Classical Liberalism

Classical Liberalism was a school of thought that firmly believed in the rights of the individual and in the free market. It believed that individuals have the right to freely express themselves, whether through religion or not, and that individuals have the right to private property. The government does not have the right to “legally plunder,” as Bastiat put it, the property of anyone, just as private individuals do not have the right to steal from their fellow men. When the government takes from the people, it is no less a crime then if an individual took from another individual. The government should also stay out of the economy to the greatest extent possible, according to the liberals, and allow the free market to run its course. Frederick Bastiat (1801-1850), mentioned above, wrote a satire entitled The Petition of the Candlemakers which exposed the absurdity of the government in intervening with foreign competition in the market (mercantilism). The classical liberals did not advocate for a perfect democracy with every individual involved with decision-making. Bastiat believed that it would be as unjust for the world to violate the rights of one man as it would for one man, if he could, to violate the rights of the whole world. Herbert Spencer, another important classical liberal thinker, believed that majorities do not have the authority to do anything they want based solely on the fact that they comprise the majority. Liberalism also held that society and societal organization are not the product of a blueprint drawn up by “wise men,” but by the free behavior and association of individuals. The philosophy of Classical Liberalism believed that people have certain rights, and that these people should be able to do anything that they want as long as they do not violate these same rights held equally by others. Limited government wherever it intervened in the lives of the people was a crucial factor in the thought of the classical liberals, and remains a cornerstone in the ideas of their successors, the Libertarians.


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  1. Pingback: The French Revolution of 1830 | supererling

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