In a modern European history or modern world history course, it’s inevitable that you get to the “ideologies lecture” that covers the emergence of ideologies in 19th-century Europe: conservatism (defending the traditional order before the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars), liberalism (advocacy of Enlightenment values of a free political system and free markets), socialism (creating a cooperative society and collective ownership), and nationalism (the right of a people to have statehood). These ideologies, of course, have had great influence around the world as well.
Of course, there’s some confusion that can result, especially since 19th-century liberals can sound a lot like contemporary conservatives. What I usually say is that both of our major political parties have grown out of liberalism. Conservatives tend to want to conserve 18th and 19th century liberalism, and liberals believe that events since then have demanded a more powerful state that can mitigate the problems of industrial society.
In the future, I think that I will draw from Walter Russell Mead’s model, which I found quite perceptive. He distinguishes between 4 types of liberalism, “Liberalism 1.0” through “4.0.” He believes that they all have a common core:
Uniting all four liberal versions is a belief in the individual conscience and a drive to find a creative compromise between the individual’s drive for self-expression and free action and the need for a stable society. There is a belief that an open, dynamic society will lead to a better life for all and that promoting ordered liberty is the morally obligatory as well as the pragmatically desirable thing to do. All four versions were grounded in the history, philosophy, literature and culture of the western world – while progressively opening to new ideas and perceptions from within and beyond the west. All four versions were pragmatic, developing their visions and ordering their priorities based on an understanding of what their society’s abilities and limits were.
The first three stages are described as follows:
- Liberalism 1.0: support for a constitutional monarchy and Bill of Rights in England culminating in the Glorious Revolution
- Liberalism 2.0: support for an American “republic expressly founded on natural rights and the sovereignty of the people” and with separation of church and state (at least at the federal level). An interesting comment that Mead makes about this: “In 1688, if you supported the Glorious Revolution you were a Whig and a liberal. In 1776 if you supported those same principles against the Declaration of Independence, you were a Tory conservative.”
- Liberalism 3.0 (or “Manchester Liberalism”) : “3.0 liberals had much more confidence in the common sense reasoning power of ordinary people than earlier generations; their programs included once unthinkable ideas like universal suffrage, the abolition of slavery, an end to state-enforced monopoly corporations, limited government, free markets at home and free trade abroad. 3.0 liberals tended to support strong, personal and emotional religious belief; they were much more likely to be evangelical than either 1.0 or 2.0 liberals. Like earlier liberals, 3.0 liberals believed that capitalism, individual rights and a culture of virtue supported by a tolerant, non-fanatical Protestant Christianity could provide ordered liberty to countries like the US and the UK.”
Mead spends the most time with Liberalism 4.0, contemporary liberalism or progressivism that arose in America with urbanization, industrialization, and immigration from eastern and southern Europe. Although he doesn’t talk about it, something similar happened in western Europe too.
Their problems were extremely complex and posed some challenging questions about the basic premises of liberal thought. Classically, liberals considered an unholy alliance of church and state as the prime enemy of freedom. In the late nineteenth century, the rise of huge industrial corporations created yet another force that threatened to crush individual liberty; 4.0 liberals began to think about the state as a possible ally to defend individuals from unaccountable private power….The progressives and liberals who created liberalism 4.0 did their best to address these and similar problems in ways that they hoped would preserve as much as possible of the old liberal heritage in a new and more difficult world. The development of a professional, bureaucratic civil service and the regulatory state were intended to preserve individual autonomy and dignity in a world dominated by large and predatory corporate interests – and split into classes with most industrial and agricultural workers subject to very low wages, long hours and poor working conditions. At the same time the challenges of modernization and urbanization (public health, food safety, provision of newly necessary services like electricity and gas) could best be met through public services and, in some cases, heavily regulated private monopolies. The professional and managerial classes were not just middle classes in the sense of standing between the rich and the poor in income and status; they were mediating classes who sought through the state, the universities and the learned professions to impose a balance between the interests of the wealthy and the workers.
On religion, 4.0 liberals were better than their predecessors at understanding the ways in which growing numbers of American Catholics and Jews could support rather than undermine the culture of faith and virtue on which civil liberty ultimately depends. Partly to create a neutral public space in which Catholics and Jews could join Protestants on equal terms in debate, 4.0 liberals tended to favor the secularization of public life.
Mead also highlights this version’s progress on racial equality and in offering a liberal alternative to socialism, such that an openly socialist movement has never been viable in the US.
Mead hopes that a 5th version will emerge as he believes that the “blue model” erected by the fourth wave has become obsolete.