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“Liberalism is defined by the desire to minimise the role of the state” Discuss

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‘Liberalism is defined by the desire to minimise the role of the state.’ Discuss (45 marks) There are two types of Liberals; Classical, who want to minimise the state’s role, and Modern liberals who want a more involved state. Classical liberals want a limited state because they support negative freedom, as they believe it has; created a dependency culture, a potential nanny state, and cause damage to the economy. However, modern liberals want a more involved state because it increases the level of positive freedom, equality of opportunity, social justice, and believe it boosts the economy. Classical liberals espouse negative freedom, which is the absence of external restraints on individuals. They believe in freedom of the individual, allowing individuals to make their own decisions without the state intruding. Classical liberals want few laws stating what an individual can and can’t do. However, they do recognise the need for some authority, understanding that if there are no rules one individual’s act might well infringe on someone else’s rights.

Classical liberals, therefore, advocate the need for the state to protect the individual’s right. Modern liberals believe that the state increases the level of positive freedom in society. Not everyone in society has access to the same resources as would be available to the wealthy. For example, opportunities available to the wealthy (e.g. university) would not be open to the less fortunate if it weren’t for student finance help provided by the government. The same can be said for health care, which if it weren’t for the Liberal Democrats, would be privatised by the Conservative Party, leaving the poorer section of society less able to tap into this resource. Modern liberals believe that the welfare state is an example of positive freedom, giving the poor access to resources such the NHS (health service), education, and opportunities such as employment. Classical liberals believe that the state, mainly the welfare state, has created a cultural dependency. They feel it encourages people to do little to help themselves.

Classical liberals fear that, although, the government say the welfare state is a ‘hand up, not a hand out’, some may not treat it this way and are doing the bare minimum to get by. This means that some are living in poverty or relative poverty and are rely on others and their hard work to support them. Classical liberals believe in self-help and regard the welfare state not to do this. Modern liberals believe that everyone is entitled to the same opportunities, whether they come from a wealthy background or a poor one. Equality of opportunity is a political ideal that is opposed to caste hierarchy but not the complete idea of hierarchy, where all individuals have an equal chance to exercise at talents, abilities, skills, and effort. Modern liberals believe that this idea currently benefits the richer part of society, and should the state play a bigger role in society, that it could too benefit the poor. Classical liberals wish to minimise the role of the state as they believe it has the potential to become a nanny state. They believe that the state gets too involved, creating more of a problem. It is their fear that the state will become a tyranny. This assumes that the state knows best and attempts to protect the people from the consequences of the state’s actions. It can manifest in forms such as food labelling regulations, vaccinations, schemes (school lunches ect.), and public health interventions.

Modern liberals believe that the state’s role in society should be maximised as it improves social justice. They feel it helps to eliminate poverty in the less prosperous areas of the country. Modern liberals believe that the poor are restricted in the amount of freedom they have, in terms of activities done outside the work place when compared to the activities the wealthy can do. It is thought, by modern liberals, that with the states help, the poor can be kept above the poverty line and have access to the services which are the available to the wealthy. A view held by classical liberals, is that the state damages the economy. They believe the state distorts the economy according to the most powerful groups in society that this group is privileged and other groups of society are discriminated against. It is felt among classical liberals that, with a free market economy, everyone can become rich as everyone has access to the market.

It is felt that the state could restrict products or consumer choice within the market, and may even encourage people live on others hard work e.g. benefits, rather than making money for themselves. In contrast to this view, the modern liberals believe that the state can boost the economy. This is because it educates people to achieve the best for themselves, meaning better and harder workers. The state also creates jobs, which in turn means more production, more money and more economic growth. Overall, this would mean more freedom for the people. To conclude, modern liberals feel the state’s role should be made bigger in society as it can boost the economy, increase social justice, better equality of opportunity, and promote positive freedom. Whereas classical liberals believe the state’s role in society should be decreased as it creates a cultural dependency, can become a ‘nanny state’, damages the economy, and does not exist without external restraints on the individual (negative freedom).

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