Classic Liberalism is the branch of liberalism that advocates political freedom and civil liberties with limited government control. It is a political ideology of capitalism that started in the later part of 17th century. This ideology widely advocates and promotes unhampered market economy, use of private properties, right to enjoy any religion, rule of law and free international trade. The term ‘classical’ is used to differentiate it with the liberalism practices after 20th century, often known as social or neo-classical liberalism. (Zafirovski, 2009, pp 340) In this neo-classic liberalism or modern liberalism economy is controlled to a larger extent by government as opposite to the case of classic liberalism.


 Probably classic liberalism first emerged as a concept in 1688 in Britain. Whig (political party) established a new political theory that believed that the power of executive has to be constrained. At that time there were many influential writers that promoted classical liberalism, some of these famous writers were John Locke, Adam Smith and David Hume.

Classic Liberalism, a political theory, is concerned with the existing relationship and dynamics between civil society and the government. The definitions and attributes of Classic liberalism can be seen in the United States constitution. The underlying premise under classic liberalism is that people should be absolutely free to practice and act whatever they want. The fundamental belief of classic liberalism lies in the individual freedom. Classic liberalism suggests that it is not the government that grants rights to people; in fact it is just the opposite. People have the natural rights and duties and people are free to express their rights. There should be voluntary associations between civil society and government, either of the party should not treat other as the burden i.e. there should not be any dependence and people should enjoy complete freedom. (Griffith, 1997, pp 224) Classic liberalism believes that the essential contributors to civil society are the members that help each other. In classic liberalism the market is also considered as a part of civil society. Classic liberalism as put out by Rosenblum “contends that the free market is part of what makes society civil.”

One of the aspects that annoy the advocates of classic liberalism is that power is a door to corruption and when people are granted power they tend to become more corrupt. The members of society should be fair and good and they should believe in overall development, however people can be vicious to, and it happens when it is about the position of power. This is one of the reason that classic liberalism doesn’t give any power to the hands of government, the literature suggests that classic liberalism advocates that government should just be a referee that can judge the acts of people and should ensure that people in the society should play a fair play. As per classic liberals society is sufficient to produce whatever goods and services it needs and there should be minimum involvement of government. In history there have been many classic liberals that have been very skeptical about the government, its roles and responsibilities. (Silova, 2010, pp 23)

With changing times classic liberals also started to accept the role of government in establishing a fair society. It was also accepted that government plays a vital role in the establishment and development of economy. With the passage of ‘Factory Act’ in 19th century in United Kingdom, government intervention increased. As compared to Europe, USA had less opposition to classic liberalism. In this era of globalization, where societies have transformed themselves beyond domestic boundaries, there is an increased role of government and in fact this was one of the reason for a transformation from ‘classic liberalism’ to ‘social welfare state’.

Classic liberalism is often compared and contrast with social liberalism. Many researchers and experts have to believe that social liberalism is the complete opposite to classic liberalism, however there are many experts who believe that social liberalism is just the extension of classic liberalism and therefore it is also termed as neo-classical liberalism. This social liberalism started to expand after 1990 when international trade started to flourish and government was seen as an influencer in society. That was the time when the roles of government changed and government started to enjoy more strength and power and with this power came more responsibility (to act for people).


In the analysis it is understood that classic liberalism promotes and advocates three major things, these are voluntarily association, limited government control and free market. The democracy is the basic premise of classic liberalism and people should not only believe in doing good things but they should actually love to do well. With the changes in the economic and social conditions of nations, the idea of pure or classic liberalism faded and the government emerged as a source that controls civil society. For the complete justification of its role, government does enjoy certain rights and benefits. One thing is clear that classical liberalism is the phenomenon of past and the entire world (both developed and developing nations) have come past that era when society was so free that government intervention was not desired. Going forward in time it is expected that social liberalism or neo-classical liberalism would continue to dominate the major part of the world.

Order now

Related essays