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In what sense(s) can liberalism be regarded as individualistic? Should individualism be regarded as a strength or weakness of liberalism?

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In what sense(s) can liberalism be regarded as individualistic? Should individualism be regarded as a strength or weakness of liberalism? Liberalism, as a widespread political ideology, came to the fore in the nineteenth century with an industrialised market economy order allowing free-trade between nations without government interference.1 It was at this time that Classical liberalism ideals were first developed. A variety of different forms of liberalism emerged, and over time these developed into what is termed as modern liberalism. Throughout this transition the importance of the individual has remained a prominent factor. "The preservation of the individual and the attainment of individual happiness are the supreme goals of a liberal political system."2 Therefore it is evident that liberalism can be regarded as individualistic. However there are many other qualities that make up this ideology and the importance of these should also be considered. In addition to this, the value of individualism as a part of liberalism must be measured in order to validly assess whether it is indeed a strength or a weakness of this political ideology. Before discussing liberalism and the subsequent relevance of individualism, it is essential to define what these terms mean in a political sense. Liberalism is best defined by an examination of the set of values and beliefs which it is characterised by. The first of these, which will be discussed in depth later, is the supreme importance of the individual. ...read more.


In 1859, Mill wrote On Liberty. In this he laid out the ethical foundations of democratic individualism. In doing such, Mill considered the circumstances under which individual liberty might be justifiably restricted and concluded by forming his "harm principle". This principle is central to his views on freedom and its influence is substantial in all liberal democracies. "The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant"5 John Locke was a British philosopher who lived from 1632 to1704. His political philosophy emphasises individual rights, mainly the right of a persons personal interests not to be interfered with and the right of justly acquired property. He argued that the purpose of a government is to protect those rights and that we can be justified in rejecting a government that interferes with them.6 Adam Smith was a Scottish economist who lived from 1723 to 1790. Smith argues that individual rights allow for the development of wealth within commercial society. People's specialisation in different tasks could lead to immense gains in productivity. These activities need co-ordination through economic self-interest. A developed market economy would permit issues of human well-being to take care of themselves. ...read more.


Secondly someone expressing their rights to freedom of speech and action through racism could clearly infringe on another persons freedom through discrimination. However Mill goes some way in clearing up these potential problems with his harm principle by suggesting that we should not interfere with someone's actions providing they do not harm another.7 Mill's principle has also seemed to have more relevance since the additions to it in 1960 by J.C Rees, in his paper, A re-reading of Mill on Liberty.8 Mill's desire for minimal state intervention has also been subject to substantial criticism. Many believe that a society without a more authoritarian figure or body would simply not work. As H.J McCloskey puts it; "Most contemporary liberals today, including those who profess great loyalty to Mill's liberalism, lack, Mill's optimism about the future progress of mankind and favour considerable curtailments of freedom of expression and action for the sake that Mill would not have entertained."9 In conclusion, despite the various forms of liberalism and the transition from classical to modern ideologies, individualism has remained the outmost prominent factor throughout. Liberalism, in the main, is individualistic and this is mainly evident from the liberal ideologies displayed by Mill, Locke and Smith. Individualism has numerous strengths, particularly its freedom of speech and expression. Although many criticisms of individuality have been made, its weaknesses are few and tend to have counter-arguments which are particularly convincing. In essence liberalism should be regarded as a strength of liberalism. ...read more.

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