Throughout political history, the most enduring and fundamental question is that the relationship between the individual and the state. Whether individuals have the self-evident right to pursue their own liberty and happiness as the Declaration of Independence states? Or instead, whether we individuals are obligated to live our lives for the state as the modern (social) liberals declare. The answers of the question can be classified into classical liberalism and modern liberalism. The former supports individual interests prior to national interests in support of minimum state activity and laissez-faire economics, while the latter is not completely collectivism or individualistic but a “combined liberalism” which combines ideas of civil liberty and equality in support of social justice and a mixed economy (Forrester, 2013). Therefore, modern liberalism, also called social liberalism that dominated in the United States, is actually a social variant of classical liberalism. When the paper analyzes the extent of the two liberalism agree over the relationship between individual and the state, it insists that classical liberalism is an ideology while social liberalism is more like an approach to politics. In accordance with the keynote, the paper provides a concise and comprehensive definition of classical and social liberalism in part I. The analysis of modern and classical liberals’ agreement over the relationship between the individual and the state focuses on three aspects, namely the origin of individual rights, liberal economy (including free market) and government intervention, and the three aspects will be discussed respectively in the following.
As a philosophy and ideology of politics and economics, the term of classical liberalism developed in the early 19th century on the basis of the ideas from the previous century. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith was opposed to the state intervention in economy and mercantilism focusing on trade protection because mercantilist enriched only those privileged elite without regard to the vast number of civilians (Brennan & Tomasi, 2012). The interpretation of liberalism connected with economy of Adam Smith that all individuals are able to secure their self-interest in economy lays the theory foundation of classical liberalism. Combined with interpretation of John Locke Thomas Jefferson’s and James Madison, etc. in law and philosophy, the key insights of classical liberalism include: individual freedom (individuals have the right to pursue happiness and flourishing), liberal economy (wealth and trade are good so unfettered market should be promoted), and representative government with limited power (Brennan & Tomasi, 2012). In a word, classical liberals insist individualism that people are distinct, good, self-governing, hence the state should protect individual freedom to pursue maximum wealth and happiness on their own. The unlimited freedom ideas connected with huge productivity and creation facilitates the successful industrial revolution and the foundation of an empire on which the sun never sets, the United Kingdom(Brennan & Tomasi, 2012).
In the paper it repeatedly highlights the focus of social liberals on social justice, it does not mean the classical liberals pay no attention to equality but the latter emphasizes on equality at individual level. Or it can be said that true equality of individual right is the end of modern and classical liberals. Under the circumstance, they are incompatible in a laissez-faire economy (Goodman, 2017). Compared with absolute free market under classical liberalism, modern liberals introduce limited government intervention to avert the negative influence of complete free economy and risk of command economy (Husson, 2012). In a word, modern and classical liberals agree over the end of laissez-faire economy but only difference in economy policies, the former favor more regulation of economy while the latter want less. However, modern and classical liberal seems significantly incompatible in approach to individual freedom. It is connected with their different comprehension of true individual freedom. Modern liberals actually expand the narrow and negative understanding of classical liberals, sustaining incorporate social justice into individual freedom in order to realize a true liberty. Therefore, government is the essential tool to the end.