Evolution of Liberalism


Ancient Greek Democracy

400 BC - 300 BC

Had a direct democracy, and only allowed a select few people to participate. This did NOT work for them, many people were not represented and not everyone could attend every meeting.
In spite of this, they believed that people were rational and could choose for themselves. This is shown through their democracy. They also believed in individual rights and freedoms, both of which are prinicples of liberalism.

Magna Carta


Limited the power of the King in Britain and gave the people fundamental rights.
This is one of the first written examples of Rule of Law. However, this document did little to protect the people and was often disregarded.


1300 - 1500

Change in way of thinking. People began to believe that they were able to make their own decisions.
This time brought the belief that humans are rational and able to make decisions, which is a huge step towards liberalism, however, at this time most people did not have any freedoms, they were still heavily controlled by monarchies and the church.


1400 - 1776

One of the longest continuously existing democracies in the world. Created the Great Law of Peace.
They followed the idea of human worth, and reason. From this they gave their people, men and women, fundamental freedoms. For example, freedom of speech and religion. These beliefs, in human reasoning and freedoms, are both foundations for liberalism.


1517 - 1648

Poeple realized how corrupt the Church was and so many countries broke away from the church.
The decision to break away was based heavily on the idea that the citizens of a country could be trusted to make their own decisions. They no longer needed the 'moral compass' of the church to guide them.


1700 - 1800

Took the ideas of Renaissance and Reformation and put them together. The people were in turmoil, nobody was sure what to do with these new beliefs, or how to best use them.
The ideas at this time were not widely accepted because they challenged the foundations of a society that had been in place for hundreds of years. There were more people working to gain their own wealth, which was weakening the aristocracy. At this time prominent belief was human rationality, however, there was also beginning to be self-interest, economic freedom, and individual freedom.

Industrial Revolution

1700 - 1800

At this time people were migrating from farms to cities because they were no longer needed due to advances in technology. Because there was a large amount of people in the cities at this time, many entrepreneurs took advantage of it, using these people as cheap labour.
At this time people acted in self-interest, there was economic freedom, and limited government. There was, however, a lack of individual freedoms for the lower class citizens.

American Revolution


The poeple wanted freedom from and equality with Britain. They also wanted to be able to make their own decisions about their country.
They used many enlightenment thinkers to help wirte their constitution.
Followed the liberalist beliefs of individual freedoms, economic freedom, human rationality, self-interest, and democracy. This is one of the first examples of a nation building its constitution around the principles of liberalism.

French Revolution


The citizens were unhappy with their oppressive monarchy and wanted to be able to make their own decisions. They wanted a society with liberalist ideals.
The creation of the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen" Gave the French nation many of the liberalist principles. They had limitations on their government, individual rights and freedoms, rule of law, and protection of civil liberties.

Changes to Class System

1850 - 1900

There was shift in power in soceity. The upper class no longer controlled all the wealth, there was opportunity for everyone to make their fortune. This meant that there was a new, wealthy middle class that emerged.
This is an example of the effects of self-interest, economic freedom, limitations on the government and free markets.