CLASSICAL LIBERALISM POSITIVES
Classical liberalism emerged out of the ideas of several prominent thinkers and writers during the timeframe of the Age of Enlightenment between the 17th and 19th centuries. It first developed in Europe and North America and has had a profound impact on the histories of these continents. In general, classical liberalism is a right-wing ideology and based upon the values of political and economic individualism. This means that it highly values individual freedoms and limited government intervention in the lives of citizens. To fully understand the significance of these individualistic values, it’s first important to understand the systems that existed before. The development of classical liberalism at the time was a revolutionary idea because Europe, had previously been based on the following: feudalism, absolute monarchy, and mercantilism. Click here to read more about the history of classical liberalism.
As an ideology, classical liberalism is associated with the right-side of the economic and political spectrums because it favored limited government intervention in society, combined with individual rights and freedoms and the principle of rule of law. It was most common during the 19th century and the early 20th century in England and the United States during the time frame of the Industrial Revolution. As such, when people today consider the positives and negative aspects of classical liberalism they often use the impacts of industrialization to determine their response.
First off, there were several positive aspects of classical liberalism. Previous to classical liberalism, European society was based primarily on absolute monarchs who ruled over their citizens as authoritarians. This means that the king or queen had total control over all aspects of society and did not provide their citizens with basic rights or freedoms. An important development of liberalism was the idea that all people contain certain natural rights. For example, famous philosophers and thinkers from the Age of Enlightenment, such as John Locke, expressed the idea that all people possessed some form of basic individual rights. Later, in the 19th century, British philosopher John Stuart Mill built on this idea with his famous work ‘On Liberty’ in which he argued that there should be very little limits placed on people’s rights. For classical liberals these rights included: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, the right to vote, etc. The first major development of rights in American and European society were related to the American and French revolutions. In both, the people overthrew the monarchy that ruled over them and established basic sets of rights for themselves. The Americans did so with the Declaration of Independence, while the French did so with the Declaration of the Rights of Man. As such, many people consider the development of individual rights and freedoms as a positive for classical liberalism. It extended the right to vote to more people and ended the reign of brutal monarchs. As well, it led to the development of modern democratic societies where people are protected from oppression by rights and freedoms.
Another positive development of classical liberalism was the emergence of rule of law. Similar to the development of rights and freedoms, rule of law protected citizens from the authoritarian rule of absolute monarchs. For example, the concept of rule of law is based on the idea that a country should be ruled by a distinct and clear set of laws instead of the individual rule of a singular person. Rule of law also holds that all people are equal before the law, including the rulers. As such, the development of rule of law in societies across Europe and the United States were positive because they limited the rule of the government and protected the security and well-being of individual people.
Many people also consider classical liberalism to have been positive for the economic impacts it created. On the economic spectrum, classical liberalism is considered to be a right-sided ideology that favors limited government intervention. Therefore, classical liberalism is based upon the principles of capitalism. In fact, classical liberal societies are considered to have been laissez-faire capitalism, meaning they favored as little government as possible. The writings of Adam Smith, a famous Scottish economist, formed the basis of classical liberal societies and included elements such as: competition, supply and demand, self-interest, economic freedom, private ownership and self-reliance. Taken together, these principles combined to form a free market economy. In all, the development of laissez-faire capitalism and free market economy led to many positives for society. For example, a free market economy benefits society because it focuses on competition and economic freedom as its main principles. Competition is important because it allows privately owned businesses to compete for the money of consumers. This leads to several different things including: lower prices for goods and services, increased innovation and a wider selection of products. Consumers benefit from this system because they receive low prices for high quality goods and services. In general, the concept of competition pushes individuals and businesses to use resources in an efficient manner in order to maximize profits. Therefore, free market economies are generally less wasteful. The next positive aspect of a free market economy is that they lead to high levels of economic output. The competition present in a free market economy is not just limited to businesses but also drives individuals to work as hard as possible to earn money. This incentive for profit and wealth benefits the overall economy because it causes a high level of economic output that means the economic system is producing many goods and services in an efficient manner. All of these impacted the economics of classical liberal societies during the Industrial Revolution and caused business owners to take a financial risk in the creation of a new product. As such, during the 1800s, many new inventions were created that benefited society and led to different kinds of improvements for people. For example, the textile industry benefited greatly due to advancements during the Industrial Revolution. Throughout the 1700s, inventors such as Richard Arkwright, Eli Whitney, James Hargreaves, John Kay and Edmund Cartwright, developed machines and techniques that helped improve production, with inventions including: flying shuttle, water wheel, cotton gin, spinning jenny and power loom. All of the invention improved life for people because they sped up production and improved the standard of living for people. None of this would have been possible without the economic impacts of laissez-faire capitalism and the ideology of classical liberalism.