middle way between Conservatism and Socialism, but a different way. Liberalism is a political philosophy of moderation and reason, a creed that detests violence, compulsion and authoritarianism, but it finds its driving force in the impulse towards social justice. It refuses to believe in the inevitability of the class war. It is suspicious of intuitions and "the fantasia of the unconscious" in politics. It believes that tolerance and good sense do finally justify themselves in human affairs; that truth has everything to gain and nothing to fear from open debate; and that tyranny, no matter how dynamic and efficient it is, is self-destructive. First and foremost, the Liberal Party is the party of Freedom. The main debates and main struggles in which it has been engaged for more than a century have revolved around the issue which concerns us all very much to-day--"What is Liberty? What are its frontiers?" We may know well enough what freedom of opinion and freedom of religion are. They are clear to see. But social freedoms, economic freedoms, where do they begin and leave off? Our deepest problems of to-day are not new. In our great-grandfathers' times, thoughtful men and women were absorbed by the questions that occupy the modern politician and leader-writer:--How to equate freedom and the forms of collective planning. How to reconcile a well-organised society with the full expression of the individual, particularly the uncommon individual. How to achieve security without enduring regimentation. How to set free the vital energies of the whole people.

The history of the Liberal Party is, then, really the history of the evolution of the Idea of Freedom in modern society. Liberalism has always put great store upon the uniqueness of the individual, upon the value of personality, upon the private conscience and the private judgment. It isn't hard to see how those recognitions might at one period lead a Party to lay emphasis on personal freedom and resistance to the repressive, paralysing authority of the State, and, at another period, to lay emphasis upon collective social action to redress injustice, to protect the weak and to set free the energies of the people. This attempt to maintain the balance of rights and duties has involved debate, controversy and sometimes almost unresolvable dilemmas. But it has prevented dictatorship or revolution. Liberalism at its best has always been a conscious effort to achieve the just society through stabilising a delicate equilibrium of freedom and obligation. The Party has had its failures and shortcomings. But, if we believe that the chief value of history is the light it throws upon man's behaviour as a political animal, then the experiences of a century and more of British Liberalism should have a very real interest for us to-day. Not the least, one would suppose, for the young--who must be rather bemused by modern politics.

-10-

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The Liberal Party
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • List of Illustrations 5
  • Introduction 7
  • The Beginnings 11
  • The Golden Age 24
  • Modern Liberalism 31
  • The Party and the Present 42
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