Topics: Age of Enlightenment, Liberalism, French Revolution Pages: 7 (2398 words) Published: March 23, 2014

Liberalism is a uniquely modern idea supporting the thesis that human beings have inherent rights given to them by the universe and their governments. This modern idea also holds that as human beings there also exists the right to free trade in whatever goods available and with whom it is so desired. While the modern era gave rise to some of the greatest ideas and ideals in history, at the root of most of them was liberalism. Liberalism supports equality, human rights, and free trade which can be found in ideals of the Enlightenment, the civil rights movements across the globe, and human rights campaigns throughout time.

Liberalism is a political ideology first and foremost. It developed during the nineteenth century as a direct result of the Industrial Revolution and the ideals of the Enlightenment. (Getz & Brooke, 2012) Liberalism is based upon the idea that individuals all deserve certain freedoms that should be guaranteed to them by their government and is also based on certain economic freedoms.

The ideals that would become liberalism were introduced to the world by great thinkers like John Locke, Adam Smith, Jean Rousseau, and Thomas Hobbs. These ideals began with the Enlightenment, a time in history when reason and intellect were treasured. The Enlightenment also upheld ideas of individuality and freedom from the oppression of illiteracy and inequality that had plagued citizens of empires. The Industrial Revolution further enhanced these ideals by giving people the ability to quickly and efficiently produce mass publication of pamphlets and other documents encouraging literacy and equality.

John Locke is often considered the originator of liberalism in the classical sense. Locke is the philosopher who posited the idea of a social contract existing between the government and the governed, stating that the government can only govern so long as the people allow it to in that said government has only the power that the people willingly bestow. (Getz & Brooke, 2012) Should such a time ensue as the government oversteps its bounds the people then have an obligation to do away with that government and begin anew. Locke brought about this social contract after realizing how poorly the poor were fairing under an absolute rule government with an elite minority also presiding over the poor in the form of the aristocracy.

While many focus on the social equality that is inherent in liberalism, it is also important to focus on the economics of liberalism. Liberalism is quite the friend of capitalism holding that people have the right to equal opportunity, if not equal condition. This form of economics favors a self-regulating economy with government having a much smaller role that was previously thought to be necessary. The self-regulations of the economy and the laissez-faire attitude that was requested by liberalism allowed people to sell their goods and their services to whom they choose and for an amount of their choosing providing of course that said goods and services are not in competition with the welfare of society. Though John Locke was considered the founder of liberalism, economist Adam Smith took an active interest in the role of laborers played within society and the economy. As an economist interest in the wealth of nations and a man intent on equality for the laborers he offered this insight: “Every man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessaries, conveniences and amusements of human life. But after the division of labor has once thoroughly taken place, it is but a very small part of these with which a man’s own labor can supply him. The far greater part of them he must derive from the labor of other people, and he must be rich or poor according to the quantity of that labor which he command, or which he can afford to purchase.” (Smith, 1776) This would hold that a society of laborers who are better paid and hold...

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Eley, G. (1997). Labour and liberalism in nineteenth-century europe: Essays in comparative history. Victorian Studies, 40(3), 537-543. Retrieved from
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“A Resolution In Favor Of Free Trade (November 23, 1852)." Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England. Academic World Book. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
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