The 23rd International Conference on Computational Linguistics (COLING 2010)

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Liberalism

   Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed, and equality before the law. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support limited government, individual rights (including civil rights and human rights), capitalism (free markets), democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. Yellow is the political colour most commonly associated with liberalism.

In Europe and North America, the establishment of social liberalism (often called simply "liberalism" in the United States) became a key component in the expansion of the welfare state. Today, liberal parties continue to wield power and influence throughout the world. However, liberalism still has challenges to overcome in Africa and Asia. The fundamental elements of contemporary society have liberal roots. The early waves of liberalism popularised economic individualism while expanding constitutional government and parliamentary authority. Liberals sought and established a constitutional order that prized important individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech and freedom of association; an independent judiciary and public trial by jury; and the abolition of aristocratic privileges. Later waves of modern liberal thought and struggle were strongly influenced by the need to expand civil rights. Liberals have advocated gender and racial equality in their drive to promote civil rights and a global civil rights movement in the 20th century achieved several objectives towards both goals. Continental European liberalism is divided between moderates and progressives, with the moderates tending to elitism and the progressives supporting the universalisation of fundamental institutions, such as universal suffrage, universal education and the expansion of property rights. Over time, the moderates displaced the progressives as the main guardians of continental European liberalism.

The liberal philosophical tradition has searched for validation and justification through several intellectual projects. The moral and political suppositions of liberalism have been based on traditions such as natural rights and utilitarian theory, although sometimes liberals even requested support from scientific and religious circles. Through all these strands and traditions, scholars have identified the following major common facets of liberal thought: believing in equality and individual liberty, supporting private property and individual rights, supporting the idea of limited constitutional government, and recognising the importance of related values such as pluralism, toleration, autonomy, bodily integrity and consent.

The development into maturity of classical liberalism took place before and after the French Revolution in Britain and was based on the following core concepts: classical economics, free trade, laissez-faire government with minimal intervention and taxation and a balanced budget. Classical liberals were committed to individualism, liberty and equal rights. Writers such as John Bright and Richard Cobden opposed both aristocratic privilege and property, which they saw as an impediment to the development of a class of yeoman farmers.

Several liberals, including Adam Smith and Richard Cobden, argued that the free exchange of goods between nations would lead to world peace. Smith argued that as societies progressed the spoils of war would rise, but the costs of war would rise further, making war difficult and costly for industrialised nations. Cobden believed that military expenditures worsened the welfare of the state and benefited a small but concentrated elite minority, summing up British imperialism, which he believed was the result of the economic restrictions of mercantilist policies. To Cobden and many classical liberals, those who advocated peace must also advocate free markets.

New liberals began to adapt the old language of liberalism to confront these difficult circumstances, which they believed could only be resolved through a broader and more interventionist conception of the state. An equal right to liberty could not be established merely by ensuring that individuals did not physically interfere with each other, or merely by having laws that were impartially formulated and applied. More positive and proactive measures were required to ensure that every individual would have an equal opportunity of success.

The New Liberalism or social liberalism movement emerged about 1900 in Britain. The New Liberals, which included intellectuals like L. T. Hobhouse and John A. Hobson, saw individual liberty as something achievable only under favorable social and economic circumstances. In their view, the poverty, squalor and ignorance in which many people lived made it impossible for freedom and individuality to flourish. New Liberals believed that these conditions could be ameliorated only through collective action coordinated by a strong, welfare-oriented and interventionist state. It supports a mixed economy that includes both public and private property in capital goods.

The development into maturity of classical liberalism took place before and after the French Revolution in Britain. Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, was to provide most of the ideas of economics at least until the publication of John Stuart Mill's Principles in 1848. Smith addressed the motivation for economic activity, the causes of prices and the distribution of wealth and the policies the state should follow in order to maximise wealth. The radical liberal movement began in the 1790s in England and concentrated on parliamentary and electoral reform, emphasizing natural rights and popular sovereignty. Radicals like Richard Price and Joseph Priestley saw parliamentary reform as a first step toward dealing with their many grievances, including the treatment of Protestant Dissenters, the slave trade, high prices and high taxes.

Liberalism has drawn both criticism and support in its history from various ideological groups. Less friendly to the goals of liberalism has been conservatism. Edmund Burke, considered by some to be the first major proponent of modern conservative thought, offered a blistering critique of the French Revolution by assailing the liberal pretensions to the power of rationality and to the natural equality of all humans.

Fascists accuse liberalism of materialism and a lack of spiritual values. In particular, fascism opposes liberalism for its materialism, rationalism, individualism and utilitarianism. Fascists believe that the liberal emphasis on individual freedom produces national divisiveness, but many fascists agree with liberals in their support of private property rights and a market economy.


 

 
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