Contributions to Classical Liberalism


Ancient Greek Democracy

508 BC - 322 BC

As one of the first democracies to ever exist, the Ancient Greek Democracy was sure to have its downfalls. Democracy was a new thing in Ancient Greece, and it is far different from our modern understanding of democracy today. Today, democracy is defined as every citizen being able to elect a representative who will take charge and govern them as a whole. In Ancient Greece, that was not exactly the case. Although someone would be elected to represent the people and govern, not everyone was allowed to take part in the voting process. In order to be able to vote, "one had to be an adult, male citizen who owned land and was not a slave." This wasn't even a quarter of the population. Because this didn't give every individual the right to vote and take part in the election processes, Ancient Greek Democracy isn't an accurate representation of Classical Liberalism. However, this was a significant time as some people - specifically "adult, male citizen[s] who owned land," - were finally given the opportunity to have a voice.


Magna Carta


The Magna Carta was considered to be a 'peace treaty' between King John of England and the barons. King John was scorned by the barons, the lower class nobility, and was very unpopular. He ruled with great tyranny and imposed many unfair taxations and laws as a result of his pressing determination to win back his land in France. He was so obsessed by the idea of winning over the land in France that "By 1213, he had collected so much tax that almost half of all the coins in England were stored in his castles." The purpose of the Magna Carta, drawn up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, was to tame the feud between the King and the barons. Some things promised by the Magna Carta include, "the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown." Unfortunately, despite this 'peace treaty,' little peace was restored between the two parties and it was declared invalid by Pope Innocent III. King John represents the exact opposite definition of 'Rule of Law'. He was completely selfish, and believed that just because he was a king, he had all the rights and everyone else were just his little puppets. The Barons didn't have any individual rights and freedoms and could no longer afford property because the King was imposing extremely outrageous taxes. Eventually, the King, after wasting all the taxed money on a war he lost, realized he was left with nothing at all. The Magna Carta was a failed attempt to give the Barons rights that protected them from the King's tyranny. This treaty, even though declared unaffective in that time, was very important because it contributed to the ideas of classical liberalism we have today; the idea of protection of individuals, and the rule of law.



Approx. 1300 - Approx. 1600

The Renaissance was a time period in European history, in which there was a change in society and European culture. The word 'Renaissance,' is French, and when translated into English, means 'rebirth'. During this time period, there was a major expansion and reform in areas such as art, philosophy, science, and literature. In the 1440's, Gutenberg invented the printing press. This enabled books to be published. These printing devices were accessible to the general public, and education started to become more available to those under the higher social classes. In this time period, education was deemed very important - especially in study areas of humanities. This now more accessible education promoted one's economic freedom because many inventions were taking place. With adequate education, people could invent and promote their products. Another important invention from the Renaissance era was the mechanical clock invented in the 1300's by Galileo. Since then, time could be tracked with ease. What would we do without clocks today?

Because education was accessible by everyone, it presented the idea that all humans are capable of doing amazing things. Many more inventions came to be in this era, and all as a result of equal opportunities and the freedom to seek education.


Haudenosaunee Confederacy

Approx. 1400 - 1776

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is considered, "one of the longest continuously existing participatory democracies in the world." With oral tradition and archaeological evidence that dates back to the 15th century, it is evident that the Haudenosaunee Confederacy has been around since the beginning of time. It is composed of 6 different nations that include the Oneida, Mohawks, Cayuga, Seneca, Tuscarora, and the Onondaga. After these nations had been at war with each other for years, they finally decided to compose an oral constitution, which was known as the Great Law of Peace. By establishing "division of powers among various branches of government," and granting "equal participation by citizens, including women," along with "establish[ing] rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech, religion, and rights of the individual," peace and harmony was achieved between the nations. This is very similar to how things are ruled out in Canada today. This is a great example of previous classical liberalism, in which we adapted the idea of giving individual rights and freedoms. Every individual was considered important regardless of gender. Although First Nations have struggled in the last century, today, we are trying to invite them back into the Longhouse they first built upon the foundation of acceptance.



1517 - 1648

Initiated by Martin Luther in 1517, the idea of individuality and freedom of religion became popular. After frowning upon the great power and dictation of the Catholic Church, he wrote 95 theses that expressed the idea that forgiveness cannot be bought. The Catholic Church relied on money to grant one's forgiveness and had strict rules regarding it and were not open to any other ideas. The production of Luther's 95 theses expressed his thoughts about the Catholic Church - how corrupt it has become. In his theses, he stressed how important it is for one to have a personal connection to God, not just a superficial, strict connection directed by the church. He believed that people couldn't simply "buy themselves into heaven," and this threatened the Catholic Church who grew rich off of the payments. Luther's theses expressed the idea of Rule of Law - not directly, but in the sense that the Pope shouldn't have been acting superior and God-like compared to everyone else. Also, his theses presented his thoughts on individual rights and freedoms. He believed people should have greater religious freedom, in a way that they practice it in a more personal, connected way.


The Enlightenment

Approx. 1700 - Approx. 1800

In the 18th century, individualism and the power of reason were flowering. The Enlightenment was the period of time where liberalism was most pronounced. During the Enlightenment, the theme that was most profound was individualism. That is, every man had "certain liberties and rights ... [that] were believed to be granted by God and/or nature." Thus, "equality and human dignity," were also being further introduced.


Industrial Revolution

Approx. 1700 - Approx. 1900

Citizens' lives were changes in areas of politics, economic and social aspects as a result of the industrial Revolution. During the Industrial Revolution, many new machines were being invented and brought into factories. In turn, because machines were being introduced, people began to lose their jobs and were replaced. However, this opened up new doors for others. With advanced technology, products could be made more quickly and efficiently. Owners of businesses and companies were at competition. Their self interest to make more money resulted in a clash between them. Their economic freedom to sell what they want, reflects on the consumers economic freedom in which they buy what they want. By producing what the consumers want, company owners achieve their self interest by making more products efficiently with their new machines. Sometimes to be on the more favourable side of the competition, they have to lower the prices. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, people were given greater economic freedom, engaged in competition due to their self interest, gained private property, and pursued their individual rights and freedoms. This revolution was a great step towards seeking the classical liberalism we have today.


American Revolution

1776 - 1783

The American Revolution was an event in which the thirteen American colonies rebelled against the British government who dictated them. The British government, at that time, were telling the colonies who they can and can't trade with - and this upset them, especially because they were wanting free trade. The American colonies who were suffering under the British rule wanted independence, and finally won it after the American Revolutionary war in 1776. Once they were independent from the British, they formed a democracy with the previous ideas adapted from the Enlightenment. They found their own individual rights and freedoms, and had their own property.


French Revolution

1789 - 1799

Due to the strict social class division, the Bourgeoisie and other lower class citizens sought out equality, rights and freedoms. Another thing they wanted, was a Rule of Law. It was unfair that the aristocracy, royalty and nobility often came before the law while the lower classes still had to suffer the consequences. After many rebellions by the suffering citizens, women and Bourgeoisie, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was signed on August 26th 1789. This document that protected the rights individuals became "had a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and worldwide."


Changes to the Class System

Approx. 1800 - Approx. 1900

During the nineteenth century, the social class structure was slowly being abolished, and class was now being based upon one's wealth and working status. The principles of liberalism that were considered most important during the nineteenth century were private property and economic freedom. Because class was now based on ones wealth and working status, the freedom to buy and sell what one wants was considered very important. Some also wanted to purchase and sell land to possibly farm off of - their private property. The class system, being based off of wealth, also presented competition as a result of their self interest. The classical liberalism present in the nineteenth century provided citizens with a better opportunity for wealth and fortune, and therefore a better chance of entering a higher class.