Liberalism, conservatism, and socialism are significant ideologies in Global History. Define and discuss these ideologies and explain how and why they emerged. Who were the proponents of...

Liberalism, conservatism, and socialism are significant ideologies in Global History. Define and discuss these ideologies and explain how and why they emerged. Who were the proponents of liberalism, conservatism, and socialism? How did liberals, conservatives, and socialists view human nature, change and progress, freedom and equality? How were these ideas being applied during the late 18th and 19th centuries.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that you can find that philosophical traditions merge and intermingle during the 18th and 19th Centuries.  To a great extent, each was a specific reaction to another movement. For instance, when we examine Conservativism, some of its basic premises involve affirming the need for specific social, political, and economic institutions to exist.  Conservative ideas involve a respect for traditional modes of interaction and understanding.  Those in the position of power embraced Conservativism and a structural framework where authority flowed from top down, something that was critical to the movement's acceptance. Conservatives viewed human nature as subject to a controlling notion of the good.  The Conservative thinkers viewed human nature as a force to be subsumed by controlling institutions, forces that merged individual identity within its structural force.  Hierarchies and centralized power were meant to encompass human nature.  Progress was defined as ensuring that these institutions and reverence for them was absolute.  In the process of placing individuals within these frameworks, freedom and equality could be guaranteed because there was order and function that encompassed all individuals.

Liberalism emerges as a response to this, fueled by individuals who wanted to reconfigure the location of power.  Liberalism stressed a more autonomous and less centralized construction of authority.  Liberalist thought challenged the reverence that Conservative elements offered towards structures which reflected "the way things were." Liberal elements favored individual freedom, a space away from external control, and that the human condition is one that is geared towards action away from controlling structure. Liberalist ideas of human nature centered on the idea that human beings could be capable of progress and reason, and were forces that did not need to be controlled.  For example, Enlightenment thinkers like Adam Smith and John Locke did not care for external control because such realities detracted from the human capacity for self- determination which existed within human beings.  Progress and change existed within this construction of human capacity.  To detract from that meant to deny the potential for greatness.  It is here in which freedom and equality is protected in the Liberalist notion of the good.  Liberals believed that if individuals acted reasonably to ensure that their own self- interest could be maximized without having to take away from that of another, freedom and equality could emerge.

At the same time, Socialism viewed Liberalism's emphasis on freedom as misguided.  Socialism stressed that examining the material conditions that surround the individual should preclude a blind embrace of freedom.  In other words, what point is having freedom if it does not result in a collective notion of decision making and empowerment?  It is here where Socialism emerges. The view of human nature that Socialism took was to affirm the idea that when individuals are able to act as a collective unit, a real and more substantive notion of power is evident, and where progress lies. Socialist ideas appealed to individuals who found themselves devoid of power and control as a result of Liberal advancement of self- interested notions of the economic, social, and political good.  Socialism put forth a more collectivized idea of decision making in all of these realms.

Each philosophy was tailor- made to individuals that found voice within it. Given the seismic shifts in power and understanding that emerged in the 18th and 19th Centuries, it becomes clear that these ideas were being applied in different contexts.  Their embrace at different points in the historical narrative is a reflection of how the Modernist time period was one of intense changes and shifts in intellectual, social, and personal forms of consciousness.