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Contemporary Liberalism. POSC 150 Introduction to Political Theory Braunwarth. Classical Liberalism. Liberalism: Remove obstacles that block development of individuals In past, meant limiting government so can live, worship, compete in mkt, etc.

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Contemporary Liberalism

POSC 150Introduction to Political Theory


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Classical Liberalism

  • Liberalism: Remove obstacles that block development of individuals

  • In past, meant limiting government so can live, worship, compete in mkt, etc.

  • Negative Liberty - Individual Free to do what they want

  • Absence of Restraint (Religious Conformity, Ascribed Status)

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Government as a Positive force

  • By 1800s largely accomplished

  • T.H. Green (1836-1882) Oxford Prof.

  • Time to recognize other obstacles to freedom and opportunity

  • Poverty, Illness, Prejudice, Ignorance

  • Positive Liberty - Individual has freedom of choices

  • Government should establish schools, hospitals, aid for need, regulate working conditions

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Economic Concerns

Unrestricted/Free/Uncontrolled Markets:

  • lead to business cycles and economic instability

  • lead to monopolies

  • Create Externalities (pollution) that harm public welfare

  • Don’t provide Public Goods

  • Don’t account for those left out of market (young, old, disabled)

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Need to Regulate the Economy

  • Government should regulate the economy and protect people from its vagaries

  • Liberals regard economic competition as a good thing

  • Welfare State originally instituted to take the wind out of socialism

    • very non-liberal Otto von Bismark “Iron Chancellor” of Germany

    • Coincided with expansion of voting rights

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Human Nature

  • No Fixed Human Nature

  • We all have the capacity for reason

  • Can make our own choices to fulfill goals

  • Social Pluralism: Society consists of different people working together and is important to have contact with others

  • Despite differences, we are intrinsically equal

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Liberalism in the 20th Century

Faith in Individual Competition shaken by Great Depression of 1930s

  • Many turned to Communism/Fascism

  • Response in U.S. was the Welfare State

    Keynesian Economics

  • John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)

  • Governments use tax and spend powers to slow or stimulate economy

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  • Promises of Liberty and Equality still unfulfilled for many

  • Civil Rights Movement

  • Johnson’s “War on Poverty”

  • New Left - Government support economic interests and corporations while citizens reduced to consumers (Marcuse)

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Liberalism Today

  • Still a Revolutionary Force in some parts of the world

  • Where do we find ascribed status, religious conformity, political absolutism?

  • Islamic Fundamentalists, former Communist Countries, Developing World

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How far should Liberalism Go?

  • Mills’ Harm Principle

  • “Victimless” Crimes: Prostitution, Pornography, Gambling, etc.?

  • Consenting Adults, but Exploitive

  • Outlaw Discrimination on basis of race, religion, gender, etc.

  • Affirmative Action to give special consideration to those who suffer discrimination?

  • What about financially disadvantaged?

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Communitarian Critique

  • Need to Balance Rights with Responsibilities

  • Common Good in addition to “Me First”

  • JFK’s “…ask what you can do for your country”

  • Clinton’s National Service Program

  • CSL projects on campus

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Is Liberalism Dead?

  • 1980’s used as a derogatory slur

  • Perhaps not dead, but has been so successful, less places to go

  • Racism/Discrimination

  • Market Regulation

  • Starvation Poverty less of a problem

  • But free market still largely unable to deal with poverty