Classical Liberalism believed in personal freedom, in personal rights and in Laissez faire economics. The idea that Government should allow business as much freedom as it likes. It's no coincidence that such an economic policy lead to the rise of Unions and Socialism. But Classical Liberalism was the political philosophy of the Victorian age, in Britain and France, the low Countries and Scandinavia, the United States and what came to be called the Dominions (Canada, Australia etc.). By the 1950's it was the dominate political philosophy, with only Communism as a serious rival. Then at the height of it's power it fractured into Right Liberalism, Left Liberalism and Feminism. What caused it to fracture and why did it fracture into those 3 factions?
First lets take a step back, Classical Liberalism looks quite Conservative compared to the Liberalism we are used too these days, and many who remain Classical Liberals call themselves Conservatives, but they are Liberals not Conservatives and we must always remember that.
In the Victorian age, Classical Liberalism was a way for the Middle class, particularly the rising nouveau riches (French for new rich), to make a claim on politics. It was a way of announcing their arrival as a new and powerful political player, because before the Victorian age most did not have political power, nor did most have the right to vote. This class wanted to be free from Government interference, free to do as they liked and free to make money as they saw fit. Not without restraint, they still believed in restraint but of a moral and personal nature, Governments role was only to do what the individual or business could not or should not do. In many ways what it believed is Conservative, but the sense that we are all in this together was rejected, every man for himself. It also rejected tradition and hierarchy as they stopped the everyman from rising, as they saw it, to his best.
But the rise of Classical Liberalism was at the expense of the Aristocracy and the Working class, both urban and rural. Because it believed in the self made man, that each man should be free to make his own way in the world and that he shouldn't be held back by social class or origin. They believed in merit, not in being born into a role, but in the best man for the job. Each generation inventing itself. And while most Classical Liberals would say they reject the idea, in reality they believe in Leveling, in the idea that there should only be one social class and that all men should be equal. That the Upper class and the Working class are in a sense illegitimate and that they should cease to exist and become one with the Middle class, the natural class.
It is this class aspect which saw the rise of Unions and Socialism, to oppose the rise of Classical Liberalism, and over time they merged. This joining together was often called Progressivism. Still supporting Classical Liberalism, unless it attacked the Working class. If it did then they supported the Working class instead. Here was an attempt to reconcile two very different philosophies and for a while it worked. But it fell victim to the idea that it was always compromising, that it didn't really stand for anything. But slowly Socialism did seep into Classical Liberalism.
The First World War was a major challenge as Classical Liberalism needed all the help it could get to win. It is during this war that Socialism was given support, a kind of war Socialism was adopted. Rationing, the compulsory acquisition of goods, compulsory control of money, foreign trade and the economy, compulsory military and industrial service, and the leveling of the sexes and social classes, everyone is in this together. People asked, not unreasonably, if it worked to win the war why couldn't Socialism, or at least some kind of Socialism work to solve the problems of peace. The Russian Revolution stopped alot of people from being too enthusiastic, while encouraging others. The Great Depression pushed these ideas even further. It challenged the idea that Classical Liberalism had all the answers and it created divisions within Liberalism on how best to solve this problem.
Finally the Cold War put the final nail into the coffin of Classical Liberalism. The choice between Socialism and Capitalism was now stark. Should the Government control the entire economy as Communism said, or should the Government have a more limited role? How limited? It was on this final point, how limited, that Classical Liberalism crashed and broke apart.
It split in 3, those still interested in Liberal economics became Right-Liberals or economic Liberals, also known as Dry's, they rejected Socialism utterly. Those interested in society came to believe in identity politics, infused with both the ideas of a Liberal society and the ideals of a Socialist society. They came to ignore economics and concentrate on society becoming Left-Liberals or Social Liberals. Finally a third group also split, one that had been part of Liberalism for over a century, Feminism. But now Feminism wasn't restrained by being a part of Classical Liberalism, it no longer had to seem respectable to married men. It became more radical now also infused with Socialist ideas.
In the 1950's hardly anyone noticed the split, it was only in the 1960's that it really became noticeable. It is why the 1960's were so radical and it demonstrates why Conservatives always opposed Classical Liberalism, we always knew that it couldn't stand still that it would continue to change and that it started radical and it always would be and so it continues to be, Liberalism, the most radical of all the political philosophies.
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