Author Archives: Dictionary of Liberal Thought

DLT: Social Liberalism

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. This month we conclude our trilogy of postings on liberalism – classical, economic and social. This month, it’s social. You can read other previous extracts on LDV here. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

Social Liberalism

Social liberals believe in individual freedom as a central objective – like all liberals. Unlike economic or classical liberals, however, they believe that poverty, unemployment, ill-health, disability and lack of education are serious enough constraints on freedom that state action is justified to redress them. The British Liberal Democrats are generally considered a social liberal party, as are a number of other European liberal parties.

The development of social liberalism can be seen as a response to the problems of industrialisation in the mid- to late nineteenth century. Although free trade, the opening up of global markets and the transformation of European economies from agriculture to manufacturing delivered prosperity for many, they were also accompanied by a rising incidence of poverty amongst the new urban working classes.

In Britain the New Liberalism of T. H. Green, L. T. Hobhouse and J. A. Hobson, among many others, was the response. They argued that laissez-faire economic policies and the unrestrained pursuit of profit had given rise to new forms of poverty and injustice; the economic liberty of the few had blighted the life chances of the many. Negative liberty, the removal of constraints on the individual – the central aim of classical liberalism – would not necessarily lead to freedom of choice for all, as not everyone enjoyed access to the same opportunities; freedom of choice was therefore heavily constrained. Green proposed the idea of positive freedom (not to be confused with Isaiah Berlin’s notion of positive liberty): the ability of the individual to develop and attain individuality through personal self-development and self-realisation. Since much of the population was prevented from such self-realisation by the impediments of poverty, sickness, unemployment and ignorance, government was justified in taking action to tackle all those conditions. This was not a threat to liberty, but the necessary guarantee of it. As David Lloyd George put it in 1908, ‘British Liberalism is not going to repeat the errors of Continental Liberalism … Let Liberalism proceed with its glorious work of building up the temple of liberty in this country, but let it also bear in mind that the worshippers at the shrine have to live.’

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DLT: Economic Liberalism

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. This month we continue our trilogy of postings on liberalism – classical, economic and social. Last month it was classical; this month, it’s economic. You can read other previous extracts on LDV here. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

Economic Liberalism

In political terms, economic liberals proclaim their belief in individual freedom and free markets; they support a reduction in the role of the …

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DLT: Classical Liberalism

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. This month we start a trilogy of postings on liberalism – classical, economic and social. This month, it’s classical. You can read previous extract on LDV here. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

Classical liberalism

The meaning of the term ‘liberalism’ has become increasingly diffused and has been subject to many changes and interpretations over time. In the Anglo-Saxon world, ‘classical liberalism’ is the term often used by those who want to preserve the original ideas of liberalism, based on individual freedom, the rule of law and free markets; they support a reduction in the role of the state, particularly in economic and welfare policy.

In the course of its history the term ‘liberalism’ has undergone many changes and reinterpretations. Those of today’s liberals (especially in the Anglo-Saxon world) who see themselves as the heirs of the ‘original’ tradition of liberalism often call themselves ‘classical liberals’. Neither this ‘original tradition’ nor the term ‘classical liberalism’ can be defined with absolute precision, but there is a rough consensus. Today’s ‘classical liberals’ agree that individual freedom ranks above material equality, that the state’s sphere has to be more strictly limited than it is today and that freedom is the guarantor of wealth for the people. The following political creed can be extracted from their writings:

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DLT: Liberal Summer School (now Keynes Forum)

For the past year, Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Last month’s instalment was Keynesianism, following on John Maynard Keynes; this month, the Liberal Summer School. You can read previous chapters on LDV here. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

Liberal Summer School (now Keynes Forum)

Founded in 1921 as an annual week-long residential school to develop innovative Liberal policies, domestic and international, for the post-war world, the Liberal Summer Schools were the source of the Liberal ‘Yellow Book’ and helped to develop the thinking behind Beveridge’s proposals for the reform of welfare provision. The School now survives as an annual one-day seminar, in 2004 renamed the Keynes Forum, and run by CentreForum.

The Liberal Summer Schools movement in the 1920s originated in the apparently disparate strands of Nonconformist (q.v.) Manchester liberalism, as represented by Ernest Simon (q.v.) and C. P Scott (1846–1932), social and industrial reformers from Toynbee Hall and the LSE (including William Beveridge (q.v.) and Seebohm Rowntree (1871–1954)); and John Maynard Keynes’s (q.v.) Cambridge- and Bloomsbury-based circle of young economists (including Hubert Henderson (1890–1952), Walter Layton (q.v.) and Dennis Robertson (1890-–1963)).

In 1920 Liberals were simultaneously faced with a world that seemed both dangerously disintegrated and full of exciting promise, and with the disastrous Asquith–Lloyd George (q.v.) split. Recognising the urgent need for positive Liberal polices to fill this vacuum, the powerful Manchester Liberal Federation under Ernest Simon and the chief national party agent, Thomas Tweed, initiated the movement which ‘recruited intellectuals to the Liberal Party, and provided a forum at which experts could float their ideas about contemporary economic, social, and industrial questions’.

The first Summer School was held at Grasmere in 1921, on the lines of the Fabian Summer Schools. The founders included the historians Ramsay Muir (q.v.) and Philip Guedalla (1889–1944), and the economists Keynes, Henderson and Layton, supported by Simon’s friend and Lloyd George loyalist, C. P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian. Eleanor Rathbone (1872–1946), herself from a Manchester Nonconformist Liberal dynasty, spoke on ‘Women and the Family’. ‘What a party!’ Simon noted in his diary at about this time: ‘No leaders. No organisation. No policy. Only a Summer School!’

The format, retained for many years, was a residential ‘school’ where Liberals and sympathisers met in a university setting to hear and discuss lectures on topical issues, domestic and international. The ‘school’ structure remained through the 1920s and ’30s; the programme was described as a ‘Syllabus’, with the emphasis on discussion rather than received wisdom, and a recommended reading list. The week included cultural excursions, concerts, a dance, a garden party and sometimes a satirical revue by School members.

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DLT: Keynesianism

For the past year, Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Last month’s instalment was John Maynard Keynes; this month, Keynesianism. You can read previous chapters on LDV here. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

Keynesianism

A school of economic thought inspired by the work of John Maynard Keynes, especially his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Keynes’s challenge to the ideas underpinning classical and neo-classical economics, and in particular to the proposition that market economies would always find an equilibrium consistent with the highest possible level of economic output, became the foundation for macroeconomics, and Keynesian ideas came to underpin the economic policy of Western governments for the three decades following the Second World War.

In the General Theory, first published in 1936, John Maynard Keynes (q.v.) challenged the majority of his peers in the economics profession, who had steadfastly rejected his notion that there was any need for a branch of economics that distinguished between the behaviour of individual economic actors and the operation of the economy as a whole.

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DLT: John Maynard Keynes 1883-1946

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Last month’s instalment was Mary Wollstonecraft

This month’s entry on Keynes has been selected as it is particularly topical in the current financial climate – and the next two entries to appear, Keynesianism in Februrary, and the Keynes Forum in March, complete the series.  If you can’t wait until March, the entire Dictionary of Liberal Thought is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

John Maynard Keynes 1883–1946

The most influential and important economic thinker of the twentieth century, Keynes’s most important academic works were concerned not only with challenging accepted economic theory but also with finding solutions to real economic problems; his ideas came to underpin the post-war economic strategy of Western governments. He was an active Liberal and contributed to Lloyd George’s reshaping of Liberal Party policy in the 1920s; he also helped to found the Liberal Summer School.

Key ideas

• Human decision-making under uncertainty is necessarily based on subjective expectations of utility (this reflects the fact that human beings lack a sound basis for calculating probabilities).

• Economic recovery from war requires great magnanimity in order to fashion a programme of economic assistance and cooperation that serves the best interests of victors and vanquished alike.

• A stable world requires the strong to help the weak, and intelligent international cooperation is essential in order to build the foundations for general prosperity and diminish the risks of future conflict.

• It is possible that where an economy’s aggregate output is below its potential, it will suffer an extended period of high unemployment and depressed output; public policy should therefore be designed so that government is equipped to raise effective demand in such circumstances.

• The need for an international reserve currency, managed by an international clearing union.

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DLT: Mary Wollstonecraft 1759-97

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Last month the Henry George Foundation; this month Mary Wollstonecraft. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

Mary Wollstonecraft 1759–97

An English radical, whose advocacy of equal rights for women and men attracted considerable attention in her lifetime, Wollstonecraft has subsequently acquired a reputation as the pre-eminent feminist polemicist of her age. The range and quality of her literary work helps to explain much of the contemporary interest in her life and thought.

Key ideas

• The ability to reason should be accepted as the foundation of human political community.

• Women and men cannot be distinguished in terms of their inborn capacity to reason.

• Women and men should, therefore, be treated as equals.

• All need to learn how to employ reason in their own and one another’s best interests.

• Equality of educational opportunity is, therefore, an essential requirement for a fair and a decent society.

• Men – as well as women – will be the beneficiaries if women are no longer subjugated and degraded by men.

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DLT: Henry George Foundation

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Last month Henry George; this month in follow-up, the Henry George Foundation. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

Henry George Foundation

A charity that promotes the theories of Henry George, the Foundation is the principal supporter in the UK of taxes on the value of land (and other natural resources) as a means to promote social justice, alleviate poverty and increase economic efficiency.

Concerned about urban overcrowding and the plight of the poor, in February 1884 the British followers of Henry George (q.v.) established the Scottish Land Restoration League in Glasgow, with 1,800 members. Three months later they captured the London-based Land Reform Union (LRU) and renamed it the English Land Restoration League.

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DLT: Henry George 1839-97

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Before the summer, Conrad Russell; this month Henry George. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

Henry George 1839–97

Nineteenth-century America’s most influential radical theorist, his claim that the God-given land, the source of all wealth, had been unjustly usurped by landlords, and that the situation could be remedied by a tax on the unimproved value of land, inspired a generation of radical and socialist politicians in the English-speaking world and Europe.

Key ideas

• Land is the source of all wealth.

• God gave the land to the people, so its appropriation as private property was theft.
• This can be remedied by taxing away the value of rents paid on land and minerals.
• This ‘single tax’ would eliminate the monopoly power of landowners to exploit wage-earners and allow for the abolition of other taxes.

Biography

Henry George was born in Philadelphia on 2 September 1839, the second of ten children in a devout Episcopalian family. At sixteen, he went to sea and spent ten years drifting from job to job until, with a wife and young family, he settled in San Francisco, where he discovered a talent for journalism and, by 1871, became the editor and co-owner of the San Francisco Daily Evening Post.

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DLT: Conrad Russell – 1937–2004

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Last month, the Institute of Economic Affairs; this month Henry David Thoreau. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

Conrad Russell was an academic and Liberal Democrat peer who helped to define and assert the Liberal Democrats’ philosophical and historical roots after the merger of the Liberal Party and SDP.

Key ideas

  • Liberalism as a philosophy is primarily concerned with the use and dispersal of power.
  • Defence of

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DLT: Institute of Economic Affairs

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Last month, Distributism. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is a UK-based think-tank dedicated to the promotion of economic or classical liberalism. It describes its mission as ‘to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems’. The IEA is one of a small number of think-tanks world-wide that can claim to have had a significant impact on public policy, both in terms of contributing to a transformation of the general climate of opinion in the UK and the implementation of specific policies.

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DLT: Distributism

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Last month, Henry David Thoreau. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

A non-party-political movement that grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, dedicated to small-scale mass ownership of land and property as a bastion against collectivism, big business and big institutions, which its founders believed led inevitably to slavery. Distributism flourished under the early leadership of former Liberals Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, became associated with radical Catholicism and arts and crafts pioneers like Eric Gill, and disintegrated in the 1940s – but was later influential on key Liberal Party policy-makers in the 1950s and green economics pioneers in the 1970s.

The immediate influences on distributism were the ideas of Hilaire Belloc (q.v.), especially in his book The Servile State (1912), and the prolific journalism of G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936). According to its proponents, it was an economic doctrine, but much of what they wrote was also historical criticism and profoundly spiritual.

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DLT: Henry David Thoreau 1817–62

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Last month, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Limited; this month Henry David Thoreau. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

American writer, naturalist and philosopher, best known for Walden, a reflection on simple living amongst nature, and Civil Disobedience, an argument for moral resistance to unjust laws.

Key ideas
• The supremacy of individual conscience over statutory law and social conformity.
• The justification – and obligation – of civil disobedience in response to gross injustice.
• The value of personal development and enriched experience, centred on the pursuit of knowledge of self and nature rather than the accumulation of wealth.
• The importance of untamed nature.

Biography
Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on 12 July 1817; except for brief periods he lived there all his life. He was one of four children born to John Thoreau, a pencil-maker, and Cynthia Dunbar Thoreau, who was active in the Concord Anti-Slavery Society. He attended Harvard College (1833–37), receiving a bachelor’s degree. Afterwards he became a grammar school teacher, worked as a land surveyor and helped run his father’s pencil and graphite factory. All these jobs were secondary to his career as a writer and to his exploration of the woods, fields, lakes and streams of his beloved Concord countryside.

Thoreau never married, living with his family for most of his adult life. He died on 6 May 1862 of tuberculosis aggravated by bronchitis he had developed counting tree rings during a winter storm.

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DLT: Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Limited

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Last month, Community Politics; this month, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Limited. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

Established in 1904 by the Quaker confectionary manufacturer and social reformer Joseph Rowntree, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust promotes political reform, constitutional change and social justice; it has been by far the largest single donor to the Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats.

Joseph Rowntree (1836–1925) was born into the family of a Quaker grocer in York. He built his younger brother Henry’s small cocoa business into a major manufacturer of sweets, chocolate and cocoa, employing nearly 7,000 people by the time of his death. His Quaker faith motivated him to show a genuine concern for his employees and their welfare; Rowntrees was one of the earliest companies to develop a pension scheme, in 1906, and profit-sharing, in 1923.

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DLT: Community Politics

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. This month, Community Politics. The entire book is available on Amazon here.

Community Politics

Community politics encompasses a restatement of the intellectual basis for liberalism, based on devolving power to communities, and a strategy for winning elections, particularly focusing on local government. It emerged as a concept in the late 1960s, and was officially adopted by the Liberal Party at its 1970 assembly.

The theory of community politics emerged from the intellectual ferment of the Young Liberal movement during the late 1960s. Young Liberal leaders drawn to the Liberal Party by Jo Grimond sought to rethink the intellectual case for liberalism, earning the nickname ‘Red Guards’ because their radicalism conflicted with the more staid orthodoxy of the party leadership. After the Red Guards disintegrated following a series of doctrinal disputes, those members who remained with the Liberal Party set out ‘a restatement of Liberalism in a new synthesis to meet the changed perspectives of a new generation’. Bernard Greaves (1942–), Tony (now Lord) Greaves (1942–), Gordon Lishman (1947–) and Michael Meadowcroft were among its main proponents.

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