What is Classic Liberalism?

Prior to the 20th century, classical liberalism was the dominant political philosophy in the United States. It was the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and the signers of the Declaration of Independence and it permeates the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and many other documents produced by the people who created the American system of government. Many of the emancipationists who opposed slavery were essentially classical liberals, as were the suffragettes, who fought for equal rights for women.

Basically, classical liberalism is the belief in liberty. Even today, one of the clearest statements of this philosophy is found in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. At that time, as is the case today, most people believed that rights came from government. People thought they only had such rights as government elected to give them. But following the British philosopher John Locke, Jefferson argued that it’s the other way around. People have rights apart from government, as part of their nature. Further, people can form governments and dissolve them. The only legitimate purpose of government is to protect these rights.

People who call themselves classical liberals today tend to have the basic view of rights and role of government that Jefferson and his contemporaries had. Moreover, they do not tend to make any important distinction between economic liberties and civil liberties.

Goodman, John C., ed. “What is Classical Liberalism?

http://www.ncpa.org/pub/special/20051220-special.html#footnotes (20 Dec 2005)

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1 Response to “About this Blog”


  1. 1 donh
    June 3, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    LIBERAL, and CLASSIC LIBERAL. “The Road to Serfdom, 1944, Frederich A. Hayek.

    Hayek’s forward to the 1952 printing by The University of Chicago Press,
    which was also dedicated to “THE SOCIALISTS OF ALL PARTIES.”

    Hayek wrote: “The fact that this book was originally written with only the
    British public in mind does not appear to have seriously affected its intelligibility
    for the American reader. But there is one point of phraseology which I ought to
    explain here to forestall any misunderstanding. I use throughout the term “liberal”
    in the normal nineteenth century sense in which it is still current in Britain.
    In current American usage it often means very nearly the opposite of this. It has
    been part of the camouflage of leftish movements in this country, helped by the
    muddleheadedness of many who really believe in liberty, that “liberal” has come
    to mean the advocacy of almost every kind of government control. I am still
    puzzled by those in the United States who truly believe in liberty should not only
    have allowed the left to appropriate this almost indispensable term but should
    even have assisted by beginning to use it themselves as a term of opprobrium.
    This seems to be particularly regrettable because of the consequent tendency of many
    true liberals to describe themselves as conservatives.


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