Liberalism, 9

Classical liberalism

The development into maturity of classical liberalism took place before and after the French Revolution in Britain, and was based on the following core concepts: classical economics, free trade, laissez-faire government with minimal intervention and taxation and a balanced budget. Classical liberals were committed to individualism, liberty and equal rights. The primary intellectual influences on 19th century liberal trends were those of Adam Smith and the classical economists, and Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.


Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, was to provide most of the ideas of economics, at least until the publication of J. S. Mill’s Principles in 1848. Smith addressed the motivation for economic activity, the causes of prices and the distribution of wealth, and the policies the state should follow in order to maximize wealth.

Smith wrote that as long as supply, demand, prices, and competition were left free of government regulation, the pursuit of material self-interest, rather than altruism, would maximize the wealth of a society through profit-driven production of goods and services. An “invisible hand” directed individuals and firms to work toward the nation’s good as an unintended consequence of efforts to maximize their own gain. This provided a moral justification for the accumulation of wealth, which had previously been viewed by some as sinful.

His main emphasis was on the benefit of free internal and international trade, which he thought could increase wealth through specialization in production. He also opposed restrictive trade preferences, state grants of monopolies, and employers’ organizations and trade unions. Government should be limited to defense, public works and the administration of justice, financed by taxes based on income. Smith was one of the progenitors of the idea, which was long central to classical liberalism and has resurfaced in the globalization literature of the later 20th and early 21st centuries, that free trade promotes peace.


Utilitarianism provided the political justification for the implementation of economic liberalism by British governments, which was to dominate economic policy from the 1830s. Although utilitarianism prompted legislative and administrative reform and John Stuart Mill’s later writings on the subject foreshadowed the welfare state, it was mainly used as a justification for laissez-faire. The central concept of utilitarianism, which was developed by Jeremy Bentham, was that public policy should seek to provide “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”. While this could be interpreted as a justification for state action to reduce poverty, it was used by classical liberals to justify inaction with the argument that the net benefit to all individuals would be higher. His philosophy proved to be extremely influential on government policy and led to increased Benthamite attempts at government social control, including Robert Peel’s Metropolitan Police, prison reforms, the workhouses and asylums for the mentally ill.

The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 was a watershed moment and encapsulated the triumph of free trade and liberal economics. The Anti-Corn Law League brought together a coalition of liberal and radical groups in support of free trade under the leadership of Richard Cobden and John Bright, who opposed militarism and public expenditure. Their policies of low public expenditure and low taxation were later adopted by the liberal chancellor of the exchequer and later prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone. Although British classical liberals aspired to a minimum of state activity, the passage of the Factory Acts in the early 19th century which involved government interference in the economy met with their approval.

Liberalism, 8


The radical liberal movement began in the 1790s in England and concentrated on parliamentary and electoral reform, emphasizing natural rights and popular sovereignty. Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man (1791) was a response to Burke’s conservative essay Reflections on the Revolution in France.

paines-bookAn ensuing revolution controversy featured, among others, Mary Wollstonecraft, who followed with an early feminist tract, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Radicals encouraged mass support for democratic reform along with rejection of the monarchy, aristocracy, and all forms of privilege.

The Reform Act 1832 was put through with the support of public outcry, mass meetings of “political unions” and riots in some cities. This now enfranchised the middle classes, but failed to meet radical demands. Following the Reform Act the mainly aristocratic Whigs in the House of Commons were joined by a small number of parliamentary Radicals, as well as an increased number of middle class Whigs. By 1839 they were informally being called “the Liberal party.”

The Liberals produced one of the most influential British prime ministers, William Gladstone, who was also known as the Grand Old Man: the towering political figure of liberalism in the 19th century. Under Gladstone, the Liberals reformed education, disestablished the Church of Ireland, and introduced the secret ballot for local and parliamentary elections.

March of the Titans

The following sentences of March of the Titans: The Complete History of the White Race by Arthur Kemp caught my attention:

The isle of influence – England, Scotland, Wales
and the United Kingdom

• Æthelred II ordered the killing of all Danish men in England on St Brice’s Day, November 13, 1002.

• In 1189, the first anti-Jewish riot took place in London, which soon spread to York, where 150 Jews were killed by a mob after they took refuge in a local building, Clifford’s Tower, the ruins of which still stand to the present day.

1 Manuscript from The Chronicles of Offa that depicts Jews

• In 1290, all the Jews of England were expelled from the country, accused of exploitative financial practices related to their dominance of the banking business.

• Mary I restored the Roman Catholic church in England, violently suppressing the Anglicans, ordering 300 leading members of that church burned at the stake. [Her] bloodthirsty revenge upon the Anglicans earned her the title of Bloody Mary.

• In 1655, Cromwell also ruled that Jews could be allowed back into England in 1656, the first time since their expulsion in 1290.

• Elizabeth I, Queen of England, ordered the deportation of all Blacks from London in 1601, after objecting to the presence of approximately 20,000 Black slaves in the capital city. This single act ensured that Britain had no large scale Black presence until the late 20th Century.

• The occupation of India however led to a significant amount of racial mixing between British officers stationed in that country and Indian women—and many of these Indian wives were taken back to Britain (and Ireland, as Irishmen served in the British army at that time, the latter country also being controlled by Britain). The product of these mixed unions can still be detected amongst the modern day British and Irish populations.

• Politics in Victorian Britain became dominated by the liberal party under William Gladstone and the Conservative Party under Benjamin Disraeli, who traded places as prime minister and opposition leader twice during their long careers. Disraeli was a Christianized Jew whose writings on race were profound: they are however ignored by modern historians. In his book Tancred, published by Frederick Warne, London, in 1868, Disraeli wrote: “All is race—there is no other truth” (page 106). And in his book Endymion, published by Longmans, London, he wrote:

No man will treat with indifference the principle of race. It is the key to history and why history is so often confused is that it has been written by men who were ignorant of this principle and all the knowledge it involves… Language and religion do not make a race—there is only one thing which makes a race, and that is blood. [pages 249-250]

• The most important feature of post World War Two Britain has been the large immigration into that country from the Third World, a process which showed no signs of slowing down during the last quarter of the 20th Century. This process and its implications are discussed in another chapter.