Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1

Chapter 8



Liberalism has emerged as the world’s dominant ideology, and much of the
political debate of ‘liberal democratic’ societies takes place within liberalism.
Because of its dominance liberalism can be a difficult ideology to pin down,
and there are several quite distinct streams of thought within it. Liberals take
individual freedom – or liberty – as a fundamental value, and although an
individual’s freedom can be limited – because it clashes with the freedom of
others or with other values – what defines liberalism is the presumptionthat
freedom is a good thing, meaning that limitations on freedom must be justified.
A less obvious aspect of liberalism is its emphasis on equality, and again the
presumption is that people are equal. Although this appears to generate a
major contradiction at the heart of liberalism – after all, the exercise of freedom
will often lead to inequality – the two can be reconciled if we assume people
are naturallyequal. Natural, or ‘moral’, equality may be compatible with
material, or social, inequality. To say people are naturally equal amounts to
the claim that political institutions must be justified to each individual, and
each individual counts equally.

Chapter map

In this chapter we will:

  • Explore the historical roots of

  • Identify the fundamental philosophical
    core of liberal thought.

  • Recognise the distinct streams of
    liberal thought, and the tensions
    between them.

    • Analyse political practice in liberal
      democracies and apply the insights
      gained to that practice.

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