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Liberalism has a dual commitment both to individual freedom and equality. How does liberalism try to reconcile these two commitments? Does it succeed? Can freedom and equality really co-exist?

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Introduction

Liberalism has a dual commitment both to individual freedom and equality. How does liberalism try to reconcile these two commitments? Does it succeed? Can freedom and equality really co-exist? The ideas of liberalism have been around for more than three hundred years1 and inevitably these ideas have changed over time. These changes led to the development of two strands of liberalism, which are referred to as 'classical liberalism' and 'modern liberalism'. It is important to distinguish between the two strands as these liberal traditions clash over their views on certain aspects of society, particularly on the role of the state. From a classical liberal perspective the state should play a minimal role in society, this idea is exemplified by the New right. From a modern liberal view point the state should play an active role in society, for example the welfare state. Many key political ideas were derived from liberalism, both classical and modern. The work of the classical liberalist Adam Smith on protections in international and national trade could be clearly seen in Margaret Thatcher's economic policies and ideas on the free market. Her ideas on the role that the state should play in society also followed a classical liberalist approach. ...read more.

Middle

All liberals unite in the belief that individuals should not be disadvantaged in society on the grounds of gender, class or ethnicity and that every individual should be granted equal legal and political equality. It is clear that liberals believe that every individual must have an equal opportunity to achieve success. However, it's important to understand that liberal thinkers do not necessarily believe that all individuals should have an equal result in terms of their success. Liberals acknowledge that individuals are all different from one another and therefore possess different talents, skills and work ethics. This idea that individuals should have an equal opportunity to develop their unequal abilities holds strong ties to the theory of meritocracy. This is the idea that the most able and most hard working people will succeed the most in life, regardless of social factors. Classical liberals believe that meritocracy works and can be applied to all aspects of life for any member of society, regardless of class. John Locke was a pioneer of such ideas in the seventeenth century. In opposition, the modern liberal Robert Nozick has argued that when capitalism replaced feudalism all individuals had equal opportunity and still certain individuals came to be in a better position than others. ...read more.

Conclusion

Others would disagree claiming that the cream would always rise to the top and even after wealth had been redistributed and freedom and equality co-existed successfully an elite would once again come to be in a better position due to the theory of meritocracy. There is no doubt that liberalism does make an effort to fulfil its commitment to both individual freedom and equality. However, liberalism itself is particularly diverse and depending on the position one takes on the ideological spectrum, it can be seen to succeed or not succeed in fulfilling the dual commitments. Possibly, it is best to see individual freedom and equality co-existing as much as they can and at certain times maybe one has more influence over the other, interchangeably. (Word count: 1, 464 words.) 1 It was not until the early part of the 19th century that Liberalism was seen as a political ideology. It was first used in Spain in 1812 and by the 1840s the term was widely recognised throughout Europe. 2 Collins and Gem. Dictionary and Thesaurus, ('Freedom' and 'Equality') 3 Political Ideologies: An Introduction. Author: Andrew Heywood. (Chapter 2, Page 29) 4 Political Ideologies: An Introduction. Author: Andrew Heywood (Chapter 2, Page 60) 5Ideologies and Political Theory, a conceptual approach. Author Michael Freeden, (pg 141). ?? ?? ?? ?? Andrew Farleigh Page 1 10/05/2007 ...read more.

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