An Assessment of the Impact of Liberal Political Theory on Modern British Society And Politics
Liberal political philosophy has been related to ideas regarding matters that deal with individual rights in the society and the position given to the government/state when it comes to these rights. Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, and John Locke are some of the earliest philosophers who did shed light on the topic of liberal politics. This paper will look at liberal political theory along the same line of thinking as the one that liberal psychology takes. The modern British society and politics will be used to assess the impact that liberal political theory has on societies and politics while John Locke’s theory will be used in the assessment. To start with, the paper will look at some issues in the society which take a core place in the reasoning by its members; these are unreflective views of the society.
Principles underlying the unreflective views will then be stated and how they exist in the society will be discussed. The first principle shows the contrast between rules and values; the second principle shows that values are actually subjective; the third one affirms that individual members determine general characteristics of a group. The understanding of these principles is vital to the assessment of the impact that liberal political theory has on the society and politics, since they give insight into how order and freedom function in a political environment. At the end of discussion of these principles, it will be possible to make a conclusion about whether liberal political theory has provided a clear understanding of the relationship between rules and values. This will assist in the assessment of the British society and politics and help to answer questions that may be asked on the status of this society and its politics.
Society may be considered as the plurality of people living together. The fact that every individual reasons differently means that to come up with a society, it takes people to come together and agree on a particular way of reasoning. The presence of a society brings in the concept of interdependence in a bid to satisfy an individual’s needs. Liberal political thought is based on rules and values as the basic elements in a society. Rules and values may be used to explain the unreflective view of the society. Liberal philosophy suggests that value is achieved when an individual desire of a want is satisfied, and the importance of the rule arises because people have different values so that demands to achieve may make people prioritize their self-interest, which may disrupt peace.
John Locke’s Liberal Political Theory
Liberal political theory, as argued by John Locke, is based on ideas surrounding equality, independence, and liberty in a society; these, he argues, are under natural law. Natural law holds that there exists moral law which human beings are subject to; this means that naturally human beings have a duty to natural law. Another philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, however, argues that natural law is not about the duty on moral law but is all about individual rights. According to Hobbes, an individual is free to pursue self-interest and exists independently with no duty to any other person. This situation which has been created by nature brings out the concept of ‘rights’ and not that of ‘duty’ in an individual life. Hobbes concludes that this state of nature caused human beings to be at war with each other and in order to solve this situation they created governments and societies. A society is fundamental in bringing individuals together while safeguarding their rights, but every individual is supposed to consent to it for it to be functional.
Therefore, a society does not naturally exist but it is man-made and functions as a form of social contract. John Locke’s philosophy on political liberty is based on Hobbes’ theory. According to Locke, nature presents men as free, independent, and equal creatures. He upholds Hobbes theory that societies and government are formed by consent and their principal function is to ensure that individuals’ rights are safeguarded. Locke goes ahead to argue that the societies and governments are subject to every individual, so they must respect individuals’ rights. The difference between Hobbes’s argument and that of Locke is that Hobbes talks of natural right while Locke talks of both natural law and natural rights. Locke’s argument is that the two co-exist but one of them takes precedence. In his ‘Second Treatise of Government’ Locke holds that individuals are free, equal, and at liberty by nature. However, there exists the law of nature which limits them on the extent to which they should enjoy this freedom. The natural law exists, so that individuals may have duty towards respecting other people’s rights.
While looking at the British society and politics, the fundamental reason of using John Locke’s argument is to get a deep insight into liberalism. A liberal system is the one that allows individuals to exercise their rights, but the health of the system depends on responsibility by the individuals when enjoying the rights. The sense of responsibility comes in when individuals take it as their duty to respect others rights. The course of what should come before the other - individual rights or natural law - seems to create controversy in the society.
Modern British Politics
Basing the argument on John Locke liberal philosophy, Britain can be said to have well adapted the ideology of striking a balance between respecting the rights of individuals and using the power of the state to put limit to the extent of freedom of individuals. This viewpoint of ‘balance’ may be used to explain the situation of politics and social life in Britain. The governmental structure is of great significance while assessing the impact that liberal political philosophy has had on British politics. It is said that whenever change comes, the society cannot avoid it - it is inevitable. This is the situation that liberalism seems to have put Britain through; ideas that were brought along by liberalism called for massive changes in the way the government functions. When people understood the concepts of liberalism, many became interested in politics, and this gave rise to political groups which united people with common interests.
In the early 19th century, most of these groups were interested in changing governmental arrangements in order to ensure that the rights of citizens are protected. British liberalism involved minor changes in the monarchy system of its rule and, more importantly, it involved giving more power to peoples’ representatives in the system. The basic principle of this liberalism in the British government was derived from Locke’s writings in ‘Two Treatises of Government’ which emphasized that the government’s role is to serve citizens. The power of the government rests in limiting the behavior of people as they exercise their freedom, but this power is also limited by the natural law. The natural law gives individuals the right to liberty, life, and estate without approval by the government. In order to ensure that people live in harmony without anyone disrespecting others’ rights, the government is given the role to act on behalf of other people in controlling the behavior of individuals. It is for this reason that the government is said to exist for the purpose of serving people. People come together and decide to relinquish some degree of freedom given by the natural law in order to enjoy better security by allowing a central system to control their behavior. This aligns with Locke’s idea that an individual should be subject to political control by consent. The formation of society is related to comfort, safety, and better security of those involved.
Impact of Liberals on Electoral Procedures
After a long history of political disappointments, liberals in Britain seemed to be making great moves. The hope for accomplishing has seen liberal parties in Britain undergoing renewal and transforming significantly in order to make a major comeback. The Liberal Party was formed early in the 20th century, but it did not get enough support for it to make impact on the British politics. This made the liberals collaborate with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 in order to have a strong foundation. The collaboration gave birth to Liberal Democrats which has helped liberals in accomplishing their tasks. One significant accomplishment of the Liberal Democrats is the huge support that they got during the 2005 general elections. That was the first achievement that the liberalists made in an electoral scene. Liberal Democrats developed proposals which called for limited state interference in the lives of the citizens. They concentrated on public services by pushing the government to fund improvements in order to ensure the economic equality. In this respect, they seemed to have been influenced, to a great extent, by John Locke’s theory of equality.
Contemporary Liberal Democrats have been pushing constitutional reforms in order to change powers given to the state. They argue that the political system has ‘elective dictatorship’ which has made the state exert excessive powers over the citizens. The electoral system allowed the election of a government with less than fifty percent of the total votes in the parliament. The elected government had high chances of passing legislations because most of the parliamentary members were influenced by their parties while voting. This illustrates how the power the government is most assured once it is in action. In addition, even in case of defeat while in the House of Lords, the government is in a position to reverse the defeat while in the House of Commons. Traditionally, the government can make decisions without necessary approval or taking opinions from the citizens, yet this has been pointed at by liberalist as a process of undermining the liberty of citizens and excessive use of power.
The fight to eliminate the ‘elective Dictatorship’ has been one of the major moves made by the liberals in controlling the use of powers by the government. They have insisted on involving some other parties in the electoral system (they wanted the government to include Liberal Democrats in the electoral process). This, they argued, would bring democracy and ensure an efficient government by monitoring activities going on in the government.
The House of Lords is another area of governance that Liberal Democrats wish to see reformed; they have suggested inclusion of human rights society in law-making. This, they reason, would help to ensure that the government becomes more effective by always accounting for any action it makes. The collective idea by Liberal Democrats on these moves is to ensure that the welfare of citizens is always at core of the government’s priorities when they are making decisions. So far the government has responded to most of the demands by the Liberal Democrats, especially on matters related to the electoral process; although they have not done exactly the way the liberals have suggested, this marks one area of great achievement in modern liberalism.
Fight for Civil Liberty
Influenced by liberal political theory advocating freedom and liberty, Liberal Democrats expressed concern and criticized the move by the government to have identity cards issued to citizens and the plan to expand CCTV. They have termed the move as an excessive power on rights of the citizens, since it would interfere with the privacy of individuals. Fight for civil liberty by the liberal democrats has been significant in the modern government since they have been involved in analyzing any decision made by the government. When the government proposed an extension of time for detention without trial for any terrorist suspect, the liberals were quick to oppose this move as it interfered with individual liberty. As much as terrorists use freedom negatively and the government was making the move to improve the social order, the liberals argued that the government was interfering with individual liberty (referring to the terrorists) which they are entitled to by nature.
Although the terrorists use their liberty negatively, the liberals still felt that there is need to balance the situation by having the state not going over-bond in ensuring social order. They claimed that although the government wanted to uphold the liberty of individuals, an increasing detention period would not guarantee that the social order will be maintained by this move. They further argued that the measures mentioned on how to safeguard individual liberty were practically unworkable, and that the bill would only alienate certain communities, especially the Muslims. Nevertheless, the government did not give in to these arguments, and it maintained that the bill was crucial in fighting terrorism.
This issue on national security is one of the major issues which Liberal Democrats have been immensely involved in. It has, however, been politicized to a great extent and eventually overshadowed by the political interest of some groups. For instance, the Labor has been accused of using the debate on national security to strengthen Gordon Brown politics; the implication of this scenario is that the main interest is not to ensure that the liberty of citizens is protected, but it is rather for political interest.
The running of the government being fundamental in today’s version of liberal philosophy is responsible for ensuring that people who formed it enjoy not only social freedom but also the economic freedom in the society. Free market economy which is prevalent in the world today, if not monitored, may be a gateway for people’s oppression. It is in such scenario that the government is viewed as the only effective agent in ensuring that there are policies which state how the market should operate. This provides a good example of how liberal philosophy has expanded from the realm of politics to other areas including economics. The situation explains that the government has been given power by the people to protect them from the economic oppression which may be found in a free market.
Liberalism in modern British society is taken as a form of enlightened thinking; it is a form of thinking that detests autocracy by the government. The industrial revolution popularized liberalism particularly when industry owners realized that the workforce supply was much less and could not meet the demand. Industry owners complained that labor unions were interfering with the workers’ right in the workplace.
Liberals in the modern society have focused on ensuring that the state is keen on its responsibility to ensure that citizens’ rights are secure. The liberals are still believers of personal freedom and of minimalist state interference. Due to globalization, more situations have been created and liberals still have a stake in these situations especially on matters related to trade, religion, and taxation. With industrialization in the modern economy different forms of inequalities have been experienced and it has become difficult to support that it has come to bring prosperity to the lives of the citizens and liberate them.
Industrialization seems to be making people pursue self-interests and eventually a socially unjust society gets formed. This has made the liberals rethink their perception of the government and they now push the government to intervene more to control injustices in the society. What has been concluded with the state of industrialization is that the economic freedom which at first seemed important in supporting individual freedom proposes the idea of negative freedom. Economic freedom is accelerating exploitation especially of buyers by sellers and of workers by their employers
The Modern British Society
Just like other societies worldwide, the British society has grown in diversity. This has in particular affected personal morality with regard to areas such as cultural and religious practices. The spread of multiculturalism has ignited ideological argument related to liberalism. Liberalism according to Locke’s theory values supports individual liberty and this appears to the factor accelerating the rate at which multiculturalism is spreading. This liberty also seems to be the factor causing toleration in the society when individuals make choices on matters such as religious and cultural practices. Toleration in this regard may be taken to refer to inaction by moral reasoning. This understanding may help distinguish tolerance from narrow-mindedness or blind indifference. For instance, if a parent does not punish a child with unruly behavior, this is not tolerance but it may be irresponsibility or negligence.
Tolerance involves willingness to put up with a situation even when you do not agree with the beliefs surrounding the situation or you dislike it. Liberals in the modern British society are great supporters of tolerance in the society. These liberals have used ideology in political philosophy to justify why tolerance is crucial in the society. They have used Locke’s argument that rational individuals have the right to choose beliefs; intolerance is therefore a form of social injustice. This kind of reasoning by liberals may be said to have great impact on the modern British society on social matters such as religion, racial, and sex. Religion tolerance has made it possible to have different kinds of religion ranging from Christianity, Hinduism, to Islamic. The ideology also has great influence on matters of sex whereby heterosexuals and homosexuals now co-exist on grounds of tolerance by the society.
This tolerance however has a limit with the most basic form of this tolerance is only on views and practices which are tolerant to individual freedom. For instance, practices which are said to enhance cultural identity should themselves be tolerant to individual’s freedom. This means that they are practices which cannot be tolerated for instance female circumcision or forced marriages even if they are meant for cultural identity. The other limit of tolerance applies when there are shared political values or civic allegiance. Liberals insist that a society is more stable if diversity affects an individual life and not assumed that only shared values will bring stability in the society. It is within this context that in 2008 Shari’a courts in UK were criticized by liberals. Liberals reasoned that Shari’a courts if they are to be allowed they should operate alongside the formal court system but they should be subordinate and comply with general rules governing the formal court system especially rules on human rights.
Impact of Liberal Values on British Society
The premise of liberalism with reference to Locke’s theory is individualism; the values of this premise have been accused of causing social decay and social breakdown in general. The modern British society has undergone massive changes with regard to the social setting. This society has been reported to be among the countries with high number of cases on family breakdown and forms of social decay such as drugs and substance abuse. According to a report by Children’s Society in 2009, British children are at a greater risk of getting into various forms of social decay such as alcoholism and teenage pregnancy. They are also rough to each other and many of them live in families of average income.
The report has discussed modern liberal societies on concerning their status in the society; these societies promote individualism which can be used to explain the fate of the most vulnerable in the society. The social breakdown in the modern British society has been attributed to the values that liberal political theory has placed in the society. Individual freedom given by this theory has made human beings feel like abstract entities separate from social attachments. This has resulted in the non-cohesiveness status in the society, and it has further impacted the collective behavior of the society. Originally, liberalism was meant to ensure cohesiveness in the society, also it was meant to protect the rights of every individual disregarding their social status. However this ideology in the modern society has turned out evil; liberal values which once seemed to offer abundance in life have given way for social evils to thrive. Individual’s freedom which was once meant to ensure justice prevails in the society has become the cause of injustices in the society.
It would be reasonable to conclude that liberal political theory has had a great influence on the British politics and society in general. This influence has not been one-sided; while it helped to ensure justice was established in the society, social evils have thrived well within the premises of liberalism. From the several issues discussed concerning the British political environment, it can be safely concluded that this is a perfect example of how liberal political theory has impacted the political field. To be more specific, the move by modern liberals in British politics to monitor state involvement in matters affecting the citizens such as elections and national security is a perfect example of how liberal values impact the society. On the same note, a look at how people are using freedom with irresponsibility, especially with regard to terrorism, has provided a good example of how liberal political theory has impacted the society in a negative way.
The concept of individualism which liberals insist on in their pursuit looks as if it was creating great controversy in how the modern society is run. The very motive that liberals exposed was the importance of upholding individualism to ensure that human life was respected, and also to ensure that when a society is formed, its position would be that of serving the citizens and not vice versa. However, this important point seems to have been lost on the way as people now realize that they are entitled to freedom by nature. The state which is formed to serve people also seems to have forgotten that it is not above the rights of people.That is the reason the liberals are insisting on being involved in the operations of the state in order to ensure that it does not go beyond its role in operations.
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