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The Modern Era

1789 - 1914

In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.


Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.


see also:

Between Two Revolutions

(From David to Delacroix)



The Industrial Revolution begins in Europe

CA.1750 - 1848


The most momentous change experienced by Europe in the 19th century was the Industrial Revolution. What started merely as an important technological innovation led ultimately to a huge social transformation. After the Congress of Vienna, the European powers sought a restoration of the political and social structures of the pre-Napoleonic Era. However, the Metternich System, the fundamental principle of politics in Europe, soon failed. A liberal Western Europe found itself standing opposite a conservative Central and Eastern Europe. Despite many suppressive measures, democratic movements arose throughout Europe. These culminated in the revolutions of 1848.


Restoration and Revolution in Europe 1815-1830

Metternich bound almost all the European states into a "Holy Alliance" that was meant to ensure the restoration of the old political order.

Austria's foreign minister and later chancellor, Prince von Metternich pursued the restoration of an authoritarian, monarchical state order in Europe and hereby the retraction of the civic freedoms won since 1789. His "system" was recorded in the 65 articles of the Confederation Act of 1815.

This supplemented the final communique of Vienna, which the 2 Diet of the German Confederation ratified in Frankfurt on July 20,1820, as the Basic Law of the German Confederation.

The restoration strategy expressed therein was endorsed by the conservative powers of Central and Eastern Europe—the 3 Holy Alliance of Austria, Prussia, and Russia.

2 The German Confederation: assembly of the
diet in Frankfurt, color drawing, 1816

3 Depiction of the Holy Alliance, showing the
heads of state of its members:
Russia, Austria, and Prussia

On September 26, 1815, at the 1 Vienna congress, the treaty was signed by 4 Czar Alexander I of Russia, Emperor Francis I of Austria, and King Frederick William III of Prussia.

All of the European states—with the exceptions of Great Britain, the Vatican, and the Ottoman Empire— later joined this alliance.
After the murder of the poet August von Kotzebue (1761-1819), who had ridiculed the nationalist fraternities, Mettenich issued the Carlsbad Decrees. These stipulated censorship of the press and banned fraternities. The fight against Metternich's "repressive" politics welded together liberal and nationalist forces and drove them to ally with progressive forces, particularly in France.

1 Congregation of the Congress of Vienna,
colored etching, 1815

4 The Holy Alliance, 1814: Emperor Francis II receives Czar Alexander I and
King Frederick William III in Vienna


Klemens Wenzel von Metternich

Prince von Metternich

Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (1773-1859) fled from the French occupation of the Rhineland at the age of 21. He settled in Vienna, where he soon began a successful career in foreign affairs. He was a decisive participant in the organization of the wars of liberation and became a leading figure at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15.

There he worked for the creation of a balance of powers in Europe by means of the "Metternich System." This was intended to avoid new wars and, at the same time, provide for the restoration of the pre-revolutionary social order. The German Confederation and the Holy Alliance, as well as the Carlsbad Decrees, served these purposes.

Later he lost influence and was driven from office in 1848 at the beginning of the March Revolution in Vienna. However, he continued to seek a voice in domestic and foreign affairs.

Caricature of the Carlsbad
Decrees entitled
"The spirit of our age"



Klemens, prince von Metternich

Klemens Wenzel von Metternich

Austrian statesman
in full Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar, Fürst Von Metternich-winneburg-beilstein
(prince of: )
born May 15, 1773, Coblenz, Archbishopric of Trier
died June 11, 1859, Vienna

Austrian statesman, minister of foreign affairs (1809–48), and a champion of conservatism, who helped form the victorious alliance against Napoleon I and who restored Austria as a leading European power, hosting the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15.

Early life.
Metternich, the descendant of an old Rhenish noble family, was the son of Franz Georg Karl, Graf von Metternich-Winneburg and Countess Beatrix Kagenegg. His father was then the Austrian envoy to the Rhenish principalities of the empire, and Metternich spent his youth in the Rhine–Moselle region, for which he retained a lifelong affection.

In 1788 he entered the University of Strasbourg, where he studied diplomacy; but the spread of the French Revolution prompted him to leave Strasbourg in 1790 and enter the University of Mainz. Before the French revolutionary troops entered Mainz, he went to Brussels in the Austrian Netherlands, where his father was then chief minister. In 1794 he undertook a diplomatic mission to England, where he published a pamphlet calling for a general arming of the German people; but in October he rejoined his father, who had in the meantime fled to Vienna as the French invaded the Netherlands. In Vienna he occupied himself with natural, scientific, and medical studies, in which he always kept a lively interest and which he later did much to encourage.

In September 1795 Metternich married the countess Eleonore Kaunitz, heiress and granddaughter of the former Austrian state chancellor Wenzel Anton, Graf von Kaunitz. This marriage gave him the link with the high nobility of Austria and the access to high office he had long desired. After having represented the Roman Catholic Westphalian counts of the empire at the end of the Congress of Rastatt (1797–99), which ratified compensation for the German princes ousted by the French from their possessions on the left bank of the Rhine, he was in 1801 appointed Austrian minister to the Saxon court at Dresden, and there he formed his friendship with Friedrich von Gentz, the German publicist and diplomat. Serving as Austrian minister in Berlin after 1803, Metternich failed to persuade Frederick William III of Prussia to join Austria in the war of 1805 against France but gained a profound insight into the internal brittleness of the Prussian state, whose speedy ruin he predicted.

Ministry during the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1806 Metternich served as Austrian minister to France. In contact with Napoleon’s sister Caroline Murat and other ladies of Parisian society, he won a reputation for licentiousness; nevertheless, from those ladies and from his relations with the foreign minister Talleyrand and with the Russian envoy, he obtained excellent reports on the state of affairs in France. Although Metternich’s successes in the negotiations leading up to the Franco-Austrian Treaty of Fontainebleau were insignificant, he used his time to acquire a deep insight into the emperor Napoleon I’s character. Yet he overestimated the impact of the Spanish rising of 1808 on the Napoleonic system, and his optimistic reports did much to induce Austria to undertake the disastrous war of 1809 against France. After the Battle of Wagram, he tried to obtain favourable terms in the peace negotiations but was rebuffed by Napoleon.

On Oct. 8, 1809, the emperor Francis (at that time Francis I of Austria but no longer Holy Roman emperor) appointed Metternich minister of foreign affairs. Six days later the oppressive Treaty of Schönbrunn was signed with France. Austria was now in urgent need of a respite, which Metternich obtained by forming the project of a marriage between the archduchess Marie-Louise, a daughter of Francis I, and Napoleon, whose vanity Metternich cleverly exploited. It is not clear how far he expected that this marriage would restrain Napoleon from further campaigns of conquest, but at least he achieved a relationship between France and Austria loose enough to preserve Austria’s freedom of action: Austria neither joined the Confederation of the Rhine, a league of German princes under Napoleon’s protection, nor became one of the client states of the Napoleonic system. Utterly exhausted and debt-ridden, Austria could hardly have resisted any further demands of Napoleon, but it was then no longer the main object of Napoleon’s hostility.

As early as 1811, in order to promote Austria’s internal development, Metternich wanted the state to be reorganized on federal lines instead of continuing under the centralized system that the emperor Joseph II had imposed. Yet Metternich could never overcome the objections of his strictly absolutist emperor. At the same time the enthusiasm for arming the nation and for a German national rising against Napoleon, which he had felt as late as 1809, began to be superseded by a firm dislike for all popular movements. Agreeing with the Emperor on this, he now came to regard these manifestations as a menace to the multinational Habsburg state. He became the strictest exponent of the doctrine of the balance of power in Europe—a doctrine instilled into him originally by Koch, latterly by his diplomat friend Gentz.

When Napoleon launched his invasion of Russia in 1812, Metternich obtained the status of an independent contingent for the Austrian forces under Prince Karl Schwarzenberg that accompanied the French Army. The disaster that befell Napoleon’s army came as a surprise to Metternich. On Jan. 30, 1813, Schwarzenberg concluded an indefinite armistice with the Russians. But in view of the inadequacy of Austria’s armaments, Metternich could not make up his mind to change over to war on Russia’s side against Napoleon. Resisting all ill-considered projects, in particular those of the archduke John (who was put under house arrest for planning a premature anti-French rising in the Alps), Metternich firmly adhered to neutrality while Austria secretly rearmed. He even drew Saxony into the neutral camp for a time. When, later in 1813, Saxony’s return to the French side and Napoleon’s victory over the Russians and Prussians at Bautzen shook Metternich’s will to make war and stiffened Napoleon’s attitude, Metternich mediated an armistice between France, Russia, and Prussia. Even so, in the subsequent Treaty of Reichenbach, June 24, 1813, between Austria, Prussia, and Russia, Metternich undertook to bring Austria into the war against France if Napoleon rejected the peace terms that he was offering.

By dominating the negotiations with the French during the summer of 1813, Metternich gained more time for rearming. At this point he was not interested in the annihilation of Napoleon’s power, which the emperor Francis likewise, out of consideration for his daughter Marie-Louise, was unwilling to destroy altogether. Metternich also distrusted the Russian emperor Alexander I and feared that after the collapse of France, Europe would be at Russia’s mercy. Napoleon’s obstinacy frustrated the attempt at a settlement; but when in August Austria finally declared war on France, Metternich, by his superior conduct of negotiations, had won for his country the leadership both in the political and in the military field. In October 1813 the hereditary title of prince was bestowed on him by the Austrian emperor.

In opposition to the plans of the Prussian minister Karl, Freiherr vom Stein, and of the Russian emperor, Metternich promised the South German states of the Confederation of the Rhine that if they went over to the allies they would not forfeit the position they had achieved on Napoleon’s side. This promise alone showed that, while he was striving for a solution compatible with the interests of all parties, he also wanted to gain the South German states as allies against the Prussian–Russian designs of aggrandizement. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and abdication, Metternich rejected as unrealistic the proposals of Baron Stein and others for the resuscitation of the Holy Roman Empire. The first Treaty of Paris (May 30, 1814) stipulated nothing more for Germany than a loose confederation of states.

Leadership of the Congress of Vienna.
The Congress of Vienna (September 1814–June 1815) was the climax of Metternich’s work of reconstruction. The very fact that it was held in Vienna was in itself a great success for him. He had precise ideas about the basis for a new order in Europe but knew from the start that he would have to modify them substantially if he was to salvage even a small part of his plans against the opposition of self-interested princes. He wanted to secure Austria’s predominance by forming two confederations, one German and the other Italian, with Austria as the leading power in both. Within Germany, he proposed the creation of a hereditary German imperial title, and he thought that Austria and Prussia should share the task of protecting Germany’s western frontier. Friendship with Prussia on the one hand and with Bavaria on the other thus seemed to him to be the prerequisite of success. Supported by the British foreign secretary, Lord Castlereagh, Metternich sought to prevent the elimination of France, which he saw as a necessary counterweight against Russia. Likewise, he resisted the territorial aggrandizement of Russia and Prussia and objected in particular to Prussia’s designs for annexing all of Saxony.

The congress became a splendid social event. By an unbroken chain of festivities Metternich kept the visiting monarchs in a mood that made them disinclined to interfere very persistently in the real work of the statesmen. Facile and not averse to amorous adventures, Metternich brilliantly mastered his dual role of social representation and political leadership.

Yet Metternich only partly succeeded in his plans: the German imperial project came to nothing because Francis steadfastly refused to support it; the Italian confederation did not materialize; and the German confederation, when it at last did come into being in June 1815, was based only on a brief and noncommittal federal act derived from a Bavarian compromise proposal. In European affairs, however, Metternich was more successful: he achieved equality of status for France; he obtained a reduction of the Prussian demands on Saxony; and, in particular, he blocked the farther reaching demands of Russia. Both Russia and Prussia, in fact, were held in check by the common front of Austria, England, and France that Metternich had created.

Metternich’s moderation produced a long-lasting European order. This, however, must be ascribed to his diplomatic capability rather than to his political foresight. Austria’s status in the German confederation had been strengthened; but the Emperor’s refusal of the German crown meant that Prussia, with equal status in the confederation, would be able to counterbalance Austria.

Role in the German confederation.
Not even within the Austrian Empire was Metternich able to prevail with the idea (already at the root of his plans of 1811) of overcoming the spirit of national revolution by revitalizing the old historical regions and the privileges they enjoyed in preabsolutist times. His attempt to organize the newly acquired Italian provinces according to historical principles was frustrated by the emperor Francis, who, though accepting Metternich’s ideas, united two incompatible regions in a completely unhistorical “Lombardo-Venetian kingdom” and so destroyed Metternich’s hopes of counteracting pan-Italian nationalism. Moreover, as Metternich had feared, the initially strong pro-Austrian mood turned into its opposite.

The reconstruction of Austria took shape entirely in the spirit of the emperor Joseph II, on centralist and absolutist lines, without regard to national differences and without the establishment of departmental ministries, which Metternich had demanded. After many futile remonstrances Metternich eventually yielded to the obstructionism of the Emperor, who detested innovation and stood jealously on his dignity. The reestablishment of the ancient diets of the estates of Tirol and Galicia complied to some extent with Metternich’s idea of resurrecting the provincial diets in order to create a counterweight against the growing forces of liberal and nationalist opinion that was demanding a central parliament. He condemned, however, the repressive measures by which the police minister tried to achieve these aims.

The domestic affairs of Austria created difficulties for Metternich at the Frankfurt am Main Bundestag (federal assembly), which opened in 1816. He had originally intended to use this assembly to oppose revolutionary thought all over Germany. Pointing to the examples of Tirol and Galicia, he attempted in 1817–18 to encourage the German states to introduce constitutions resurrecting the historical provinces and to set up their own diets instead of a central parliament. In summer 1818, however, Bavaria and Baden promulgated constitutions that reflected not Metternich’s ideas but those of limited monarchy similar to that outlined by the French charter of June 1814; and in 1819, when revolutionary activity culminated in the murder of the dramatist August von Kotzebue and when the opening sessions of the Bavarian and Baden assemblies proved stormy, Metternich decided to stifle these unmanageable liberal currents.

He managed to convince the Prussian chancellor Prince Karl August von Hardenberg that his prescription for provincial diets was right. Then, assured that Prussia would not follow the South German example, he could quietly watch how parliaments created against his advice fulfilled his predictions and discouraged the liberal inclinations of German princes. Consequently, at the ministerial conferences of Carlsbad and Vienna in 1819–20, Metternich, to the surprise of the South German states, did not attempt to undo the new constitutions but simply curtailed the activity of the federal assembly, which had become an inconvenience to him. Reorienting his German policy, he began to rely not on the assembly but on the common interest of the princes whom he led to share his point of view by personal contact. Henceforth it was no longer the privileges of Austria as granted by the federal act, but Metternich’s personality that guaranteed Austria’s predominance in the German confederation.

Years of decline.
Metternich had hoped that a system of congresses, at which the great powers would concert their actions, would maintain order and peace in Europe. At the congresses of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818), of Troppau (1820), of Laibach (1821), and of Verona (1822) his international reputation was at its zenith, but the disruption of the forum of great powers became evident when Great Britain abandoned the policy of intervention against revolutions in other countries: Viscount Castlereagh prepared the way for this change at Troppau, and George Canning, his successor as British foreign secretary, brought Metternich’s influence on western Europe to an end by insisting on the right of national self-determination for the South American colonists in revolt against Spain and for the Greek insurgents against Turkey. With Alexander I’s death (1825) it seemed likely that Metternich’s influence on Russia would likewise come to an end; and Prussia’s jealousy of Austria’s dominance was causing further difficulties, when in 1830 the July Revolution in France, followed by insurrections in Belgium, Poland, and Germany, appeared to justify again Metternich’s dismal prognoses and served to convince the eastern powers, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, that they should stand together by his principles.

Metternich had been appointed Austrian state chancellor on May 25, 1821, but his influence in Austria was decisively restricted by the appointment of Franz Anton, Graf von Kolowrat, as minister of state and head of the Cabinet conferences (1826). Kolowrat opposed an orderly governmental organization and won great ascendancy over the emperor Francis. Metternich, as his influence dwindled, yielded to an increasingly irritating vanity and to a passion for theorizing that caused his utterances to become increasingly prolix and, at times, to verge on the ridiculous. For the sake of legitimacy and despite general apprehensions, he gave Francis the disastrous advice to recognize his feebleminded eldest son, the archduke Ferdinand, as heir to the throne. In 1835, therefore, when Ferdinand succeeded his father, Metternich, at first together with the archduke Louis (Ludwig), took the chair at the “conference,” or council of state that assumed the functions of a regency. In 1836 it seemed as if he would at last be able to carry out his idea of well-ordered government, but at the decisive moment Kolowrat managed to convert the archdukes John and Louis to his own theories. Thenceforth Metternich’s authority was confined to external affairs. His vanity tempted him to disguise the waning of his influence by accepting responsibility for decrees that neither came from him nor accorded with his views. He thus became a hated symbol of repression and reaction and, eventually, on March 13, 1848, had to resign, as the first victim of the revolution. He made his way with difficulty into exile in England but returned to Vienna in 1851, where he died eight years later.

After his first wife’s death in 1825, Metternich married Baroness Antoinette Leykam in 1827. After her death in 1829, he married Countess Melanie Zichy-Ferraris in 1831, who died in 1854. His son by his second marriage, Richard, Fürst von Metternich, was Austrian ambassador in Paris from 1859 to 1870 and one of the foremost diplomats of his time.

Karl Otmar, Baron von Aretin

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The Failed Policies of the Congress and the Growing Liberal Movement

With the Quadruple Alliance, Metternich organized an alliance of great powers that, it was thought, would establish a balance of interests. This was unsuccessful in the long run, however. France was soon forced to revise its domestic Restoration policies.


At Metternich's prompting, Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain—the Quadruple Alliance—met at various conferences to balance their interests and claims in order to secure the restoration. In 1820 a right of intervention against national and international liberal movements— an extremely conservative policy—was passed, contrary to the desires of Great Britain, which was increasingly supporting liberalism in Europe.

The Quadruple Alliance, as well as the Holy Alliance, finally shattered as a result of the differing attitudes toward, among other things, the 6 Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Great Britain, France, and Russia intervened in favor of the Greeks, while Prussia and Austria stayed out of it, having no interest in weakening the Ottoman Empire.

In the 7 naval Battle of Navarino in 1827, the British destroyed the Turkish fleet and made Greek sovereignty possible in 1829.

6 The Greek struggle for independence 1821 -1829

7 The naval battle of Navarino


Eugene Delacroix
The Massacre at Chios



Eugene Delacroix
Greek Woman among the Ruins of Missolonghi

see also collection:

Eugene Delacroix

Louis XVIII, the brother of king Louis XVI who was executed in 1793. came to the throne after the fall of Napoleon. The Bourbons— who favored the restoration of absolutism—were once again rulers of France. Initially Louis XVIII attempted to heal the country through a policy of reconciliation, but after 1815 came increasingly under the influence of his reactionary brother, the count of Artois, who succeeded him in 1824 as Charles X and sought to reestablish the absolutist rule of the king.

This lasted only until 1830, however, when the 8 July Revolution, a rebellion of the Parisian population, forced the abdication of 9 King Charles X, on August 2.

8 The 1830 July Revolution in Paris

9 Charles's X embarcation to England on August 15, 1830
after the July Revolution

King Charles X of France and of Navarre in coronation robes, 1829, by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres.
King Charles X of France, in his coronation robes by Paulin Guerin.
King Charles X in Coronation robes by Francois Gerard.


Coronation of Charles X of France. Painting by Francois Gerard.


see also collection:
Francois Gerard


Eugene Delacroix
Liberty leading the People (28 July 1830)

see also collection:
Eugene Delacroix


The restoration and constitutional monarchy

The Revolution of 1830

The July Revolution was a monument to the ineptitude of Charles X and his advisers. At the outset, few of the king's critics imagined it possible to overthrow the regime; they hoped merely to get rid of Polignac. As for the king, he naively ignored the possibility of serious trouble. No steps were taken to reinforce the army garrison in Paris; no contingency plans were prepared. Instead, Charles went off to the country to hunt, leaving the capital weakly defended. During the three days known to Frenchmen as Les Trois Glorieuses (July 27–29), protest was rapidly transmuted into insurrection; barricades went up in the streets, manned by workers, students, and petty bourgeois citizens (some of them former members of the National Guard, which Charles,in pique, had disbanded in 1827). On July 29 some army units began to fraternize with the insurgents. The king, on July 30,consented at last to dismiss Polignac and to annul the July Ordinances; but the gesture came too late. Paris was in the hands of the rebels, and plans for a new regime were crystallizing rapidly.

As the insurrection developed, two rival factions had emerged. The republicans—mainly workers and students—gained control of the streets and took over the Hôtel de Ville, where on July 29 they set up a municipal commission. They looked to the venerable Marquis de Lafayette as their symbolic leader. The constitutional monarchists had their headquarters at the newspaper Le National; their candidate for the throne was Louis-Philippe, Duke d'Orléans. Louis-Philippe was at first reluctant to take the risk, fearing failure and renewed exile; Adolphe Thiers undertook the task of persuading him and succeeded. On July 31 Louis-Philippe made his way through a largely hostilecrowd to the Hôtel de Ville and confronted the republicans. His cause was won by Lafayette, who found a constitutional monarchy safer than the risks of Jacobin rule; Lafayette appeared on the balcony with Louis-Philippe and, wrapped in a tricolour flag, embraced the duke as the crowd cheered. Two days later Charles X abdicated at last, though on condition that the throne pass to his grandson, “the miraclechild.” But the parliament, meeting on August 7, declared the throne vacant and on August 9 proclaimed Louis-Philippe “king of the French by the grace of God and the will of the nation.”

The July monarchy

The renovated regime (often called the July monarchy or the bourgeois monarchy) rested on an altered political theory and a broadened social base. Divine right gave way to popular sovereignty; the social centre of gravity shifted from the landowning aristocracy to the wealthy bourgeoisie. The Charter of 1814 was retained but no longer as a royal gift to the nation; it was revised by the Chamber of Deputies and in its new form imposed on the king. Censorship was abolished; the tricolour was restored as thenational flag, and the National Guard was resuscitated. Roman Catholicism was declared to be simply the religion “of the majority of Frenchmen,” the voting age was lowered to 25, and the property qualification reduced to include all who paid a direct tax of 200 (formerly 300) francs.The suffrage was thus doubled, from about 90,000 to almost 200,000.

The new king seemed admirably suited to this new constitutional system. The “Citizen King” was reputed to be a liberal whose tastes and sympathies coincided with those of the upper bourgeoisie. He had spent the Revolutionary years in exile but was out of sympathy with the irreconcilable émigrés; and since his return, his house in Paris had been a gathering place for the opposition. Yet, in spite of appearances, Louis-Philippe was not prepared to accept the strictly symbolic role of a monarch who (in Thiers's phrase) “reigns but does not govern.” His authority, he believed, rested on heredity and not merely on the will ofthe Chamber; his proper function was to participate activelyin decision making and not merely to appoint ministers who would govern in his name. As time went by, he was increasingly inclined to choose ministers who shared his view of the royal power. The Orleanist system thus rested on a basic ambiguity about the real locus of authority.

In the Chamber two major factions emerged, known by the rather imprecise labels right-centre and left-centre. The former group, led by the historian François Guizot, shared the king's political doctrines; it saw the revised Charter of 1814 as an adequate instrument of government that needed no further change. The left-centre, whose ablest spokesman was the kingmaker Adolphe Thiers, saw 1830 as the beginning rather than the culmination of a process of change. It favoured restricting the king's active role and broadening the suffrage to include the middle strata of the bourgeoisie. These differences of viewpoint, combined with the king's tendency to intrigue, contributed to chronic political instability during the 1830s.

The decade of the 1830s was marked also by repeated challenges to the regime by its enemies on the right and the left and by a series of attempts to assassinate the king. Both the ultras (who now came to be called legitimists) and the republicans refused to forgive “the usurper” of 1830. In1832 the Duchess de Berry, mother of “the miracle child,” landed clandestinely in southern France in an effort to spark a general uprising; but the scheme collapsed, and most legitimists withdrew into sullen opposition. More serious wasthe agitation of the republicans, fed by rising labour discontent. In the most serious of these outbreaks (Lyon, 1831), 15,000 workers confronted the National Guard in the streets and suffered some 600 casualties before capitulating. Again in 1834 there were serious disturbances in Lyon and Paris. In 1836 it was the turn of the Bonapartist pretender to challenge the regime. Since Napoleon's death in 1821, a legend had rapidly taken shape around his name. No longer detested as a ruthless autocrat who had sacrificed a generation of young Frenchmen on the battlefield, he became transmuted into the Little Corporal who had risen tothe heights by his own talents and had died a victim of British jealousy. The emperor's nephew Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte presented himself as the true heir; he crossed the frontier in 1836 and called on French troops in Strasbourg to join his cause. The venture failed ignominiously, as did also a second attempt on the Channel coast in 1840. Louis-Napoleon was condemned to prison for life but managed in 1846 to escape to England. Interspersed with these attempts at political risings were individual attacks on the king's person; the most elaborate of these plots was the one organized by a Corsican named Giuseppe Fieschi in 1835.

By 1840, however, the enemies of the regime had evidentlybecome discouraged, and a period of remarkable stability followed. François Guizot emerged as the key figure in the ministry; he retained that role from 1840 to 1848. One of thefirst Protestants to attain high office in France, Guizot possessed many of the moral and intellectual qualities that marked this small but influential minority. Hard-working and intelligent, Guizot was devoted to the service of the king and to the defense of the status quo. He was convinced thatthe wealthy governing class was an ideal natural elite to which any Frenchman might have access through talent and effort. To those who complained at being excluded by the property qualification for voting and seeking office, Guizot's simple reply was “Enrichissez-vous!” (“Get rich!”). His government encouraged the process by granting railway and mining concessions to its bourgeois supporters and by contributing part of the development costs. High protective tariffs continued to shelter French entrepreneursagainst foreign competition. The result was a modest economic boom during the 1840s, beginning the transformation of France from a largely rural into an industrial society.

Guizot shared with Louis-Philippe a strong preference for a safe and sane foreign policy. The king, from the beginning of his reign, had cautiously avoided risks and confrontations and had especially sought friendly relations with Britain. In 1830, when the revolution in Paris inspired the Belgians to break away from Dutch rule, Louis-Philippe avoided the temptation of seeking to annex Belgium or of placing one of his sons on the Belgian throne. Again in 1840, when a crisis flared up in the Middle East and Thiers (then head of the government) took an aggressive stance that threatened to coalesce all of Europe against France, the king had found an excuse to replace his firebrand minister. Guizot continued this cautious line through the 1840s, with the single exception of an episode in Spain. A long contest involving rival suitors for the Spanish queen's hand finally tempted Guizot, in 1846, to try for a cheap diplomatic victory; it infuriated the British and helped to destroy the Anglo-French entente. One problem Guizot inherited from his predecessors was that of Algeria. Since 1830 the French had maintained an uneasy presence there, wavering between total withdrawal and expanded conquest. The decision to remain had been made in the mid-1830s; during the Guizot era, General Thomas-Robert Bugeaud de La Piconnerie's forces broke the back of Algerian resistance,pushed the native population back into the mountains, and began the process of colonizing the rich coastal plain.

Encyclopædia Britannica


This success imbued the democratic movement in the whole of Europe with the confidence that a liberal constitution could be implemented in each country. Although liberal and nationalistic politicians and intellectuals, such as the writer Ernst Moritz Arndt and 5 Frederick Ludwig Jahn, were persecuted, the Restoration was not able to suppress the spreading aspiration for democratic freedom and national unity, the repealing of all censorship measures, and the granting of a political voice for a self-confident and increasingly educated middle-class. These aspirations paved the way for the Europe-wide revolutions of 1848, and were the reason for the failure of the Restoration movement in Europe.

5 Frederick Ludwig Jahn

Friedrich Ludwig Jahn

born Aug. 11, 1778, Lanz, Brandenburg, Prussia
died Oct. 15, 1852, Freyburg an der Unstrut, Prussian Saxony

The German “father of gymnastics” who founded the turnverein (gymnastics club) movement in Germany. He was a fervent patriot who believed that physical education was the cornerstone of national health and strength and important in strengthening character and national identity.

Jahn studied theology, history, and philology (1796–1802) at the universities of Halle, Frankfurt an der Oder, Göttingen, and Greifswald. He spent the next years tutoring, travelling, and attending classes at Jena and Göttingen. In 1809 he settled in Berlin, where he held several teaching positions at secondary schools. There he began a program of outdoor physical exercise for students. He invented the parallel bars, the rings, the balance beam, the horse, and the horizontal bar, which became standard equipment for gymnastics. He established a strong following among both youths and adults and in 1811 opened his first gymnastics club. In 1813 Jahn joined the volunteer Lutzow corps and commanded its third battalion until after the fall of Napoleon in 1815, returning then to Berlin and resuming work as a state teacher at his gymnastic club. Deutsche Turnkunst zur Einrichtung der Turnplätze (A Treatise on Gymnastics, 1828), written with Ernst Eiselen, was published in 1816. In the politically reactionary climate of 1819, Jahn came under suspicion for his outspoken nationalistic views and strong influence on youth, and the government arrested him, closed his gymnastic club, and imprisoned him for almost a year. After his release he was confined to the city of Kolberg until 1825, when he was given his freedom. He was forbidden, however, to live in a city with a university or a secondary school, and so he moved to Freyburg an der Unstrut, where he lived the rest of his life. Jahn was awarded the Iron Cross for military bravery in 1840. Two years later a national ban on gymnastics, which had been in effect since 1819, was lifted. He served in the national parliament (1848–49).
Jahn wrote a vigorous defense of cultural nationalism, based on his investigation of the German language and culture, Das Deutsches Volkstum (“German Nationality”; 1810).

Encyclopædia Britannica





In response to the conservatism of the European governments the liberalism of the middle classes strengthened. Based on the principles of the Enlightenment, political liberalism holds the freedom of the individual to be the central principle for a just government, and rejects the idea of a government that demands a subservient mentality and enslavement to authority from its citizens.

The rule of law and civil rights are guaranteed through the principle of a balance of powers between legislative, executive, and judiciary officials.

Economic liberalism-as represented by, for example, Adam Smith and David Ricardo-favors absolute free trade and rejects both customs barriers and the intervention of the state in the economy, even when done in the interest of the greater social good.

David Ricardo, English economist and banker





David Ricardo
British economist

born , April 18/19, 1772, London, England
died September 11, 1823, Gatcombe Park, Gloucestershire

English economist who gave systematized, classical form to the rising science of economics in the 19th century. His laissez-faire doctrines were typified in his Iron Law of Wages, which stated that all attempts to improve the real income of workers were futile and that wages perforce remained near the subsistence level.

Ricardo was the third son born to a family of Sephardic Jews who had emigrated from the Netherlands to England. At the age of 14 he entered into business with his father, who had made a fortune on the London Stock Exchange. By the time he was 21, however, he had broken with his father over religion, become a Unitarian, and married a Quaker. He continued as a member of the stock exchange, where his talents and character won him the support of an eminent banking house. He did so well that in a few years he acquired a fortune, which allowed him to pursue interests in literature and science, particularly in the fields of mathematics, chemistry, and geology.

Ricardo’s interest in economic questions arose in 1799 when he read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. For 10 years he studied economics, somewhat offhandedly at first and then with greater concentration. His first published work was The High Price of Bullion, a Proof of the Depreciation of Bank Notes (1810), an outgrowth of letters Ricardo had published in the Morning Chronicle the year before. His book refueled the controversy then surrounding the Bank of England: freed from the necessity of cash payment (strains from the wars with France prompted the government to bar the Bank of England from paying its notes in gold), both the Bank of England and the rural banks had increased their note issues and the volume of their lending. The directors of the Bank of England maintained that the subsequent increase in prices and the depreciation of the pound had no relation to the increase in bank credit. Ricardo and others, however, asserted that there indeed was a link between the volume of bank notes and the level of prices. Furthermore, they argued that the price levels in turn affected foreign exchange rates and the inflow or outflow of gold.

It followed, then, that the bank, as custodian of the central gold reserve of the country, had to shape its lending policy according to general economic conditions and exercise control over the volume of money and credit. The controversy was therefore critical to the development of theories concerning central banking. A committee appointed by the House of Commons, known as the Bullion Committee, confirmed Ricardo’s views and recommended the repeal of the Bank Restriction Act.

At this time Ricardo began to acquire friends who influenced his further intellectual development. One of these was the philosopher and economist James Mill (father of John Stuart Mill), who became his political and editorial counselor. Another friend was the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Still another was Thomas Malthus, best known for his theory that population tends to increase faster than the food supply—an idea that Ricardo accepted.

In 1815 another controversy arose over the Corn Laws, which regulated the import and export of grain. A decline in wheat prices had led Parliament to raise the tariff on imported wheat. This provoked a popular outcry and caused Ricardo to publish his Essay on the Influence of a Low Price of Corn on the Profits of Stock (1815), in which he argued that raising the tariff on grain imports tended to increase the rents of the country gentlemen while decreasing the profits of manufacturers. One year before his Corn Law essay, at the age of 42, he had retired from business and taken up residence in Gloucestershire, where he had extensive landholdings.

Later, in Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817), Ricardo analyzed the laws determining the distribution of everything that could be produced by the “three classes of the community”—namely, the landlords, the workers, and the owners of capital. As part of his theory of distribution, he concluded that profits vary inversely with wages, which rise or fall in line with the cost of necessities. Ricardo also determined that rent tends to increase as population grows, owing to the higher costs of cultivating more food for the larger population. He supposed that there was little tendency to unemployment, but he remained guarded against rapid population growth that could depress wages to the subsistence level, which would thereby limit both profits and capital formation by extending the margin of cultivation. He also concluded that trade between countries was influenced by relative costs of production and by differences in internal price structures that could maximize the comparative advantages of the trading countries.

Although he built in part upon the work of Smith, he defined the scope of economics more narrowly than had Smith and included little explicit social philosophy. In 1819 Ricardo purchased a seat in the House of Commons, as was done in those times, and entered Parliament as a member for Portarlington. He was not a frequent speaker, but so great was his reputation in economic affairs that his opinions on free trade were received with respect, even though they did not represent the dominant thinking in the House. Illness forced Ricardo to retire from Parliament in 1823. He died that year at the age of 51.

Despite his relatively short career and the fact that most of it was preoccupied with business affairs, Ricardo achieved a leading position among the economists of his time. His views won considerable support in England despite the abstract style in which he set them forth and in the face of heavy counterfire from his opponents. Although his ideas have long since been superseded or modified by other work and by new theoretical approaches, Ricardo retains his eminence as the thinker who first systematized economics. He also treated monetary questions and taxation at length. Writers of various persuasions drew heavily upon his ideas, including those who favoured laissez-faire capitalism and those, such as Karl Marx and Robert Owen, who opposed it.

Joseph J. Spengler

Encyclopædia Britannica





Political and economic doctrine that emphasizes the rights and freedoms of the individual and the need to limit the powers of government.

Liberalism originated as a defensive reaction to the horrors of the European wars of religion of the 16th century (see Thirty Years’ War). Its basic ideas were given formal expression in works by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, both of whom argued that the power of the sovereign is ultimately justified by the consent of the governed, given in a hypothetical social contract rather than by divine right (see divine kingship). In the economic realm, liberals in the 19th century urged the end of state interference in the economic life of society. Following Adam Smith, they argued that economic systems based on free markets are more efficient and generate more prosperity than those that are partly state-controlled. In response to the great inequalities of wealth and other social problems created by the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America, liberals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries advocated limited state intervention in the market and the creation of state-funded social services, such as free public education and health insurance. In the U.S. the New Deal program undertaken by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt typified modern liberalism in its vast expansion of the scope of governmental activities and its increased regulation of business. After World War II a further expansion of social welfare programs occurred in Britain, Scandinavia, and the U.S. Economic stagnation beginning in the late 1970s led to a revival of classical liberal positions favouring free markets, especially among political conservatives in Britain and the U.S. Contemporary liberalism remains committed to social reform, including reducing inequality and expanding individual rights. See also conservatism; individualism.

political doctrine that takes protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual to be the central problem of politics. Liberals typically believe that government is necessary to protect individuals from being harmed by others; but they also recognize that government itself can pose a threat to liberty. As the revolutionary American pamphleteer Thomas Paine expressed it in Common Sense (1776), government is at best “a necessary evil.” Laws, judges, and police are needed to secure the individual’s life and liberty, but their coercive power may also be turned against him. The problem, then, is to devise a system that gives government the power necessary to protect individual liberty but also prevents those who govern from abusing that power.

The problem is compounded when one asks whether this is all that government can or should do on behalf of individual freedom. Some liberals—the so-called neoclassical liberals, or libertarians—answer that it is. Since the late 19th century, however, most liberals have insisted that the powers of government can promote as well as protect the freedom of the individual. According to modern liberalism, the chief task of government is to remove obstacles that prevent individuals from living freely or from fully realizing their potential. Such obstacles include poverty, disease, discrimination, and ignorance. The disagreement among liberals over whether government should promote individual freedom rather than merely protect it is reflected to some extent in the different prevailing conceptions of liberalism in the United States and Europe since the late 20th century. In the United States liberalism is associated with the welfare-state policies of the New Deal program of the Democratic administration of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, whereas in Europe it is more commonly associated with a commitment to limited government and laissez-faire economic policies (see below Contemporary liberalism).

This article discusses the political foundations and history of liberalism from the 17th century to the present. For coverage of classical and contemporary philosophical liberalism, see political philosophy. For biographies of individual philosophers, see John Locke; John Stuart Mill; John Rawls.


General characteristics
Liberalism is derived from two related features of Western culture. The first is the West’s preoccupation with individuality, as compared to the emphasis in other civilizations on status, caste, and tradition. Throughout much of history, the individual has been submerged in and subordinate to his clan, tribe, ethnic group, or kingdom. Liberalism is the culmination of developments in Western society that produced a sense of the importance of human individuality, a liberation of the individual from complete subservience to the group, and a relaxation of the tight hold of custom, law, and authority. In this respect, liberalism stands for the emancipation of the individual. See also individualism.

Liberalism also derives from the practice of adversariality in European political and economic life, a process in which institutionalized competition—such as the competition between different political parties in electoral contests, between prosecution and defense in adversary procedure, or between different producers in a market economy (see monopoly and competition)—generates a dynamic social order. Adversarial systems have always been precarious, however, and it took a long time for the belief in adversariality to emerge from the more traditional view, traceable at least to Plato, that the state should be an organic structure, like a beehive, in which the different social classes cooperate by performing distinct yet complementary roles. The belief that competition is an essential part of a political system and that good government requires a vigorous opposition was still considered strange in most European countries in the early 19th century.

Underlying the liberal belief in adversariality is the conviction that human beings are essentially rational creatures capable of settling their political disputes through dialogue and compromise. This aspect of liberalism became particularly prominent in 20th-century projects aimed at eliminating war and resolving disagreements between states through organizations such as the League of Nations, the United Nations, and the International Court of Justice (World Court).

Liberalism has a close but sometimes uneasy relationship with democracy. At the centre of democratic doctrine is the belief that governments derive their authority from popular election; liberalism, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with the scope of governmental activity. Liberals often have been wary of democracy, then, because of fears that it might generate a tyranny by the majority. One might briskly say, therefore, that democracy looks after majorities and liberalism after unpopular minorities.

Like other political doctrines, liberalism is highly sensitive to time and circumstance. Each country’s liberalism is different, and it changes in each generation. The historical development of liberalism over recent centuries has been a movement from mistrust of the state’s power on the ground that it tends to be misused, to a willingness to use the power of government to correct perceived inequities in the distribution of wealth resulting from economic competition—inequities that purportedly deprive some people of an equal opportunity to live freely. The expansion of governmental power and responsibility sought by liberals in the 20th century was clearly opposed to the contraction of government advocated by liberals a century earlier. In the 19th century liberals generally formed the party of business and the entrepreneurial middle class; for much of the 20th century they were more likely to work to restrict and regulate business in order to provide greater opportunities for labourers and consumers. In each case, however, the liberals’ inspiration was the same: a hostility to concentrations of power that threaten the freedom of the individual and prevent him from realizing his full potential, along with a willingness to reexamine and reform social institutions in the light of new needs. This willingness is tempered by an aversion to sudden, cataclysmic change, which is what sets off the liberal from the radical. It is this very eagerness to welcome and encourage useful change, however, that distinguishes the liberal from the conservative, who believes that change is at least as likely to result in loss as in gain.

Classical liberalism » Political foundations
Although liberal ideas were not noticeable in European politics until the early 16th century, liberalism has a considerable “prehistory” reaching back to the Middle Ages and even earlier. In the Middle Ages the rights and responsibilities of the individual were determined by his place in a hierarchical social system that placed great stress upon acquiescence and conformity. Under the impact of the slow commercialization and urbanization of Europe in the later Middle Ages, the intellectual ferment of the Renaissance, and the spread of Protestantism in the 16th century, the old feudal stratification of society gradually began to dissolve, leading to a fear of instability so powerful that monarchical absolutism was viewed as the only remedy to civil dissension. By the end of the 16th century, the authority of the papacy had been broken in most of northern Europe, and each ruler tried to consolidate the unity of his realm by enforcing conformity either to Roman Catholicism or to the ruler’s preferred version of Protestantism. These efforts culminated in the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), which did immense damage to much of Europe. Where no creed succeeded in wholly extirpating its enemies, toleration was gradually accepted as the lesser of two evils; in some countries where one creed triumphed, it was accepted that too minute a concern with citizens’ beliefs was inimical to prosperity and good order.

The ambitions of national rulers and the requirements of expanding industry and commerce led gradually to the adoption of economic policies based on mercantilism, a school of thought that advocated government intervention in a country’s economy to increase state wealth and power. However, as such intervention increasingly served established interests and inhibited enterprise, it was challenged by members of the newly emerging middle class. This challenge was a significant factor in the great revolutions that rocked England and France in the 17th and 18th centuries—most notably the English Civil Wars (1642–51), the Glorious Revolution (1688), the American Revolution (1775–83), and the French Revolution (1789). Classical liberalism as an articulated creed is a result of those great collisions.

In the English Civil Wars, the absolutist king Charles I was defeated by the forces of Parliament and eventually executed. The Glorious Revolution resulted in the abdication and exile of James II and the establishment of a complex form of balanced government in which power was divided between the king, his ministers, and Parliament. In time this system would become a model for liberal political movements in other countries. The political ideas that helped to inspire these revolts were given formal expression in the work of the English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. In Leviathan (1651), Hobbes argued that the absolute power of the sovereign was ultimately justified by the consent of the governed, who agreed, in a hypothetical social contract, to obey the sovereign in all matters in exchange for a guarantee of peace and security. Locke also held a social-contract theory of government, but he maintained that the parties to the contract could not reasonably place themselves under the absolute power of a ruler. Absolute rule, he argued, is at odds with the point and justification of political authority, which is that it is necessary to protect the person and property of individuals and to guarantee their natural rights to freedom of thought, speech, and worship. Significantly, Locke thought that revolution is justified when the sovereign fails to fulfill these obligations. Indeed, it appears that he began writing his major work of political theory, Two Treatises of Government (1690), precisely in order to justify the revolution of two years before.

By the time Locke had published his Treatises, politics in England had become a contest between two loosely related parties, the Whigs and the Tories. These parties were the ancestors of Britain’s modern Liberal Party and Conservative Party, respectively. Locke was a notable Whig, and it is conventional to view liberalism as derived from the attitudes of Whig aristocrats, who were often linked with commercial interests and who had an entrenched suspicion of the power of the monarchy. The Whigs dominated English politics from the death of Queen Anne in 1714 to the accession of King George III in 1760.

Classical liberalism » Liberalism and democracy
The early liberals, then, worked to free individuals from two forms of social constraint—religious conformity and aristocratic privilege—that had been maintained and enforced through the powers of government. The aim of the early liberals was thus to limit the power of government over the individual while holding it accountable to the governed. As Locke and others argued, this required a system of government based on majority rule—that is, one in which government executes the expressed will of a majority of the electorate. The chief institutional device for attaining this goal was the periodic election of legislators by popular vote and of a chief executive by popular vote or the vote of a legislative assembly.

But in answering the crucial question of who is to be the electorate, classical liberalism fell victim to ambivalence, torn between the great emancipating tendencies generated by the revolutions with which it was associated and middle-class fears that a wide or universal franchise would undermine private property. Benjamin Franklin spoke for the Whig liberalism of the Founding Fathers of the United States when he stated:

As to those who have no landed property in a county, the allowing them to vote for legislators is an impropriety. They are transient inhabitants, and not so connected with the welfare of the state, which they may quit when they please, as to qualify them properly for such privilege.

John Adams, in his Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787), was more explicit. If the majority were to control all branches of government, he declared, “debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on others; and at last a downright equal division of everything be demanded and voted.” French statesmen such as François Guizot and Adophe Thiers expressed similar sentiments well into the 19th century.

Most 18th- and 19th-century liberal politicians thus feared popular sovereignty; for a long time, consequently, they limited suffrage to property owners. In Britain even the important Reform Bill of 1867 did not completely abolish property qualifications for the right to vote. In France, despite the ideal of universal male suffrage proclaimed in 1789 and reaffirmed in the Revolutions of 1830, there were no more than 200,000 qualified voters in a population of about 30,000,000 during the reign of Louis-Philippe, the “citizen king” who had been installed by the ascendant bourgeoisie in 1830. In the United States, the brave language of the Declaration of Independence notwithstanding, it was not until 1860 that universal male suffrage prevailed—for whites. In most of Europe, universal male suffrage remained a remote ideal until late in the 19th century. Racial and sexual prejudice also served to limit the franchise—and, in the case of slavery in the United States, to deprive large numbers of people of virtually any hope of freedom. Efforts to extend the vote to women met with little success until the early years of the 20th century (see woman suffrage). Indeed, Switzerland, which is sometimes called the world’s oldest continuous democracy, did not grant full voting rights to women until 1971.

Despite the misgivings of men of the propertied classes, a slow but steady expansion of the franchise prevailed throughout Europe in the 19th century—an expansion driven in large part by the liberal insistence that “all men are created equal.” But liberals also had to reconcile the principle of majority rule with the requirement that the power of the majority be limited. The problem was to accomplish this in a manner consistent with democratic principles. If hereditary elites were discredited, how could the power of the majority be checked without giving disproportionate power to property owners or to some other “natural” elite?

Classical liberalism » Liberalism and democracy » Separation of powers
The liberal solution to the problem of limiting the powers of a democratic majority employed various devices. The first was the separation of powers—i.e., the distribution of power between such functionally differentiated agencies of government as the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. This arrangement, and the system of checks and balances by which it was accomplished, received its classic embodiment in the Constitution of the United States and its political justification in the Federalist papers (1787–88), by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Of course, such a separation of powers also could have been achieved through a “mixed constitution”—that is, one in which power is shared by, and governing functions appropriately differentiated between, a monarch, a hereditary chamber, and an elected assembly; this was in fact the system of government in Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution. The U.S. Constitution also contains elements of a mixed constitution, such as the division of the legislature into the popularly elected House of Representatives and the “aristocratic” Senate, the members of which originally were chosen by the state governments. But it was despotic kings and functionless aristocrats—more functionless in France than in Britain—who thwarted the interests and ambitions of the middle class, which turned, therefore, to the principle of majoritarianism.

Classical liberalism » Liberalism and democracy » Periodic elections
The second part of the solution lay in using staggered periodic elections to make the decisions of any given majority subject to the concurrence of other majorities distributed over time. In the United States, for example, presidents are elected every four years and members of the House of Representatives every two years, and one-third of the Senate is elected every two years to terms of six years. Therefore, the majority that elects a president every four years or a House of Representatives every two years is different from the majority that elects one-third of the Senate two years earlier and the majority that elects another one-third of the Senate two years later. These bodies, in turn, are “checked” by the Constitution, which was approved and amended by earlier majorities. In Britain an act of Parliament immediately becomes part of the uncodified constitution; however, before acting on a highly controversial issue, Parliament must seek a popular mandate, which represents a majority other than the one that elected it. Thus, in a constitutional democracy, the power of a current majority is checked by the verdicts of majorities that precede and follow it.

Classical liberalism » Liberalism and democracy » Rights
The third part of the solution followed from liberalism’s basic commitment to the freedom and integrity of the individual, which the limitation of power is, after all, meant to preserve. From the liberal perspective, the individual is not only a citizen who shares a social contract with his fellows but also a person with rights upon which the state may not encroach if majoritarianism is to be meaningful. A majority verdict can come about only if individuals are free to some extent to exchange their views. This involves, beyond the right to speak and write freely, the freedom to associate and organize and, above all, freedom from fear of reprisal. But the individual also has rights apart from his role as citizen. These rights secure his personal safety and hence his protection from arbitrary arrest and punishment. Beyond these rights are those that preserve large areas of privacy. In a liberal democracy there are affairs that do not concern the state. Such affairs may range from the practice of religion to the creation of art and the raising of children by their parents. For liberals of the 18th and 19th centuries they also included most of the activities through which individuals engage in production and trade. Eloquent declarations affirming such rights were embodied in the British Bill of Rights (1689), the U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776) and Constitution (ratified 1788), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), and the basic documents of countries throughout the world that later used these declarations as their models. These documents and declarations asserted that freedom is more than the right to cast a vote in an occasional election; it is the fundamental right of people to live their own lives.

Classical liberalism » Economic foundations
If the political foundations of liberalism were laid in Great Britain, so too were its economic foundations. By the 18th century parliamentary constraints were making it difficult for British monarchs to pursue the schemes of national aggrandizement favoured by most rulers on the Continent. These rulers fought for military supremacy, which required a strong economic base. Because the prevailing mercantilist theory understood international trade as a zero-sum game—in which gain for one country meant loss for another—national governments intervened to determine prices, protect their industries from foreign competition, and avoid the sharing of economic information.

These practices soon came under liberal challenge. In France a group of thinkers known as the physiocrats argued that the best way to cultivate wealth is to allow unrestrained economic competition. Their advice to government was “laissez faire, laissez passer” (“let it be, leave it alone”). This laissez-faire doctrine found its most thorough and influential exposition in The Wealth of Nations (1776), by the Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith. Free trade benefits all parties, according to Smith, because competition leads to the production of more and better goods at lower prices. Leaving individuals free to pursue their self-interest in an exchange economy based upon a division of labour will necessarily enhance the welfare of the group as a whole. The self-seeking individual becomes harnessed to the public good because in an exchange economy he must serve others in order to serve himself. But it is only in a genuinely free market that this positive consequence is possible; any other arrangement, whether state control or monopoly, must lead to regimentation, exploitation, and economic stagnation.

Every economic system must determine not only what goods will be produced but also how those goods are to be apportioned, or distributed (see distribution of wealth and income). In a market economy both of these tasks are accomplished through the price mechanism. The theoretically free choices of individual buyers and sellers determine how the resources of society—labour, goods, and capital—shall be employed. These choices manifest themselves in bids and offers that together determine a commodity’s price. Theoretically, when the demand for a commodity is great, prices rise, making it profitable for producers to increase the supply; as supply approximates demand, prices tend to fall until producers divert productive resources to other uses (see supply and demand). In this way the system achieves the closest possible match between what is desired and what is produced. Moreover, in the distribution of the wealth thereby produced, the system is said to assure a reward in proportion to merit. The assumption is that in a freely competitive economy in which no one is barred from engaging in economic activity, the income received from such activity is a fair measure of its value to society.

Presupposed in the foregoing account is a conception of human beings as economic animals rationally and self-interestedly engaged in minimizing costs and maximizing gains. Since each person knows his own interests better than anyone else does, his interests could only be hindered, and never enhanced, by government interference in his economic activities.

In concrete terms, classical liberal economists called for several major changes in the sphere of British and European economic organization. The first was the abolition of numerous feudal and mercantilist restrictions on countries’ manufacturing and internal commerce. The second was an end to the tariffs and restrictions that governments imposed on foreign imports to protect domestic producers. In rejecting the government’s regulation of trade, classical economics was based firmly on a belief in the superiority of a self-regulating market. Quite apart from the cogency of their arguments, the views of Smith and his 19th-century English successors, the economist David Ricardo and the philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill, became increasingly convincing as Britain’s Industrial Revolution generated enormous new wealth and made that country into the “workshop of the world.” Free trade, it seemed, would make everyone prosperous.

In economic life as in politics, then, the guiding principle of classical liberalism became an undeviating insistence on limiting the power of government. The English philosopher Jeremy Bentham cogently summarized this view in his sole advice to the state: “Be quiet.” Others asserted that that government is best that governs least. Classical liberals freely acknowledged that government must provide education, sanitation, law enforcement, a postal system, and other public services that were beyond the capacity of any private agency. But liberals generally believed that, apart from these functions, government must not try to do for the individual what he is able to do for himself.

Classical liberalism » Liberalism and utilitarianism
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Bentham, the philosopher James Mill, and James’s son John Stuart Mill applied classical economic principles to the political sphere. Invoking the doctrine of utilitarianism—the belief that something has value when it is useful or promotes happiness—they argued that the object of all legislation should be “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” In evaluating what kind of government could best attain this objective, the utilitarians generally supported representative democracy, asserting that it was the best means by which government could promote the interests of the governed. Taking their cue from the notion of a market economy, the utilitarians called for a political system that would guarantee its citizens the maximum degree of individual freedom of choice and action consistent with efficient government and the preservation of social harmony. They advocated expanded education, enlarged suffrage, and periodic elections to ensure government’s accountability to the governed. Although they had no use for the idea of natural rights, their defense of individual liberties—including the rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly—lies at the heart of modern democracy. These liberties received their classic advocacy in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859), which argues on utilitarian grounds that the state may regulate individual behaviour only in cases where the interests of others would be perceptibly harmed.

The utilitarians thus succeeded in broadening the philosophical foundations of political liberalism while also providing a program of specific reformist goals for liberals to pursue. Their overall political philosophy was perhaps best stated in James Mill’s article Government, which was written for the supplement (1815–24) to the fourth through sixth editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Liberalism in the 19th century
As an ideology and in practice liberalism became the preeminent reform movement in Europe during the 19th century. Its fortunes, however, varied with the historical conditions in each country—the strength of the crown, the élan of the aristocracy, the pace of industrialization, and the circumstances of national unification. The national character of a liberal movement could even be affected by religion. Liberalism in Roman Catholic countries such as France, Italy, and Spain, for example, tended to acquire anticlerical overtones, and liberals in those countries tended to favour legislation restricting the civil authority and political power of the Catholic clergy.

In Great Britain the Whigs had evolved by the mid-19th century into the Liberal Party, whose reformist programs became the model for liberal political parties throughout Europe. Liberals propelled the long campaign that abolished Britain’s slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself throughout the British dominions in 1833. The liberal project of broadening the franchise in Britain bore fruit in the Reform Bills of 1832, 1867, and 1884–85. The sweeping reforms achieved by Liberal Party governments led by William Gladstone for 14 years between 1868 and 1894 marked the apex of British liberalism.

Liberalism in Continental Europe often lacked the fortuitous combination of broad popular support and a powerful liberal party that it had in Britain. In France the Revolutionary and Napoleonic governments pursued liberal goals in their abolition of feudal privileges and their modernization of the decrepit institutions inherited from the ancien régime. After the Bourbon Restoration in 1815, however, French liberals were faced with the decades-long task of securing constitutional liberties and enlarging popular participation in government under a reestablished monarchy, goals not substantially achieved until the formation of the Third Republic in 1871.

Throughout Europe and in the Western Hemisphere, liberalism inspired nationalistic aspirations to the creation of unified, independent, constitutional states with their own parliaments and the rule of law. The most dramatic exponents of this liberal assault against authoritarian rule were the Founding Fathers of the United States, the statesman and revolutionary Simón Bolívar in South America, the leaders of the Risorgimento in Italy, and the nationalist reformer Lajos Kossuth in Hungary. But the failure of the Revolutions of 1848 highlighted the comparative weakness of liberalism on the Continent. Liberals’ inability to unify the German states in the mid-19th century was attributable in large part to the dominant role of a militarized Prussia and the reactionary influence of Austria. The liberal-inspired unification of Italy was delayed until the 1860s by the armies of Austria and of Napoleon III of France and by the opposition of the Vatican.

The United States presented a quite different situation, because there was neither a monarchy, an aristocracy, nor an established church against which liberalism could react. Indeed, liberalism was so well established in the United States’ constitutional structure, its political culture, and its jurisprudence that there was no distinct role for a liberal party to play, at least not until the 20th century.

In Europe, by contrast, liberalism was a transforming force throughout the 19th century. Industrialization and modernization, for which classical liberalism provided ideological justification, wrought great changes. The feudal system fell, a functionless aristocracy lost its privileges, and monarchs were challenged and curbed. Capitalism replaced the static economies of the Middle Ages, and the middle class was left free to employ its energies by expanding the means of production and vastly increasing the wealth of society. As liberals set about limiting the power of the monarchy, they converted the ideal of constitutional government, accountable to the people through the election of representatives, into a reality.

Modern liberalism » Problems of market economies
By the end of the 19th century, some unforeseen but serious consequences of the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America had produced a deepening disenchantment with the principal economic basis of classical liberalism—the ideal of a market economy. The main problem was that the profit system had concentrated vast wealth in the hands of a relatively small number of industrialists and financiers, with several adverse consequences. First, great masses of people failed to benefit from the wealth flowing from factories and lived in poverty in vast slums. Second, because the greatly expanded system of production created many goods and services that people often could not afford to buy, markets became glutted and the system periodically came to a near halt in periods of stagnation that came to be called depressions. Finally, those who owned or managed the means of production had acquired enormous economic power that they used to influence and control government, to manipulate an inchoate electorate, to limit competition, and to obstruct substantive social reform. In short, some of the same forces that had once released the productive energies of Western society now restrained them; some of the very energies that had demolished the power of despots now nourished a new despotism.

Modern liberalism » The modern liberal program
Such, at any rate, was the verdict reached by an increasing number of liberals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As noted above, modern liberals held that the point of government is to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of individual freedom. In this they followed the lead of thinkers and reformers such as the British political philosopher T.H. Green. According to Green, the excessive powers of government may have constituted the greatest obstacles to freedom in an earlier day, but by the middle of the 19th century these powers had been greatly reduced or mitigated. The time had come, therefore, to recognize hindrances of another kind—such as poverty, disease, discrimination, and ignorance—which individuals could overcome only with the positive assistance of government. The new liberal program was thus to enlist the powers of government in the cause of individual freedom. Society, acting through government, was to establish public schools and hospitals, aid the needy, and regulate working conditions to promote workers’ health and well-being, for only through public support could the poor and powerless members of society truly become free.

Although most liberals eventually adopted this new course, there were some dissenters, notably the influential social Darwinists Herbert Spencer in England and William Graham Sumner in the United States. As the term Darwinists indicates, these writers thought of politics, economics, and society in general in evolutionary terms. Like Paine, they regarded government as at best a necessary evil—not, however, because it coerces but because it too often interferes with the struggle for survival that nature imposes on human beings as much as on other species (see natural selection). Helping the poor and the weak, they argued, impedes individual freedom and retards social progress by holding back the strong and the fit. The social Darwinists concluded that the sole responsibility of government must be to protect the lives and property of the people—that is, to be nothing more than a “night watchman.”

Modern liberalism » The modern liberal program » Limited intervention in the market
Because they appreciated the real achievements of the market system, modern liberals sought to modify and control the system rather than to abolish it. They saw no reason for a fixed line eternally dividing the private and public sectors of the economy; the division, they contended, must be made by reference to what works. The spectre of regimentation in centrally planned economies and the dangers of bureaucracy even in mixed economies deterred them from jettisoning the market and substituting a putatively omnicompetent state. On the other hand—and this is a basic difference between classical and modern liberalism—most liberals came to recognize that the operation of the market needed to be supplemented and corrected. The new liberals asserted, first, that the rewards dispensed by the market were too crude a measure of the contribution most people made to society and, second, that the market ignored the needs of those who lacked opportunity or who were economically exploited. They contended that the enormous social costs incurred in production were not reflected in market prices and that resources were often used wastefully. Not least, liberals perceived that the market biased the allocation of human and physical resources toward the satisfaction of consumer appetites—e.g., for automobiles, home appliances, or fashionable clothing—while basic needs—for schools, housing, public transit, and sewage systems, among other things—went unmet. Finally, although liberals believed that prices, wages, and profits should continue to be subject to negotiation among the interested parties and responsive to conventional market pressures, they insisted that price-wage-profit decisions affecting the economy as a whole must be reconciled with public policy.

Modern liberalism » The modern liberal program » Greater equality of wealth and income
To achieve what they took to be a more just distribution of wealth and income, liberals relied on two major strategies. First, they promoted the organization of workers into trade unions in order to improve their power to bargain with employers. Such a redistribution of power had political as well as economic consequences, making possible a multiparty system in which at least one party was responsive to the interests of wage earners.

Second, with the political support of the economically deprived, liberals introduced a variety of government-funded social services. Beginning with free public education and workmen’s accident insurance, these services later came to include programs of old-age, unemployment, and health insurance; minimum-wage laws; and support for the physically and mentally handicapped (see also social insurance; social welfare program). Meeting these objectives required a redistribution of wealth that was to be achieved by a graduated income tax and inheritance tax, which affected the wealthy more than they did the poor. Social welfare measures such as these were first enacted by the decidely nonliberal government of Otto von Bismarck in Germany in the late 19th century, but liberal governments soon adopted them in other countries of northern and western Europe. In the United States such measures were not adopted at the federal level until passage of the Social Security Act of 1935.

Modern liberalism » World War I and the Great Depression
The further development of liberalism in Europe was brutally interrupted in 1914–18 by the prolonged slaughter of World War I. The war overturned four of Europe’s great imperial dynasties—Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Ottoman Turkey—and thus at first appeared to give added impetus to liberal democracy. Europe was reshaped by the Treaty of Versailles on the principle of national self-determination, which in practice meant the breakup of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires into nationally homogeneous states. The League of Nations was created in the hope that negotiation would replace war as a means of settling international disputes.

But the trauma of the war had created widespread disillusionment about the entire liberal view of progress toward a more humane world. The harsh peace terms imposed by the victorious Allies, together with the misery created by the Great Depression, beginning in 1929, enfeebled Germany’s newly established Weimar Republic and set the stage for the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. In Italy, meanwhile, dissatisfaction with the peace settlement led directly to the takeover by the Fascist Party in 1922. Liberalism was also threatened by Soviet communism, which seemed to many to have inherited the hopes for progress earlier associated with liberalism itself.

While liberalism came under political attack in the interwar period, the Great Depression threatened the very survival of the market economy. The boom-and-bust character of the business cycle had long been a major defect of market economies, but the Great Depression, with its seemingly endless downturn in business activity and its soaring levels of unemployment, confounded classical economists and produced real pessimism about the viability of capitalism.

The wrenching hardships inflicted by the Great Depression eventually convinced Western governments that complex modern societies needed some measure of rational economic planning. The New Deal (1933–39), the domestic program undertaken by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt to lift the United States out of the Great Depression, typified modern liberalism in its vast expansion of the scope of governmental activities and its increased regulation of business. Among the measures that New Deal legislation provided were emergency assistance and temporary jobs to the unemployed, restrictions on banking and financial industries, more power for trade unions to organize and bargain with employers, and establishment of the Social Security program of retirement benefits and unemployment and disability insurance. In his influential work The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936), the liberal British economist John Maynard Keynes introduced an economic theory that argued that government management of the economy could smooth out the highs and lows of the business cycle to produce more or less consistent growth with minimal unemployment.

Modern liberalism » Postwar liberalism to the 1960s
Liberalism, in strategic alliance with Soviet communism, ultimately triumphed over fascism in World War II, and liberal democracy was reestablished in West Germany, Italy, and Japan. As western Europe, North America, and Japan entered a period of steady economic growth and unprecedented prosperity after the war, attention shifted to the institutional factors that prevented such economies from fully realizing their productive potential, especially during periods of mass unemployment and depression. Great Britain, the United States, and other Western industrialized nations committed their national governments to promoting full employment, the maximum use of their industrial capacity, and the maximum purchasing power of their citizenry. The old rhetoric about “sharing the wealth” gave way to a concentration on growth rates, as liberals—inspired by Keynes—used the government’s power to borrow, tax, and spend not merely to counter contractions of the business cycle but to encourage expansion of the economy. Here, clearly, was a program less disruptive of class harmony and the basic consensus essential to a democracy than the old Robin Hood method of taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

A further and final expansion of social welfare programs occurred in the liberal democracies during the postwar decades. Notable measures were undertaken in Britain by the Labour government of Prime Minister Clement Attlee and in the United States by the Democratic administration of Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson as part of his Great Society program of national reforms. These measures created the modern welfare state, which provided not only the usual forms of social insurance but also pensions, unemployment benefits, subsidized medical care, family allowances, and government-funded higher education. By the 1960s social welfare was thus provided “from the cradle to the grave” throughout much of western Europe—particularly in the Scandinavian countries—and in Japan and Canada and to a lesser extent in the United States.

The liberal democratic model was adopted in Asia and Africa by most of the new nations that emerged from the dissolution of the British and French colonial empires in the 1950s and early ’60s. The new nations almost invariably adopted constitutions and established parliamentary governments, believing that these institutions would lead to the same freedom and prosperity that had been achieved in Europe. The results, however, were mixed, with genuine parliamentary democracy taking root in some countries but succumbing in many others to military or socialist dictatorships.

Contemporary liberalism » The revival of classical liberalism
The three decades of unprecedented general prosperity that the Western world experienced after World War II marked the high tide of modern liberalism. But the slowing of economic growth that gripped most Western countries beginning in the mid-1970s presented a serious challenge to modern liberalism. By the end of that decade economic stagnation, combined with the cost of maintaining the social benefits of the welfare state, pushed governments increasingly toward politically untenable levels of taxation and mounting debt. Equally troubling was the fact that the Keynesian economics practiced by many governments seemed to lose its effectiveness. Governments continued to spend money on programs aimed at stimulating economic growth, but the result too often was increased inflation and ever-smaller declines in unemployment rates.

As modern liberals struggled to meet the challenge of stagnating living standards in mature industrial economies, others saw an opportunity for a revival of classical liberalism. The intellectual foundations of this revival were primarily the work of the Austrian-born British economist Friedrich von Hayek and the American economist Milton Friedman. One of Hayek’s greatest achievements was to demonstrate, on purely logical grounds, that a centrally planned economy is impossible. He also famously argued, in The Road to Serfdom (1944), that interventionist measures aimed at the redistribution of wealth lead inevitably to totalitarianism. Friedman, as one of the founders of the modern monetarist school of economics, held that the business cycle is determined mainly by the supply of money and by interest rates, rather than by government fiscal policy—contrary to the long-prevailing view of Keynes and his followers. These arguments were enthusiastically embraced by the major conservative political parties in Britain and the United States, which had never abandoned the classical liberal conviction that the market, for all its faults, guides economic policy better than governments do. Revitalized conservatives achieved power with the lengthy administrations of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979–90) in Britain and Pres. Ronald Reagan (1981–89) in the United States. Their ideology and policies, which properly belong to the history of conservatism rather than liberalism, became increasingly influential, as illustrated by the British Labour Party’s official abandonment of its commitment to the “common ownership of the means of production” in 1995 and by the cautiously pragmatic policies of Pres. Bill Clinton in the 1990s. The clearest sign, however, of the importance of this “neoclassical” version of liberalism was the emergence of libertarianism as a political force—as evidenced by the increasing prominence of the Libertarian Party in the United States and by the creation of assorted think tanks in various countries, which sought to promote the libertarian ideal of markets and sharply limited governments.

Contemporary liberalism » Civil rights and social issues
Contemporary liberalism remains deeply concerned with reducing economic inequalities and helping the poor, but it also has tried to extend individual rights in new directions. With the exception of the utilitarians, liberals have always invoked the concept of rights to argue against tyranny and oppression; but in the later 20th century claims to rights became the most common way of articulating struggles for social justice. The prototypical mass movement in this regard was the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, which resulted in legislation forbidding most forms of discrimination against a large African American minority and which fundamentally altered the climate of race relations in the United States. In the 1970s there arose similar movements struggling for equal rights for women, gays and lesbians, the physically or mentally disabled, and other minorities or disadvantaged social groups. Thus, liberalism historically has sought to foster a plurality of different ways of life, or different conceptions of the “good life,” by protecting the rights and interests of first the middle class and religious minorities, then the working class and the poor, and finally racial minorities, women, gays and lesbians, and the physically or mentally disabled.

Liberalism has influenced the changing character of Western society in other ways as well, though its contribution in this regard has not always been distinguishable from the effects of modernization, technological change, and rising standards of living. For example, the relaxation in most developed countries of long-standing restrictions on contraception, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality was inspired in part by the traditional liberal insistence on individual choice. In similar fashion, the liberal emphasis on the right to freedom of speech led to the loosening of inherited restrictions on sexual content and expression in works of art and culture (see censorship).

Assessment and prospects
Liberalism remains a vibrant and influential, if divided, political ideology. In the two decades following the elections of Thatcher and Reagan in 1979–80, modern liberalism appeared to be in dispirited decline. Most sectors of the British and American economies during this period were deregulated or privatized to effect what Reagan called “the magic of the marketplace.” Unregulated markets, it was claimed, produce prosperity, abundance, and economic efficiencies. In keeping with this vision, regulations governing the banking, insurance, and financial industries—many in place since the New Deal—were watered down or eliminated in the 1980s and ’90s. The resulting lack of oversight was a major factor in a worldwide financial crisis that began in 2007–08 and threatened to turn into a global depression. Almost overnight, the ideal of the unregulated market was discredited in the eyes of many. Newly elected U.S. Pres. Barack Obama undertook, with widespread popular support, a “new New Deal” in which banks were re-regulated—many effectively nationalized—and the automobile industry radically restructured. Formerly overshadowed, modern liberalism gained a new lease on life.

Harry K. Girvetz
Kenneth Minogue
Terence Ball
Richard Dagger

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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