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Liberalism and the Modern Age

Updated on August 15, 2015

Liberalism and the Modern Age

“Liberalism is an attitude or philosophy that places a heavy emphasis on freedom, equality, and opportunity” (Gaines, 2013, Para. 1). Liberalism was never an idea until the rise of the early modern state system and it basically flourished everywhere but a few countries after the fall of communism in Russia as “the collapse of the Soviet Union and its alliance system was part of a global move toward democratization in the 1980s and 1990s”. (Brooke, Getz, 2012, Para. 3) It is a subject that involves openness to change and new ideas, and that is what the modern age is all about; change and reformation. The ideals that Liberalism embraces are way different than the ideals of the peoples who came before the Modern Age, as they believed in rigid caste systems and kept slaves. Before the Modern Age not everyone was recognized as equal to each other and people could even be bartered with for and as legal tender. The evolution of Liberalism in the Modern Age affected different civilizations in different manners but the basis of Liberalism was and is the same everywhere; freedom, equality and opportunity.

The Modern Age is all about change and reformation, for the bettering of society. During the Modern Age industrialization, which is “sustained economic development based on factory production, division of labor, concentration of industries and population in certain geographical areas, and urbanization” (Business Dictionary, 2013, Def. 2), began. People in societies all over the world began to make machines that would mass produce products which affected their trade industries and economies, mostly for the better. Gunpowder, cannons and guns were invented during the Modern Age as well, for the purpose of protecting rulers from the militarily necessary aristocrats who they feared. Several wonderful things happened during the Modern Age but one very great and very important movement took place. This great movement is what opened up the door for Liberalism and the idea of change. “The religious and scientific revolutions of the previous centuries had simultaneously influenced and benefitted from these cultural patterns in Europe, and together they provided the foundation for yet another wave of social and intellectual challenges bridging the 17th and 18th centuries” (Brooke, Getz, 2012, Para. 3) These challenges are often known collectively as the Enlightenment

“Liberalism emerged from the Enlightenment as a political and cultural set of ideals including a belief in progress, arguments for social equality and an end to the privileges of the aristocracy and church, and a particular conception of the importance of rationality and evidence as the core features of reason” (Brooke, Getz, 2012, Para. 18). Liberalism is all about questioning whether certain things are right for the good of the whole society. It is pretty much the whole idea behind the Scientific Revolution, which [began in the early 16th century at the hands of a handful of mathematical, scientific, and philosophical figures whose work built on long-established patterns yet also sought to define a new way of understanding and explaining the universe itself] (Brooke, Getz, 2012, Para. 5), the American Revolution, which “had an important demonstration effect on other Atlantic societies” (Brooke, Getz, 2012, Para. 8), and the French Revolution, which “occurred because of a synergy of complaints from aristocrats, members of the bourgeoisie, together with some workers and peasants” (Brooke, Getz, 2012, Para. 13). [In Christian Europe, a German monk named Martin Luther (1483–1546) initiated what later became known as the Protestant Reformation by publicly challenging inconsistencies and abuses within the Roman Catholic Church] (Brooke, Getz, 2012, Para. 6) which also follows the ideals of Liberalism since it questioned if the Catholic Church was doing right for the good of the society. Since the Revolutions, the Enlightenment and the Reformation, Liberalism has become a very widespread idea, spanning across various continents, affecting each society a little differently.

[Reagan's view of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc of Warsaw Pact nations may not have been shared by everyone, but his prediction of its demise proved accurate. Within a decade, the communist regimes of the eastern European countries had fallen, divided Germany was reunified under a liberal government, and the Soviet Union had broken up into 15 republics] (Brooke, Getz, 2012, Para. 2). The fall of communism was great for pretty much everyone with minor negative implications. One of the factors of the fall of communism was the lack of food and luxuries available to the lower class, along with the fact that the upper class did not seem to care and the "equality" that communism was supposed to embrace was faulty at best. The whole system was hypocritical, always leaning toward the favor of the upper class citizens, hardly ever falling to the favor of the lower class. Another factor that added to the collapse of communism was Gorbachev, who wanted liberalism and democracy introduced into his country, and the regime changes that he put in place which lead to the introduction of Western ideas to Russia and its citizens. The negative impact that the fall of communism brought about was that the lack of a governmental power running everything in Russia lead to very violent protests, disputes and general violence, which also increased among the different ethnic people in one culture. The whole collapse changed people’s lives and made a lot of people realize that humans are really all equal to one another; unfortunately, it kind of left the same people to “fend for themselves” and rely on their governments a lot less. However, the collapse of communism did allow Liberalism to spread like a wildfire. People everywhere began to question if their governments were doing what was right for them, thus, the spread of democracy. There are some cultures that did not really pick up on the idea of Liberalism until recently but, Liberalism has been an openly growing and spreading idea since communism fell after the Cold War. Cultures that came before the Modern Age would have scoffed and been perplexed by the way that people question their governments in this day and age. Such notions and ideas in the Post Modern Era would have gotten you punished and probably beheaded or worse as they would have been called treason or heresy.

Before the Modern Age and Liberalism, cultures were archaic and barbaric at best. Most of the cultures before the Modern Age had very rigid caste systems where royalty was at the very top, aristocrats were right behind them, next were merchants and finally lower class citizens, or slaves were the bottom of the totem pole. Royalty and aristocrats held lower class citizens as slaves and in most cultures valued these people by what they could get for them or how effective they would be while working. Most cultures took their conquest victims as slaves. This can be seen in the Roman culture as they took over other societies and turned a lot of those people into slaves and gladiators, however, you could say that the idea of Liberalism was also present then, just without a real name. People like the men named Spartacus and Vercingetorix stood up against Roman enslavement and lead revolts. “Vercingetorix «vur suhn JEHT uh rihks» (82?-46 B.C.) was a Gallic nobleman who led a revolt in 52 B.C. against the ongoing Roman conquest of Gaul” (Morstein-Marx, 2013, Para. 1) and “Spartacus, «SPAHR tuh kuhs» (?-71 B.C.) led a great slave revolt against the Roman Republic. The rebellion lasted from 73 B.C. to 71 B.C” (Sinnigen, 2013, Para. 1). Women, in most of the cultures before the Modern Age, were regarded as something to trade or barter with, normally for more power or money. In some cultures they were promised in marriage to men and not allowed a choice or traded for large dowries. Women in Monarchial societies were promised in marriage to Kings, Lords, and Noblemen in hopes to gain position and favor for the family. Women were not even allowed to vote as they were not equal to men, even if they were in the same class. Even after the rise of the Modern Age and the idea of Liberalism women still were treated differently as “during colonial times, the right to vote was limited to adult males who owned property” (Gustafson, 2013, Para. 2).

Liberalism paved the way for things to be different. In most cultures it became wrong for people to own others and treat them badly. Laws and rules were put in place so that people had to employ people for proper compensation, rather than forcing them to stay, work and be slaves. There is still slavery today but it is called Human Trafficking and is extremely underground and illegal. “An illegal and largely invisible market in trafficked humans exists around the world, fueled by graft and corruption, porous national borders, ineffective law enforcement and – increasingly – by the insatiable demand for sex” (National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 2012, Para. 15). In a lot of cultures women were given the right to choose who they wanted to marry instead of being betrothed and Woman’s Suffrage gave women the right to vote in countries like America, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada. “By the late 1900’s, women had the vote in almost every country where men had it” (Gustafson, 2013, Para. 22). Even now, in 2013, women in Saudi Arabia are rebelling against an un-written rule by driving vehicles. Saudi Arabia is still heavily segregated and women have few legal rights but a lot of people want them to modernize. This is Liberalism at its best, even though a lot of Saudi’s are against it and one Saudi man even proclaimed that driving would damage women’s ovaries on one of their television channels. Liberalism has also paved the way for things like the “Bill of Rights”, “Martin Luther’s 95 Theses” and “The Declaration of the Rights of Man”.

Some cultures still have yet to pick up on the idea of democracy and Liberalism. In Swaziland people are still not free and are still under rule of a tyrannical Monarchy. [Swaziland is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2012 and Freedom of the Press 2011. Political freedoms and civil liberties have been on the decline in recent years following major crackdowns on the political opposition and pro-democracy groups. In 2010, an opposition leader was arrested merely for saying the name of his political party, Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), in public. In recent months, the government has been working to enact a law that would make it illegal for citizens to criticize the King on Facebook and Twitter] (Freedom House. 2012. Para. 2). In fact there are still forty-seven countries, which is twenty-four percent of the World, in the World today that are not free. Among some of them are China, Russia, Iran, Algeria, Chad and Sudan. Some countries, about fifty-eight which is thirty percent of the World, have only gained partial freedom for themselves. Partial freedom shows that Liberalism is present but still oppressed and not welcomed in all places of the country. Among some of these countries are Egypt, Nigeria, Tanzania, Mexico, Bolivia and Turkey. Only ninety countries in the World today have fully adopted Liberalism and democracy. Out of one hundred percent this is only forty-six percent of the World. Some of the people in this forty-six percent have taken Liberalism and democracy for granted and are now starting to realize that Liberalism is a right that is being slowly stripped away from them.

Rules and new laws have been secretly signed and instituted in America that are causing great issue with some Americans who feel like their rights are being stripped away. Such rules involve the criminalization of protests in certain places where government officials are, allowing the government to see and hear everything that the people do and allowing the government to enter into anyone’s home anytime they see fit. There is also a great dispute, as there has been for some time, over whether Americans should be allowed, or are responsible enough, to own their own weapons. Some of these laws and rules are definitely leaving a bitter taste in a lot of American’s mouths, especially the Americans who thought their government was doing the best for them, and people are starting to realize that America, one of the oldest democracies in the World, may not be as “free” as once presumed to be. A lot of these laws and rules are, straight to the point, clear violations of people’s civil liberties and constitutional rights, like freedom of speech and the right to bears arms for example, but the American government puts a small twist on it so that the American people have no clue what is really truly going on until the laws are already passed and in effect. Quite a few Americans feel like they are going to have to fight for their rights sooner or later.

Even though a lot of cultures still do not support democracy the people of those cultures are fighting for it. Liberalism is a view that is now felt everywhere, even if it is opposed and not fully supported. That is why there are people called terrorists and some people in some cultures still get prosecuted and punished for acts of treason. There will always be Liberalism where there is the need for equality and freedom.

“Liberalism is an attitude or philosophy that places a heavy emphasis on freedom, equality, and opportunity” (Gaines, 2013, Para. 1). It is the idea that everyone is equal and everyone is free with the right to pursue whatever opportunities that they should choose. It is the idea that everyone in a culture has certain inalienable rights that a government should allow its people to have. Liberalism is the main basis for reformation and revolution, for change, and for the greater good of society and man. Without Liberalism the World may be a much different place, where women would still objectified without rights, like voting, and man could enslave their fellow man without consequences or fear of any reaction at all. Equality would have never been heard of and governments would be free to rule their country any way they saw fit, without any question whatsoever. The evolution of Liberalism in the Modern Age affected different civilizations in different manners but the basis of Liberalism is the same everywhere; freedom, equality and opportunity.

What is Classical Liberalism

Proud to Be Liberal?


Modern Liberals


Introduction to Ideologies - Lesson 4 What Does Liberalism Mean


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