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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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Introduction

In what sense(s) can liberalism be regarded as individualistic? Should individualism be regarded as a strength or weakness of liberalism? Ever since the creation of liberalism, definitions and values have been ever changing. Indeed, different countries can change the understanding of liberalism. In Britain, liberalism has centred on religious toleration, government by consent and personal/ economic freedom. On the other hand, traditional French liberalism has been associated with secularism and democracy. With this in mind, the issue over liberalism makes for a somewhat high level of debate. However, looking beyond all the variables of liberalism, the theory of individualism appears to be ever present. This is why liberalism can be regarded as individualistic. Perhaps the main argument over liberalism being individualistic, is whether or not, this is a strength or a weakness. "At the philosophical level, liberals have affirmed a commitment to the concepts of equality, liberty, individuality and rationality."1 This statement from Eatwell and Wright conveys that individualism is a key concept in regards to liberalism. Defining liberalism is perhaps the best way in which to regard it as individualistic. ...read more.

Middle

At the heart of such liberty is the absence of coercion by others which insures that citizens do not interfere with each other without compelling justification. Perhaps the main argument for individualism stems from the fact that it allows humans to progress and in turn, help society to progress. Individual liberty entails that a person has the right to free speech. This single fact is of massive importance as it means that democracy can be practised to its maximum potential, which the western world strives for. Without individual liberty, the right to free speech would have not been allowed from many angles. Free speech accounts for many inequalities which have been reversed with examples including racial equality, demonstrated in the fall of Apartheid. Homosexuals are now allowed to practise their ideals to certain degrees and have become accepted by many individuals of society. Religious toleration is far more evident with people of various religions practising their religion in different cultures. All of these factors have come about through individuals practising their individual liberty with the exclusion of coercion from others. Furthermore, individualism realise their maximum potential and maximum performance. ...read more.

Conclusion

Whether it be different liberalism based on historical or cultural differences of liberalism, the key value looks to the protection of the individual's liberty in society. In other words, it concentrates more on the primacy of the individual rather than the primacy of society. The debate over individualism being a strength or weakness of liberalism is a far more speculative issue. There are many arguments which support either claim with a decision somewhat difficult to determine. The western or developed world prides itself on its democratic systems, which have stemmed primarily from the liberal ideology. This argument, backed up by other claims such as such as the improvement in equality would more than often close the case on the debate, however, the negative factors of individualism cannot be overlooked. This is particularly true on the basis that the individual liberties which liberalism presents, can only be used in a rational manner. In other words, it does not apply to certain degree of society. Upon final assessment, individualism slightly sways in the direction of being a strength of liberalism after closely weighing the positives against the negatives. However, through different interpretation, this analysis could easily be contradicted. 1 Eatwell and Wright, 1999, Pg 24 2 Locke, 1960, Pg 287 3 Berlin, 1969, Pg 122 4 Goodwin, 1997, Pg53 ...read more.

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