22 September 2012

Day 102: Liberalism

Within Day 98: The Unholy Trinity we mentioned that the IMF, World Bank and WTO hold a neo-liberal ideology.
Within this blog we are going to have a look at what ‘Liberalism’ (and neo-liberalism) exactly entails.
There are a few components which have been identified as being typical to Liberalism as an ideology, namely:
- Individualism
- Freedom
- Reason
- Equality
- Tolerance
- Authority and Government


At the center of Liberalism lies the value of freedom/liberty of the individual. Within Liberalism, the individual is considered to be prior to society, within the reasoning that society is but a collection of individuals.
“The liberal goal is therefore to construct a society within which individuals can flourish and develop, each pursuing, ‘the good’ as he or she defines it, to the best of his or her abilities” [Andrew Heywoods in his book ‘Politics’].


Within liberalism it is believed that the individual can only “realise their potential” within being ‘free’. All individuals ought to enjoy equal freedom and within this is implied that people are only free to the extent that their freedom does not infringe that of others. Liberalism also likes to emphasizes freedom in the light of private matters and freedom as the absence of state interference. State intervention is often interpreted as undermining the individual’s liberty, which is why liberals are pro capitalism and proponents of free market economies.


Just as in current economic thought, within liberalism the individual is seen as seen as a rational being, who can make rational, ‘wise’ decisions for themselves and are able to by themselves settle any disputes and problems


Apparently, ‘Equality’ is also a very important component of Liberalism, where “each individual is held as being of equal value”. Liberalism however, works with a special kind of equality, namely ‘Abstract Equality’. This means that inside one’s mind, people are ‘regarded as being equal’ – but in practical physical, material terms: this is no longer applicable. This ‘abstract equality’ is justified on the ground that individuals are at variance in the aspects of intelligence, talent, dedication and “the desire to work hard”. Liberalism likes to reward talent and dedication as ‘hard work’. But since we’ve just seen that ‘not everyone is equally talented’ and yet ‘talent merits reward’ – we know that not everyone is going to get rewarded = not everyone is being held as being of equal value. And from hereon, inequality is justified on the grounds that it is simply an outflow of natural differences and that people conduct their lives in different ways ( read = they don’t work as hard).

Which is interesting, because whenever the point of materialistic inequality gets questioned, liberals all the often like to put forth that people are poor ‘because of their own doing, if only they work harder they can be well off too’. Yet, in its basis, liberalism admits that A) not everyone has equal talent, and B) everyone should have equal opportunity, and where it is clearly stated that talent is favoured/rewarded – which in its very essence is unequal treatment.

Very peculiar this ‘Abstract Equality’ – I guess Abstract is just another way of saying it’s not really there since it’s just some principle they like to mention but not apply.


Here tolerance is viewed within the context that since everyone is allowed to do whatever they please, that each one should respect what another wants to do whether they agree with it or not, which somehow leads to individual liberty and social enrichment.
This is more like a comprise where you make a deal of “you don’t question me and I won’t question you” – where each party can do whatever they want whether it’s destructive or not just because each one wants to have that option available to them (to be destructive).

Authority and Government

According to liberals authority should always be exercised through consent and is therefore pro elections and representation (where the authority comes ‘from below’ as the people

and where the government is thus regarded as legitimate). The government is seen as an ‘intrusive power’ against which individuals need protection which is why many liberals are proponents of constitutionalism as a means to limit the power of the government.

People are assumed to have particular rights (life, freedom, property,… -- [I wonder if these are ‘abstract’ too]) and the only purpose of the state should be to protect these and further not meddle itself with the business of individuals.

Liberalism later diffused into two differing schools of thought, namely classical liberalism and modern liberalism.

Within classical liberalism the emphasis continues to lay on the liberty of the individual and the state is seen as a necessary evil where it’s only purpose is to safeguard the rights of individuals.

Modern liberalism goes a bit softer on the state since it recognizes that injustice may arise between ‘conflicting freedoms’  and that the state should step in when necessary, this also refers to for instance government intervention in the economy (like bailouts). For a while the welfare role of the government was accepted more within this school of thought, but it was then believed that the state could not handle this (not being able to meet all the demands of everyone) and since then the role/scope of the government has been tried to be ‘rolled back’. This last development in modern liberalism is often referred to as neo-liberalism or contemporary classical liberalism. It is this ideology which the WTO, IMF and World Bank have adapted and promote through their various “aid” programs.


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