Background (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Liberalism is a political philosophy founded during the Enlightenment in Europe. Prominent liberal philosophers include John Locke, Adam Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill. As a theory, liberalism represents a wide range of thought. At its core, liberalism is optimistic toward the ability of humans to use reason to achieve social progress. To pursue progress through reason, the individual must be autonomous, that is, free from unnecessary coercion and threat. The rise of liberalism coincides with the rise of the modern nation state. Liberalism justifies the authority of the nation state on the grounds that the nation state is a necessary social institution to protect individual rights and liberty. These rights are often defined as the right to enjoy one’s property. Governments have a legitimate role in defending property rights and one’s freedom to enjoy property according to one’s will. Legitimate government to liberals is unbiased, representing no faction while equally protecting the rights of all citizens. Liberalism holds an optimistic view of human nature and enlightened self interest. Individual rights are central to the liberal outlook.
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Private Property (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
The liberal emphasis on the importance of private property has had a profound impact on modern society. Private property, according to John Locke, is the basis of self-preservation. Locke argues that the person who applies labor to nature to create value is the rightful owner of that value, or property. The industrious create value where there was previously none. In this view, nature is not valuable in itself, but only as a means toward providing for human ends. According to Locke, however, humans should take from nature only that which they can reasonably use. Humans should not allow value derived from nature to spoil. With the invention of money, however, this spoilage can be reduced. Money allows for the accumulation of wealth and enlargement of private property, because it does not spoil.
It should be noted, however, that classical liberalism also informed critics of private property. Many socialist, communist, and anarchist social theories operated under classical liberal principles of human freedom, liberty, and progress. This attests to the wide range of ideas and social movements inspired by liberalism.
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Civil Society (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Liberalism emphasizes the importance of civil society. Civil society is achieved by the voluntary submission of each free individual to an objective power that can judge social conflicts arising between self-interested people. The primary force in civil society is the legislature. The legislature makes the laws that form the common bonds and rules among individuals. Civil society is necessary because prior to civil society people exist in the state of nature. The state of nature is one of mutual fear and danger. To enforce legislative bonds, an executive must possess the power to execute laws and punish those who fail to abide by the rules of civil society, or the social contract. Liberal democracies operate under social contracts, an example being the United States Constitution.
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The Danger of Factions (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
The end of civil society is to promote peace and to preserve private property. Sometimes however, legislative and executive power fall prey to the interests of factions. Factions view government as a means to pursue their own interests rather than the interests of the whole country. When factions become too powerful, civil society falls into despotism and possible dissolution. If powerful factions rule unjustly, those who are unjustly ruled are justified to resist. This liberal concept is explicitly stated in the reasoning of the Declaration of Independence of the United States written by Thomas Jefferson. Problems associated with factions are also a central concern in the Federalist papers, written by the early American statesmenAlexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.
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Context (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Liberalism affects the economics and politics of global warming in diverse and contradictory ways. Much of this diversity and contradiction arises from the various ways in which principles of liberalism are interpreted. For example, liberals who accept the theory of climate change argue that rational people can work together to solve this collective problem. The enlightened self-interest of the individual enables one to cooperate with others to solve collective problems. Civil society would call upon government to address the problem of climate change through legislation and executive action. In the academic field of international relations, liberal theorists cite the importance of cooperation between nation states to achieve common goals. Liberals argue that common goals and interests promote peace between nation states. Liberal scholars in international relations recommend international agreements and institutions to address collective problems such as climate change. Climate change is a good example of a global problem that will require cooperative behavior among the nation states of the global system.
To global warming skeptics, however, liberalism is interpreted to defend the inviolability of private property. Skeptics argue that government intervention in the economic process should be kept to a minimum to protect the freedom to dispose of one’s private property as one sees fit. Intrusion by governments to address climate...
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Clapp, Jennifer, and Peter Dauvergne. Paths to a Green World: The Political Economy of the Global Environment. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005. Explains four environmental worldviews of political economy: those of market liberals, institutionalists, bioenvironmentalists, and social greens.
Keohane, Robert O., and Joseph S. Nye. Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition. Boston: Little, Brown, 1977. Argues the self-interest of nation states is bound within “complex interdependence.” Complex interdependence requires communication and cooperation to solve collective problems.
Locke, John. The Second Treatise on Civil Government. New York: Prometheus Books, 1986. A central exposition of liberal political theory. It has had an enormous impact on the political and economic culture in the United States.
Michaels, Patrick J. Meltdown. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2004. The author is a well-known climate change skeptic. Many of his arguments are based on interpretations of liberal concepts, including private property, limited government, freedom, and the dangers of tyranny.
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Liberalism (Political Theories For Students)
Liberalism is not a precise ideology. It does not have clear system of beliefs or a set of texts to which its adherents must subscribe. It is rather a set of attitudes, including particularly an emphasis on the recognition of the rights of the individual and tolerance, which permits considerable diversity of views among liberals. It can be described but not prescribed.
Liberalism is a term that was first used in England the early nineteenth century. It is now used in much of the world to indicate a political system characterized by freedom of association, the rule of law, and the rejection of arbitrary authority. Liberalism also provides for individual freedom, equality before the law, possession of private property, clear constitutional limits on governmental power, and representative and democratic political decision making. Many of the richest societies are liberalncluding the major Anglophone countries of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealandnd, with some qualifications, most of the countries of the...
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