Classical liberalism definition

SOURCE: AP Photo

President Franklin D. Roosevelt is shown signing a law that created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933. President Roosevelt's so-called New Deal liberalism drew largely from ideas of classic liberalism.

The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama

Classical liberalism is synonymous with a faith in reason, which had arisen out of the Enlightenment as a reaction to claims of divine rule by the clergy and royalty of the late Middle Ages. It found expression in the thoughts of many writers across Europe and the British Isles, including John Stuart Mill, John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant, as well as in the political arguments of America’s founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and James Madison.[1] Liberal freedoms were primarily freedoms of the mind: freedom of thought, of expression, of religion, and of self-invention without regard to the customs of caste, creed, or crown. Above all, liberalism implied both an ability and a responsibility of people to think for themselves, to create their own destinies, and to follow their own consciences. Examining the evolution of liberal belief since its founding, the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr observed in an article published on July 4, 1955, in The New Republic, that liberalism in the broadest sense was characterized by a commitment “to free the individual from the traditional restraints of a society, to endow the ‘governed’ with the power of the franchise, to establish the principle of the ‘consent of the governed’ as the basis of political society; to challenge all hereditary privileges and traditional restraints upon human initiative.”[2]

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