The Development of Liberalism


Ancient Greek Democracy:

508 BC - 322 BC

Dating back to the time of 5th century BCE we see very little aspects of democracy, with the exception of Greece. The city of Athens held the first known democracy in the world where citizens voted on issues, big and small, ensuring equality and success for everyone.

Classical liberalism follows six important principles, all of which were incorporated in the world's first democracy. Athenian men had the right to vote under the rule of law, ensuring that the people had rights and freedoms. They owned private property and had economic freedom as long as they obeyed the law. Competition in Greece was deadly, as the Athens and Spartans battled for land, resources, and power. All of these examples helped influence classical liberalism.

Magna Carta


The Magna Carta was a document that placed the king and all other sovereigns under the rule of law. The Magna Carta was the first model of the peoples demands of liberty from the England Crown and was far from perfect. With the years that followed, alterations were made to guarantee the success of the charter. Eventually, Magna Carta begun to function as the foundation for the English system of law.

Liberalism incorporates the principles rule of law, and individual rights and freedoms. The people and the sovereign agreed to follow the laws created by Magna Carta ensuring their rights and freedoms.


1400 - 1600

Renaissance, also known as Rebirth, was the time period responsible for the reform of culture, social, intellect, politics, and art. Europe escaped the Depression and begun it's climb up the economic ladder. The Renaissance was an era of change, it inspired the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution welcoming change.

With a new era came new ideologies and new philosophies, all of which led to the development of the principles of classical liberalism. One example of this is the power shift between the people and the church, individuals now thought of the two as equal and demanded the church follow the same rule of law.

Haudenosaunee Confederacy

1500 - 1776

Haudenosaunee Confederacy was the coming together of six nations to develop an oral constitution. A constitution founded on three principles; the agreement of division of power among government branches, equal participation between the people including women, and the establishment of rights and freedoms.

The six participating nations followed laws, and in return, received guaranteed rights and freedoms. The success of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy has inspired modern day governments to incorporate similar principles, principles of liberalism.


1517 - 1648

Reformation was the religious revolution led by Martin Luther and John Calvin that affected all western churches by developing the basics for Protestantism, one of the three branches of Christianity. Religiously, the change came in the structure and form of Christianity, the Reformation brought on many challenges and diversities for Christians. The controversial changes brought many wars throughout all of Europe, affecting individuals political views.

The Reformation affected individuals rights and freedoms, a principle of classical liberalism, immensely. Because of the changes throughout Europe, many individuals began to doubt certain aspects of the church, and their own religious views. The right to express yourself and the freedom of religion were two things the people of the Reformation had to be thankful for. The development of these rights and freedoms led to further knowledge we use to this day. We learned from our past and incorporated what we learned into the principles of classical liberalism.


1700 - 1800

The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was the time period that changed politics, philosophy, science, and communications. The Enlightenment affected people in many ways, however it presented many common themes for philosophers to contemplate, like the theme of rational questioning and the belief in progress. The Enlightenment was the influence for the American and French Revolutions, as a result of the newly accepted and practiced ideologies.

The Enlightenment is a time period responsible for many of the Great Thinkers. It is philosophers like Locke and Newton that we owe our thanks to in consideration to the development of liberalism. Without this era, and these people, classical liberalism would not be what it is today. The ideas and events that occurred as a result of the Enlightenment encouraged the ideas and beliefs of the Great Thinkers. The Enlightenment directly affected the development of classical liberalism because without it, our ideas of liberalism would be so vague and minor there would be no aspect of liberalism.

Industrial Revolution

1750 - 1850

The Industrial Revolution was the industrialization of European and American societies. The Industrial Revolution brought a shift to powered machines and mass production. However, the revolution was also an opportunity for the rich to abuse the poor, many workers suffered terrible employment and living conditions.

Classical Liberalism runs off of the principles of competition and economic freedom, two important aspects of the revolution. If individuals wouldn't of had the power to produce and consume at their own rate, we wouldn't of seen the successful economy presented during the Industrial Revolution.

American Revolution

1775 - 1783

The American Revolution was a war of independence fought between Great Britain's 13 North American colonies and the colonial government. During the 1700's, citizens were being harshly taxed to make up for the king's debt, war and status were hard to keep up with when considering the hefty cost of both. The Americans ultimately won their independence with the help of the France.

The American Revolution inspired individuals to fight for economic freedom, one of the principles of classical liberalism. Having the right to produce and consume at your pleasure is a freedom individuals should always have.

French Revolution

1789 - 1799

The French Revolution, like the American Revolution, was inspired by the Enlightenment era. This era encouraged people to fight for what they believed in, showing just how much power the people held. The power held by the people led to the execution of King Louis XVI in 1793 and the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte. Ultimately, the Revolution led to the end of the Monarchy.

Without the citizens input, the rights and freedoms we are entitled to would not be the same as they are today. Classical liberalism ensures that the people hold the power, they vote on who represents and enters the government, new laws, and any other impactful action. The law, rights and freedoms, and the value of the people all developed thanks to the French Revolution.

Changes to the Class System


The 19th century brought forth the rise of the middle class, this rise eventually pressured the upper class resulting in the Reform Acts. These acts allowed the commoners to have representation in parliament. Social classes slowly began to fade away as people gained recognition based on skills and any unique traits. This new social class structure allowed more economic opportunities, as people began to work their way up from the bottom.

The destruction of social classes resulted in economic freedom, a principle of classical liberalism. Individuals now had the opportunity to work in any field, not just set fields. Because of this change, competition flourished as individuals begun working harder climbing up the social ladder. Individuals worked out of self-interest until they owned land and felt satisfied with their status. The newly developed rights and freedoms helped initiate the practice of classical liberalism principles.