Politics in Minutes (2016)

British liberalism

Surrounded by the revolutionary atmosphere of the late 18th century, liberalism as a political movement flourished – perhaps surprisingly – in Britain. As well as the social liberalism built on Locke’s championing of natural rights and Bentham’s utilitarian moral philosophy, the Scottish political economist Adam Smith laid the foundations of liberal economic theory, based on the principles of the free market.

The most prominent British liberal thinker was undoubtedly J.S. Mill (pictured), whose 1859 book On Liberty set out the principles of liberalism in terms of ‘the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual’. This introduced the concept of social liberty – freedom from the tyranny of political rulers, but also from the tyranny of the majority. Mill advocated that this could be achieved by establishing a number of civil and political rights, and a democratically elected government whose power is restricted by the requirement to recognize these rights.

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