Liberalism in the United States

Liberalism in the United States

The Tenets of Liberalism

Liberalism in the United States is the other predominant political system, comprised of several loosely related political positions:

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  • Fiscal liberalism– the belief that the wealthy should be willing to share at least a portion of their wealth with the less fortunate.
    Social welfare programs, such as Social Security and unemployment insurance, are a product of the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
    While there is disagreement among liberals about the scope of social welfare programs, fiscal liberalism is generally accepted as a positive force in society.
  • Civil Libertarianism– the belief that American civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press, should be protected from undue government intervention.
    This tenet of American liberalism dates back to the Revolutionary Period, when colonists protested against illegal searches and seizures of their property by the British
    government.
    America’s tradition of civil libertarianism is the origin of social liberalism, the belief that Americans should be allowed to engage in activities purely for their own enjoyment.
  • Civil Rights– the belief that all American’s should be given fair and equal treatment, regardless of their race, gender, age, religion, or other protected category.
    Originating from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and continue to this day in the form of anti-discrimination legislation and affirmative action programs.
  • Immigration– the belief that people from foreign countries should be allowed to become a part of American
    society.
    Immigrants to the United States are allowed to maintain the culture and traditions of their countries of origin, provided that they assimilate enough to function in American society.
    This tradition dates back to the founding of the first permanent settlements in the New World during the early seventeenth century, and is the origin of American multiculturalism.

The Origins of American Liberalism

The origins of American liberalism can be traced back to the Revolutionary Period.
The prominent thinkers of this time were influenced by philosophers of the European Enlightenment, such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes.

During this period, the predominant belief system among intellectuals in both Europe and the American colonies was deism, a belief system which held that the universe was a mechanical entity that was designed by a Creator.
This Creator defined the laws that govern the universe’s functioning, and provided an initial impulse to set it in motion, but does not participate in its functioning or answer prayers, in much the same way that a watchmaker designs and starts a clock.

Three documents that were authored during this period form the backbone of American liberalism:

  • The Declaration of Independence– authored by Thomas Jefferson, this document enumerates grievances held by American colonists towards the colonial British government.
    It established the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the natural state of all human beings, as given to them by the deistic Creator God.
  • The US Constitution– authored by James Madison, this document outlines the structure of the US federal government, consisting of legislative, executive, and judicial branches with a set of checks and balances to distribute political power between them.
    It also lists the responsibilities of the US
    government, such as collecting
    revenue
    , maintaining relationships with foreign countries, and ensuring national defense.
  • The Bill of Rights– authored by George Mason, arguably the most enlightened thinker of the Revolutionary
    Period.
    He realized that modern governments are exceptionally good at passing legislation to tell their citizens what they are not allowed to do.
    However, if they do not explicitly enumerate the rights that their citizens do have, they will operate under the assumption that they don’t have those rights at all.
Thomas Jefferson<!–Declaration of Independence–> James Madison<!–Constitution–> George Mason<!–Bill of Rights–>

References

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