• There are many versions of liberal theory, but the central point of all versions is freedom.
    • However, the context of freedom has been defined differently by liberal thinkers.
  • What is liberal theory or liberalism?
    • As a writer has said, liberalism is a principle of politics which insists on liberty of individuals as the first and foremost goal of public policy.
    • Liberty, in this sense, implies ‘liberation’ from restraints- particularly, from the restraints imposed by an authoritarian state.
  • Liberalism is a modern ideology emerged against the following tendencies:
    • Mercantalism:– They believe that economy should be controlled by state and government. State should promote export and discourage import thus, it is a form of protectionism
    • Religious dominance over state:– Initially, church maintain supremacy in Europe and state was controlled by church.
    • Conservatism:– Feudal society was regulated by custom traditions faith and religion. Community like family village became more important than individual
  • In fact, it is not a fixed mode of thought, but an intellectual movement which seeks to accommodate new ideas in order to face new situations and new challenges.
  • According to Barry (1995), liberalism embraces both explanation and evaluation. Its explanatory concern is with accounting for that order of events which we call a social order, and this includes economic, legal and political phenomena.
  • In the liberal view, the state is a necessary evil. Liberalism treats the state as the means and the individual as the end. It rules out the absolute authority of the state. According to John Locke, liberalism is mainly based on these beliefs/ tenets:
    • Man/ Woman is a rational creature.
    • There is no basic contradiction between an individual’s self-interest and the common interest.
    • Man/Woman is endowed with certain natural rights which cannot be transgressed by any authority.
    • Civil society and the state are artificial institutions created by individuals to serve the common interest.
    • Liberalism believes in the primacy of procedure over the end product. The liberal view of freedom, equality, justice and democracy is a search for the right procedure in different spheres of social life.
    • Liberalism promotes civil liberties of individual, including freedom of thought and expression, freedom of association and movement, personal freedom and strict compliance with legal and judicial procedure.
  • The liberal theory developed in two main directions;
    • Individualism focused on the individual as a rational creature. It required that individual’s dignity, independent existence and judgment should be given full recognition while making public policy and decisions. John Locke and Adam Smith are the early exponents of individualism.
    • On the other hand, utilitarianism stands for ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ where the interest of the few may be sacrificed in the interest of majority. Bentham and Mill are the supporters of utilitarianism.
  • Basic Elements of Libralism
    • Individual-centric:– For liberals individual is occupying the central roles.
    • Liberty is paramount:– Individual knows his best interest and he/she is master of his/her mind and body.
    • Rationality is key:– Only way to accept anything which is based on argument and observation.
    • Toleration and respect of diversity:- Nobody is entitled to force others for accepting their ideas and views.
    • Limited constitutional government:– Government is limited with rules and regulations of the constitution. without consent nobody can rule over the other.
    • Secularism:- Materialistic world is more important than Spiritual world.
    • Capitalist market economy:– state is a necessary evil. State is like invisible hand.

Thinkers of Liberal Theory

  • Early exponents of liberalism include John Locke (1632-1704), Adam Smith (1723-90) and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).
  • Locke is known as the father of liberalism, Smith is known as the father of economics and political economy and Bentham as the founder of utilitarianism.
    • All of them defended the principle of laissez-faire which implies the least interference of the state in the economic activities of individuals.
  • They are the founders of Classical Liberalism which is also called negative liberalism because it envisions a negative role of the state in the sphere of mutual interaction of individuals.
  • Locke emphasized toleration and freedom of individual conscience.
  • Bentham emphasized the expansion of the market economy and restriction of the sphere of state activity.
  • Mill sought to revise this view of utilitarians to plead for the expansion of state activity for the promotion of general welfare. He recommended positive role of the state for the promotion of individual liberty.
  • John Stuart Mill (1806-73) sought to modify utilitarianism and the principle of laissez-faire on philosophical grounds which paved the way for the theory of welfare state. Then T. H. Green (1836-82), sought to add a moral dimension to liberalism and thus, advanced a full-fledged theory of welfare state.
  • On the political side, liberalism promotes democracy; on the economic side, it promotes capitalism. Liberalism, generally, believes in the ability of individuals to make meaningful choices and to be responsible for them. The importance that liberalism attributes to individuals received the most robust intellectual defense from Immanuel Kant who, influenced by Rousseau, formulated the clearest case for individual autonomy. Kantian autonomy may be understood as the condition in which individuals are free from external determination such as coercion, threat or manipulation in taking actions to implement one’s choices. His/her choice should be free from internal influences (passions and prejudices) and must be guided by reason.
  • Locke, Kant and Mill have been the three most important thinkers who shaped the liberal tradition. Contemporary liberalism owes much to them.
  • In the 20th century, the most profound liberal thinker was John Rawls, whose influence has been the most profound in liberal thinking. Two monumental treaties written by Rawls A Theory of Justice (1971) and Political Liberalism (1993) – have set the contemporary terms of debate and discussion on liberalism and its values. A central trait of Rawl’s liberalism is its political view that citizens are entitled to live in accordance with their own freely chosen values or ends.

Different Phases of Libralism

  • Liberalism can be divided into three types/phases: the Classical, the Modern and Neo-liberalism. However, neo-liberalism is contemporary and influenced by Classical liberalism.

Classical Liberalism

Theory of Laissez faire or Minimal state.

  • With its emphasis on individual as the centre of importance, classical liberalism advocated the policy of laissez-faire, a French term which means ‘leave alone’. It signified nonintervention by the state in the economic activities .
Exponents of the Theory:
Adam Smith:
  • His famous work Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations , became the prime source of the ideas and policies concerning laissez-faire individualism.
  • Concept of Economic Man
    • The profit motive is a natural instinct which inspires every trader in his activity. The selfish motive of the entrepreneur is, nevertheless, conducive to promotion of the general good. It harmonizes with national prosperity, thereby benefiting all— government, business and labour.
  • Functions of Government
    • The role of government is confined to three duties
      • the defence of the nation against foreign aggression;
      • establishing an exact administration of justice; and
      • the erection and maintenance of public works and running certain public institutions which could not be undertaken by an individual because the profit accruing from their maintenance would never repay the expenditure involved.
Jeremy Bentham:
  • Bentham made an important contribution to the theory of laissez-faire individualism as the great exponent of Utilitarianism. This implied that man’s behaviour should be governed by the consideration of advancement of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.
  • Concept of Utility
    • The satisfaction of individual should furnish the yardstick of utility, and when a decision is to be taken for the whole society, the controlling principle should be the ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’.
  • Bentham interpreted happiness by ‘pleasure’. Thus he postulated: ‘Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure’.
  • Bentham even laid down certain criteria for measuring pleasure and pain, known as the ‘hedonistic calculus’ or ‘felicific calculus’. The criteria for measurement of pleasure included:
    • intensity ( how strong is its freeling)
    • duration (how long it lasts?)
    • certainty (how certain we feel to have it?)
    • proximity or propinquity (how near it is to us, i.e. how early we can have it?)
    • fecundity (does it also produce other types of pleasure?)
    • purity (no pain is mixed with it)and
    • extent (how far it extends to others?)
  • Of these the first six criteria are meant to judge the utility of a thing or action for the individual while the seventh criterion (extent) is relevant to judging public policy as expressed in the principle of ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number.’
  • Principles of Legislation
    • Bentham rejected the ideology of natural rights and the social contract, yet he subscribed to the sovereignty of ‘reason’ and proceeded to find a formula for the application of reason to human affairs which should be free from the pitfalls of metaphysical abstraction. He repudiated the theory of the general will .
  • Functions of Government
    • Bentham, of course, treated the state as an instrument devised by man for the promotion of the happiness of the community, yet he did not contemplate any wide scope of state activity. Believing that men are moved to act solely by the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain, and that each individual is the best judge of his own interests,
    • Bentham and his followers came to the conclusion that the main function of the state is legislation, and that the chief objective of legislation is to remove all institutional restrictions on the free actions of individuals.
Herbert Spencer:
  • Spencer treated the state as a ‘joint-stock protection company for mutual assurance’. It should not assume any other function, nor otherwise interfere with the process of natural evolution. Man has capacity for adaptations.

Modern liberalism

  • It is known as ‘Revised’ liberalism (Sabine). It is also recognized as positive liberalism, modern liberalism too which includes the following features:-
    • Welfare state:– Now the functioning of state is to manage health care facilities, education, providing employment and abolition of property. Beveridge report (1942) identified five giants namely want, diseases, ignorance, squalor, idleness. Green says the function of state is to hindering the hindrances.
    • Social Liberalism:- positive liberalism provides social security USA president Roosevelt announced new deal programme for the relief of children, widows, old and unemployed. John Kennedy announce new frontier programme. President Lynden Johnson propounded the great society programme for the benefit of marginalized sections of society. Green says that community became more important in liberalism than centrality of individualism.
    • keynesianism:– night watchman state is changed into a nanny state. John Maynard Kyenes in his book General Theory of Employment Interest and Money (1936). He rejected the notion that market economy is the best mechanism for managing the economy.
    • Positive Freedom:– thinkers like TH Green, LT Hobhouse, JA Hobson, individual is not looking for maximizing of profit but individuals ability to realize his/her own skill knowledge development and selfrealization is equally important. State becomes enabling state or cradle to grave to welfare state.

Neo- Libralism

  • Criticism of welfare state:– In the book The Road to Serfdom (1944), Hayek said that collectivism or socialism and totalitarianism are the two sides of same coin. Both disregard liberty and autonomy of individuals. He said that monopoly of state over economic activities is harmful for liberty of individuals.
  • Rolling back of state:- Nozick(state anarchy and Eutopia) is neo-liberal or libertarian who said that powerful state goes against the basic concept of liberty. Hayek also wrote in the Constitution of Liberty, welfare state curtails the autonomy, selfreliance, independence and risk taking capability of individuals.
  • Minimal and neutral state:- Neo-liberals believe in a minimal state. Hayek said that idea of progressive taxation violates the concept of equal pay for equal work. He also said that there is a difference between misfortune and injustice. Free market unlike justice does not presuppose a distributer. On the name of welfare state bureaucracy becomes powerful which ultimately end liberty.
  • Rejection of social justice:- the idea of social justice presupposes that among the various values it should receive priority over some others which kills idea of free and liberal society. To much power leads not only corruption but also impotence. The preferences of people are different in society, therefore state planning welfare schemes is against the liberty of individuals.
  • Individualism with market economy:- Thomas friedman said that capitalism and freedom is complementary with each other because liberty is not available in non-capitalist economy. Nozick believes in the concept of atomistic individualism.

Thatcherism and Reganism

  • Neo-liberal political policies were implemented by the former prime minister of Britain and the former US President Ronald Reagan. Therefore, it is known as Thatcherism and Reaganism too. British prime minister implemented the policies propounded by Hayek.


  • The term Communitarianism was first used in 1841 by John Goodwyn Barnby but the theory of communitarianism was propounded by Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor, Michael Walzer. They believe in the following principles:
    • Rejection of unencumbered self:- Michael Sandel argued against the notion of a historical and a person without social context in short communitarians refuted the concept of atomistic individualism.
    • Centrality of community(Social Thesis):- Charles Taylor is considered as neo-hegalian who wrote a book Sources of the self. For taylor self is embeded self. Simply it means without understanding historical social context we cannot understand individual. Taylor believes in social thesis therefore liberty right is available within the community.
    • End is prior to self:– Michael Sandel wrote a book Liberalism and Limits of Justice (1982). Sandel criticize the fundamental kantenian ethics which believes in man is in itself. Rawls also support Kantenian ethics and said about self is prior to its end. Sandel refuted the concept of Rawlsin justice because it is based on the concept of a historical individual which is empty self.
    • Rejection of universalism:- Neo-liberals and liberals too propound universal concept of equality and justice and therefore ignore the social and historical concept. Walzer says that self is situated self and the value of goods can be understood within a social context therefore believe in complex equality. Michael Walzer wrote Spheres of Justice.
    • Rejection of neutral state:- Neo-liberals believe in liberty therefore, allow individual to choose their goals and objectives in life but communitarians said that every choice may not be correct choice. For example same sex marriage may not be a correct choice therefore, state should promote the moral and right choices. Sandel wrote, there is a limitation of market.


  • Community-centric concept multiculturalist also believed that individual is not an atom but individual is member of community and community refers society, state, church, neighbourhood and nation.
  • Thus, the reject the atomistic individualism of neoliberalism. Bhikhu Parekh in his book Rethinking Multiculturalism-Cultural Diversity and Political Theory said that multiculturalism as way of viewing human life increasing cultural diversity focuses on promotion of rights for different religion and cultural groups. The rights of cultural groups from the basis of multiculturalism.

Drawback of Libral Democratic state

  • Kymlicka in his book Multicultural Citizenship said that citizens are members of two types of communities:-
    1. Political community: where every citizen is considered as equal
    2. Cultural community: every citizen having their own language and culture and no culture is superior to other.
  • Democratic state directly or indirectly promotes culture of majority.
  • Kymlicka said that welfare state provides social security for maintaining unity and integrity of the nation and it discourage the culture belongs to minority groups.

Rights for Minority

  • Multiculturalism emerged in plural and diversified societies like Canada, Australia in 1980’s. since every culture is having the same worth or value therefore, special rights should be given for minorities in order to preserve their culture and language. Protection of liberty requires preserving of culture.

Politics of Recognition

  • Equality among different cultural communities is essential for sustaining equality. Rajeev Bhargav said that every member should have recognition in the society and a member of a community cannot be subordinate to other members in community.

Politics of Identity and Deference

  • Multiculturalist talk about the culture of minorities and the minorities can be categorized in the following groups:-
    • Indigenous group
    • Subnational group
    • Immigrants or migrants
  • The politics based on language, culture and religion is known as identity politics and the politics of equal citizenship of liberals do not address the unique identity of minorities and multiculturalist reject the claim of universality of liberals.

Kymlicka’s concept of Multiculturism

  • Kymlicka is known as liberal multiculturalist and said that liberal values accommodate the cultural rights of minorities.
  • There is no paradox between rights of minorities and liberalism.
  • He said that cultural membership of a citizen is more important and individual is free to choose his cultural membership and good multiculturalist will not coerce their own member to follow any particular culture or language and bad multiculturalist or the people who supress freedom of choice and autonomy on the name of protecting culture.
  • Kymlicka said that there are two types of minorities cultural groups
    • Indigenous cultural groups
    • Immigrant cultural groups
  • Kymlicka said that immigrant cultural groups are not entitled to enjoy the cultural rights because they have chosen other goals are more important in life than preserving culture.

The View of Bhikhu Parekh

  • He deals with issues like arranged marriage, polygamy, rituals slaughters of animals, and customary dresses.
  • Parekh rejected idea of Rawls and said that the Kymlicka’s liberal multiculturalism is not appropriate.
  • He believes that immigrants should also be given the minority rights.
  • He believed in the pluralist universalism humankind are culturally embeded and the rights of culture are primary collective right.
  • Thus maintaining hierarchy among minority group is not sustainable and culture is a primary good for individuals.

Ends of History

  • Francis Fukuyama says that disintegration of Soviet Union is considered as a victory of liberal democracy.
  • He rejected the explanation of history carried out by Hegel, which makes nationalism as a final phase of history.
  • He rejected economic interpretation of history which is done by the Marxist.
  • For Fukuyama, two elements are important for understanding the civilization:-
    • Development of modern science
    • Struggle for recognition.
  • He said that reason capitalism and democracy are the basic element for understanding the history. In Fukuyama the historic process leads to recognition that democratic institutions are only possible template for the political life of an advanced society.
  • Anderson also said that the liberal democracy is the most successful ideology of the world.

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