What is Liberalism?
Classical liberalism is an ideology where individual freedom is at the center. The ideology has roots which go back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, and the Enlightenment. Liberalists believe that you have the right to your own life.
In classical liberalism, only one kind of freedom matters: so-called negative freedom, or freedom from something. «Negative freedom» may not sound too appealing, but it implies that your freedom is secure against the «freedom» of others to. My freedom ends where yours begins.
Concretely, this means that acts that deliberately violate other people are strictly forbidden, such as threats, theft, vandalism, fraud, robbery, rape, murder, and the like. All other activities are allowed.
The government is the body responsible for protecting the rights of the citizens. An individual’s rights can only be safeguarded in a society based on the rule of law, where everyone plays by the same rules – this means that the laws are universal and exactly the same for everyone.
The principle of protecting the individual’s right to live in peace means that the government has a specific set of limited, yet comprehensive, functions:
- Military: To protect citizens against external powers, primarily the military forces of other governments.
- Police: To protect citizens against crime, such as theft and murder.
- Judiciary: To judge criminals, ensure that contracts are respected, resolving civil disputes, and making sure that new legislation is not in conflict with the constitution.
The long-term goal is for the constitutional state to be financed by voluntary means. Until this can be accomplished, the current taxes and fees must be decreased gradually. This may sound unlikely today, but it is very realistic in a liberal society where rational ideas dominate.
An Inclusive Government
In a liberal society, all persons are free to do exactly as they please, as long as they do not violate the rights of others to make decisions about their own lives. You can be a capitalist, communist, Muslim, homosexual, racist, or social democrat, and still live the way you want. The only difference is that you can no longer force other people to participate in your ideology or religion.
This means that communists can live in peace in their own commune, Muslims in their own communities, social democrats under their own welfare systems, and so on, if that’s what they want. Such an arrangement is valid as long as nothing is going on that violates the constitution, such as members being forced to join or members threatening or compelling outsiders to participate.
- The primary goal of liberalism is to ensure individual freedom and peace
- This means safeguarding individual freedom from all kinds of violations
- Government is central to liberalism and has limited but important functions: Defense, police, and judiciary, in order to protect individuals against various types of violations
- In liberalism, everything must be voluntary, even financing the government
- A liberal constitutional society includes everyone: this means that everyone, including, e.g. socialists, can live as they please, as long as they are peaceful
- Transitioning to a liberal society can only be done gradually