The classical liberal ideology emerged as a result of the Enlightenment period, which brought about new philosophies, challenging the existing assumptions about the nature of humankind and society. Modern liberalism developed around 1870 as a result of both philosophical and practical changes, including mass industrialisation. Classical liberals argue that modern liberalism has broken the principles of doctrines central to liberal thought whilst modern liberals claim that they are simply adapting and building on classical liberalist ideas. This essay will discuss the extent to which modern liberalism departs from classical liberalisms by analysing approaches to the size of the state, democracy and the concept of freedom and aims to justify
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Conversely, modern liberals have taken an opposing stance to the concept of liberty. The modern conception of positive liberty is that there should be the widest possible degree of choice and opportunity for everyone and therefore this promotes self-realisation, self-mastery and the full development of human capacities. T.H. Green challenged the classical view of Mill and others, arguing that society is ‘organic,’ and is made of inter-dependant individuals who can achieve personal satisfaction by doing good for others as well as themselves. Green therefore believed in an unlimited government justifying this by saying that with an unlimited government, individual liberty is protected from ‘social evils.’ Furthermore, Green believed that a society based on the concept of positive liberty prevents the exploitation of what classical liberals also believed to be egoistical individuals. With regards to the argument that modern liberalism departs from classical liberals, Green’s divergence from Mill’s classical conception of freedom shows how strongly the two branches of liberalism contradict one another.
However, these two ideological positions do not completely contradict one another as mentioned evidence suggests, because some classical thinkers also believed in positive liberty over negative liberty. Hobbes, a classical liberal, understood society as a system which can only run effectively with enforced constraints.