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Classical liberalism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Classical liberalism holds that individual rights are natural, inherent, or inalienable, and exist independently of government. Thomas Jefferson called these inalienable rights: "...rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law', because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." For classical liberalism, rights are of a negative nature—rights that require that other individuals (and governments) refrain from interfering with individual liberty, whereas social liberalism (also called modern liberalism or welfare liberalism) holds that individuals have a right to be provided with certain benefits or services by others. Unlike social liberals, classical liberals are "hostile to the welfare state." They do not have an interest in material equality but only in "equality before the law". Classical liberalism is critical of social liberalism and takes offense at group rights being pursued at the expense of individual rights.
In the United States, liberalism took a strong root because it had little opposition to its ideals, whereas in Europe liberalism was opposed by many reactionary interests. In a nation of farmers, especially farmers whose workers were slaves, little attention was paid to the economic aspects of liberalism. But, as America grew, industry became a larger and larger part of American life; and, during the term of America's first populist president, Andrew Jackson, economic questions came to the forefront. The economic ideas of the Jacksonian era were almost universally the ideas of classical liberalism. Freedom was maximized when the government took a "hands off" attitude toward industrial development and supported the value of the currency by freely exchanging paper money for gold. The ideas of classical liberalism remained essentially unchallenged until a series of depressions, thought to be impossible according to the tenets of classical economics, led to economic hardship from which the voters demanded relief. In the words of William Jennings Bryan, "You shall not crucify the American farmer on a cross of gold." Despite the common recurrence of depressions, classical liberalism remained the orthodox belief among American businessmen until the Great Depression. The Great Depression saw a sea change in liberalism, leading to the development of modern liberalism. In the words of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.:
When the growing complexity of industrial conditions required increasing government intervention in order to assure more equal opportunities, the liberal tradition, faithful to the goal rather than to the dogma, altered its view of the state," and "there emerged the conception of a social welfare state, in which the national government had the express obligation to maintain high levels of employment in the economy, to supervise standards of life and labor, to regulate the methods of business competition, and to establish comprehensive patterns of social security.