class put into question the monarchist doctrine of ‘the divine right of kings’, and saw this as an unjust reason for determining social position (Heywood, 2012). In 17th century England this led to Civil War with the Monarchists losing to the Parliamentarians who consequently formed a constitutional monarchy. Logically the inequality the previous doctrines had inhibited upon the different classes had to be addressed. Liberal ideology developed from core themes which are: reason, tolerance, individualism, freedom, equality and justice.
Reason was of great importance in liberal thinking, as the groundless notion of ‘the divine right’, gave no logical cause for a person to gain power. Previously it had led to an inequality of life were status was inherent and without merit. Therefore Liberals’ sought reason to be of great value in determining any social policy. This started the belief in the separation of church from state and as Thomas Jefferson states in a letter to the Danbury Baptists, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions... that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion” (Jefferson, 1802). It encouraged rational debate, as it would justly conclude peaceful settlements to violent disputes, rather than religious doctrine, which explains why tolerance is a core belief in liberal values.
Voltaire was attributed to the commitment of toleration when he coined the phrase 'I detest what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it'. The liberal celebration of diversity, within society, was the belief that tolerance was of great benefit to all and gave the individual the opportunity for their opinion to be heard. Using a pluralistic system, to take diverse public opinions when making decisions, was of benefit to find out what was morally right, as out of the multitude of public opinion this would lead to a decision that was right for all. This systemic value empowered the masses and made the individual equal to all others.
An equal and just society was what Liberals strived for and believed all individuals' should be treated with the same value. Justice would be dependent on equality and should distribute the burdens or benefits in accordance to what the individual is due. The individual would be treated of equal worth no matter what formal social status they held and would all be entitled to the same rights. Liberals disapprove of entitling rights to some and not to others. This leads on to the equality of opportunity, as Liberals believe that all individuals should have the chance for progress. Although an individual may be given the same opportunity, Liberals believe in reward for merit and not from circumstance. They believe people have different abilities and some are prepared to work harder than others. Therefore it is essentially