Libertarianism Wiki

Classical liberalism (also called laissez-faire liberalism) is a term used to describe the philosophy developed by early liberals from the Age of Enlightenment until John Stuart Mill and revived in the 20th century by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. The contemporary restatement of classical liberalism is sometimes called "new liberalism" or "neo-liberalism".

Classical liberalism is a political philosophy that supports individual rights as pre-existing the state, a government that exists to protect those moral rights, ensured by a constitution that protects individual autonomy from other individuals and governmental power, private property, and a laissez-faire economic policy. The "normative core" of classical liberalism is the idea that in an environment of laissez-faire, a spontaneous order of cooperation in exchanging goods and services emerges that satisfies human wants.

Change in meaning[]

The term "liberal" changed meaning in the 1930s. Since then Classical Liberals are called "Conservatives" or "Libertarians" in the United States; in the rest of the world, especially Europe and Japan, classical liberals are still called liberals.


It is a blend of political liberalism and economic liberalism which is derived from Enlightenment thinkers such as as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, Voltaire, John Stuart Mill, and Immanuel Kant.

Many elements of this ideology developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it is often seen as being the natural ideology of the industrial revolution and its subsequent capitalist system. The early liberal figures now described as "classical liberals" rejected many foundational assumptions which dominated most earlier theories of government, such as the Divine Right of Kings, hereditary status, and established religion, and focuses on individual freedom, reason, justice and tolerance. Such thinkers and their ideas helped to inspire the American Revolution and French Revolution.


The qualification "classical" was applied in retrospect to distinguish the early 19th century laissez-faire form of liberalism from modern interventionist social liberalism. The terminology is most applicable in the United States, because modern American liberalism is closer identified with social democracy.

A classical liberal is someone who is liberal in the original sense of the word: namely, advocating personal freedom.

A common synonym for 'classical liberal' which is more commonly used in the U.S. is libertarian.


The original philosophy of liberalism (now sometimes called classical liberalism, or libertarianism in the US), favors many forms of freedom, such as:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • The right to form political parties and vote
  • Freedom to invest in and use private property
  • Freedom to work as one chooses
  • Freedom to enter into economic contracts
  • Free trade and freedom of migration
  • Sexual freedom
  • Equal rights independent of race or sex

This interpretation of liberalism arose during the Enlightenment, and became influential through the American Revolution and French Revolution, and was also spread in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the classical economists[1].

Classical liberalism is the primary ideology behind politics in the United States. Both modern American liberalism and conservatism are branches of classical liberalism, as they both seek to promote individual freedom, though in different ways.

A prominent publication which promotes liberalism in the original sense of the word is the British news magazine The Economist.

See also[]

  • Democratic Failure
  • Laissez faire


Intellectual history[]

  • Crunden, Robert M. The Mind and Art of Albert Jay Nock (1964)
  • Dunn, Charles W. and J. David Woodard; The Conservative Tradition in America (1996) online edition
  • Filler, Louis. Dictionary of American Conservatism Philosophical Library, (1987)
  • Frohnen, Bruce et al eds. American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (2006), the most detailed reference
  • Genovese, Eugene. The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism (1994) excerpt and text search
  • Gottfried, Paul. The Conservative Movement (1993).
  • Guttman, Allan. The Conservative Tradition in America Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • Judis, John B. William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives (1988) excerpt and text search
  • Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind. (7th ed. 2001). highly influential history of ideas online at ACLS e-books
  • Lora, Ronald. Conservative Minds in America (1976).
  • Nash, George. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (1978, 2006) influential history. excerpt and text search
  • Nisbet, Robert A. Conservatism: Dream and Reality. U. of Minnesota Press, 1986.
  • Smant, Kevin J. Principles and Heresies: Frank S. Meyer and the Shaping of the American Conservative Movement (2002)
  • Thorne; Melvin J. American Conservative Thought since World War II: The Core Ideas Greenwood: 1990



External links[]

  • This article uses licensed content from Conserva