The Liberal Tradition: From Fox to Keynes

The Liberal Tradition: From Fox to Keynes

The Liberal Tradition: From Fox to Keynes

The Liberal Tradition: From Fox to Keynes

Excerpt

At first sight, the most striking thing about the Liberal tradition is its intellectual incoherence. No one would reasonably deny the name of 'Liberal' to any of the men represented in this book, yet each of them--Fox and Bentham, Richard Cobden and Lord John Russell, Macaulay and Acton, Herbert Spencer and T. H. Green, Gladstone and Lloyd George, Mill and Keynes--held views widely different in some respect from those of the others. And these differences are differences not only of policy and programme --those are more easily explained--but also of principle, for example on the role of the State, the vexed question of laissez-faire.

This is the strongest argument in favour of treating Liberalism historically. For it is only when they are seen as part of a developing, and therefore changing, historical tradition that the differences fall into place and the contradictions are reduced to manageable proportions. They can never be eliminated, and it would be a distortion of the Liberal tradition to try to gloss over its inconsistencies. For that tradition has drawn on many different streams of experience and thought. It owes much to the Dissenters with their strong belief in individualism, the place of conscience in politics and their democratic tradition of self- government, but something also to the Whigs with their aristocratic tradition of civil and religious liberty and their dislike of arbitrary government. It inherits a belief in natural law and natural rights only to see these scornfully repudiated by Bentham and the Philosophical Radicals in favour of the principle of utility. From the Classical Economists and the Manchester School it derives the orthodoxy of free trade and laissez-faire, yet at the end of the 19th century embraces . . .

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