The welfare state grew gradually and unevenly from the late 19th century, but became fully developed following the World War II along with the mixed market economy. Also called embedded liberalism , social liberal policies gained broad support across the political spectrum, because they reduced the disruptive and polarizing tendencies in society, without challenging the capitalist economic system. Business accepted social liberalism in the face of widespread dissatisfaction with the boom and bust cycle of the earlier economic system as it seemed to them to be a lesser evil than more left-wing modes of government.
Social liberalism was characterized by cooperation between big business, government and labor unions. Government was able to assume a strong role because its power had been strengthened by the wartime economy, but the extent to which this occurred varied considerably among Western democracies.
The first notable implementation of social liberal policies occurred under the Liberal Party in Britain from until These initiatives became known as the Liberal welfare reforms. The main elements included pensions for poor elderly people, health, sickness and unemployment insurance. These changes were accompanied by progressive taxation , particularly in the People's Budget of The old system of charity—relying on the Poor laws and supplemented by private charity, public co-operatives and private insurance companies—was in crisis, giving the state added impetus for reform.
The Liberal Party caucus elected in also contained more professionals, including academics and journalists, sympathetic to social liberalism. The large business owners had mostly deserted the Liberals for the Conservatives , the latter becoming the favorite party for commercial interests.
The reforms were regularly opposed by both business interests and trade unions. Liberals most identified with these reforms were Prime Minister H. Most of the social democratic parties in Europe notably including the British Labour Party have taken on strong influences of social liberal ideology. Despite Britain's two major parties coming from the traditions of socialism and conservatism, most substantive political and economic debates of recent times were between social liberal and classical liberal concepts.
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However, Mises argued that monopolies and cartels operated because of state intervention and protectionism and claimed that the only legitimate role for the state was to abolish barriers to market entry. Price controls were lifted and free markets were introduced. While these policies are credited with Germany's post-war economic recovery, the welfare state—which had been established under Bismarck—became increasingly costly.
The post-war governments of other countries in Western Europe also followed social liberal policies. These policies were implemented primarily by Christian democrats and social democrats as liberal parties in Europe declined in strength from their peak in the 19th century. American political discourse resisted this social turn in European liberalism. While the economic policies of the New Deal appeared Keynesian , there was no revision of liberal theory in favor of greater state initiative. Even though the United States lacked an effective socialist movement, New Deal policies often appeared radical and were attacked by the right.
The separate development of modern liberalism in the United States is often attributed to American exceptionalism , which kept mainstream American ideology within a narrow range. John Rawls ' principal work A Theory of Justice can be considered a flagship exposition of social liberal thinking, advocating the combination of individual freedom and a fairer distribution of resources. According to Rawls, every individual should be allowed to choose and pursue his or her own conception of what is desirable in life, while a socially just distribution of goods must be maintained.
Rawls argued that differences in material wealth are tolerable if general economic growth and wealth also benefit the poorest. Rawls put the equal liberty principle in the first place, providing every person with equal access to the same set of fundamental liberties , followed by the fair equality of opportunity and difference principle, thus allowing social and economic inequalities under the precondition that privileged positions are accessible to everyone, that everyone has equal opportunities and that even the least advantaged members of society benefit from this framework.
This was later restated in the equation of Justice as Fairness. Rawls proposed these principles not just to adherents of liberalism, but as a basis for all democratic politics, regardless of ideology. The work advanced social liberal ideas immensely within the s political and philosophic academia. Following economic problems in the s, liberal thought underwent some transformation.
Keynesian economic management was seen as interfering with the free market, while increased welfare spending that had been funded by higher taxes prompted fears of lower investment, lower consumer spending and the creation of a "dependency culture". Trade unions often caused high wages and industrial disruption while full employment was regarded as unsustainable.
Writers such as Milton Friedman and Samuel Brittan , who were influenced by Friedrich Hayek , advocated a reversal of social liberalism. Their policies which are often called neoliberalism had a significant influence on Western politics, most notably on the governments of United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and United States President Ronald Reagan , who pursued policies of deregulation of the economy and reduction in spending on social services.
Part of the reason for the collapse of the social liberal coalition was a challenge in the s from financial interests that could operate independently of national governments. Another cause was the decline of organized labor which had formed part of the coalition, but was also a support for left-wing ideologies challenging the liberal consensus.
Related to this was the decline of working class consciousness and the growth of the middle class. The push by the United States which had been least accepting of social liberalism for trade liberalization further eroded support.
In Europe, social liberal parties tend to be small or medium-sized centrist and centre-left parties. In continental European politics, social liberal parties are integrated in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe ALDE group in the European Parliament , which is the fourth biggest group at the parliament and includes both social liberal parties and market liberal parties.
Giving an exhaustive list of social liberal parties worldwide is difficult, largely because political organisations are not always ideologically pure. Party ideologies often change over time. However, the following parties and organisations are usually accepted by peers [nb 1] or scholars as following social liberalism as a core ideology. This list ordered by date of birth presents some notable scholars and politicians who are generally considered as having made significant contributions to the evolution of social liberalism as a political ideology:.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Not to be confused with Cultural liberalism , Liberal socialism , or Progressivism. History of liberalism Contributions to liberal theory. Regional variants. Related topics. Democratic capitalism Liberal bias in academia.
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