Liberalism first became a powerful force in the Age of Enlightenment, rejecting several foundational assumptions that dominated most earlier theories of government, such as hereditary status, established religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The early liberal thinker John Locke, who is often credited for the creation of liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition, employed the concept of natural rights and the social contract to argue that the rule of law should replace absolutism in government, that rulers were subject to the consent of the governed, and that private individuals had a fundamental right to life, liberty, and property.
The revolutionaries in the American Revolution and the French Revolution used liberal philosophy to justify the armed overthrow of tyrannical rule. The nineteenth century saw liberal governments established in nations across Europe, Latin America, and North America. Liberal ideas spread even further in the twentieth century, when liberal democracies triumphed in two world wars and survived major ideological challenges from fascism and communism. Conservatism, fundamentalism, and military dictatorship remain powerful opponents of liberalism. Today, liberals are organized politically on all major continents. They have played a decisive role in the growth of republics, the spread of civil rights and civil liberties, the establishment of the modern welfare state, the institution of religious toleration and religious freedom, and the development of globalization. Political scientist Alan Wolfe wrote, "liberalism is the answer for which modernity is the question".
[Thus liberalism led to the United States of America, now the world's oldest revolutionary republic, and to the French Revolution of 1789, a failure that led to the military government of Napoleon Bonaparte. These critical revolutions of the late 18th century set the tone for the upheavals of the next century.]
Children of revolution
Politically, liberals saw the 19th century as a gateway to achieving the promises of 1789. In Spain, the Liberales, the first group to use the liberal label in a political context, fought for the implementation of the 1812 Constitution for decades—overthrowing the monarchy in 1820 as part of the Trienio Liberal and defeating the conservative Carlists in the 1830s. In France, the July Revolution of 1830, orchestrated by liberal politicians and journalists, removed the Bourbon monarchy and inspired similar uprisings elsewhere in Europe.
Frustration with the pace of political progress, however, sparked even more gigantic revolutions in 1848. Revolutions spread throughout the Austrian Empire, the German states, and the Italian states. Governments fell rapidly. Liberal nationalists demanded written constitutions, representative assemblies, greater suffrage rights, and freedom of the press. A second republic was proclaimed in France. Serfdom was abolished in Prussia, Galicia, Bohemia, and Hungary. Metternich shocked Europe when he resigned and fled to Britain in panic and disguise.
Eventually, however, the success of the revolutionaries petered out. Without French help, the Italians were easily defeated by the Austrians. Austria also managed to contain the bubbling nationalist sentiments in Germany and Hungary, helped along by the failure of the Frankfurt Assembly to unify the German states into a single nation. Under abler leadership, however, the Italians and the Germans wound up realizing their dreams for independence. The Sardinian Prime Minister, Camillo di Cavour, was a shrewd liberal who understood that the only effective way for the Italians to gain independence was if the French were on their side. Napoleon III agreed to Cavour's request for assistance and France defeated Austria in the Franco-Austrian War of 1859, setting the stage for Italian independence. German unification transpired under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck, who decimated the enemies of Prussia in war after war, finally triumphing against France in 1871 and proclaiming the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, ending another saga in the drive for nationalization. The French proclaimed a third republic after their loss in the war, and the rest of French history transpired under republican eyes.
Just a few decades after the French Revolution, liberalism went global. The liberal and conservative struggles in Spain also replicated themselves in Latin American countries like Mexico and Ecuador. From 1857 to 1861, Mexico was gripped in the bloody War of Reform, a massive internal and ideological confrontation between the liberals and the conservatives. The liberal triumph there parallels with the situation in Ecuador. Similar to other nations throughout the region at the time, Ecuador was steeped in turmoil, with the people divided between rival liberal and conservative camps. From these conflicts, García Moreno established a conservative government was eventually overthrown in the Liberal Revolution of 1895. The Radical Liberals who toppled the conservatives were led by Eloy Alfaro, a firebrand who implemented a variety of sociopolitical reforms, including the separation of church and state, the legalization of divorce, and the establishment of public schools.
Conservatives, as has been noted in this blog in the many posts on Christian conservatism, have the basic job of conserving Locke's revolutionary ideas (which themselves were very leading-edge and profoundly unconservative at the time). However, modern American conservatives have invented preposterous fairy tales to underpin their position: the piety and almost Baptist, evangelical Christianity of the founding fathers, who themselves tended to be Lockean empiricists and anti-Utopians (especially the Virginia Anglicans so central to the revolution and Constitution). The blog author has contended that modern conservatives are dangerous to the Constitutional guarantees of the nation toward which they profess “patriotism.”
The blog author also contends that something pernicious and destructive happened to Liberalism from the mid-nineteenth century forward. That in becoming modern liberalism, it has morphed into something destructive and typically dishonest. We shall look a bit at what it says about itself and then take a look at how modern liberals talk and think when in the trenches of logical argumentation.