The Development of Classic Liberalism


Ancient Greek Democracy

508 BC - 322 BC

Ancient Greek Democracy is known to be the first form of democracy. All males had equal rights to make decisions and voice opinions. The majority rule was followed in this society, but unfortunately only a small number of citizens in their society actually got to be apart of decision making. While democracy today is very different than it was during the ancient greeks, they definitely impacted classical liberalism. Liberalism puts vital importance on individuals participation as well as their right and freedom to do so. In ancient greek society there was no one above the law, meaning that no matter who went against the law, they ultimately had to face consequences same as everyone else. This is still an important part of classic liberalism becasue it values rights, freedoms and equality for all individuals.

Magna Carta


The Magna Carta was a charter issued by King John to resolve conflicts between himself and his subjects. It stated that everyone including the King is subject to the law. Nobody was exempt due to social status. Unfortunately, it was not enforced and was not properly followed causing it to be thrown out. This was the first step towards rule of law, a key principle in classical liberalism and thus an important period in time. Some of these principles present in the Magna Carta were taken to influence the US bill of rights, helping to shape the rule of law now apart of the constitution. The Magna Carta was the foundation that others adopted into classical liberalism due to its value on rule of law as well as individual rights and freedoms.


1300 - 1500

The renaissance was a time of reform and rebirth. Economically, culturally and socially everything was changing and adapting. It resulted because of the Middle ages in Europe where there was much poverty, depression and hardships. This period of time influenced classic liberalism because it valued individuals, their rights, freedoms and self interest. No social class stopped individuals from doing what they wanted with their lives becasue philosophers influenced individuals to truly believe that humans are rational and capable of making decisions.

Haudenosaunee Confederacy

1400 - 1776

This confederacy resulted becasue six tribes who were at war decided to unite under the oral great law of peace. The great law of peace incorporated divisions of power so no one tribe would be able to take advantage of power to better themselves. Equality not only between tribes, but between all individuals. And finally rights and freedoms for all individuals because no individual is better than another, but should be guaranteed the same things in life as well as the same chances to individually succeed. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy has been linked to the American Constitution as it shares some of the same values, beliefs and laws. This makes it one of the most successful and long lasting democracies in the world as well as playing a vital role in shaping classical liberalism. Liberalism revolves around individuals rights, freedoms, which was so important in this confederacy as well.


1517 - 1648

Reformation was the time in period where individuals such as Martin Luther started to question the church's power on the people. Philosophers believed that humans have the right to question what they are being told and follow, but not in blind obedience. At this point in time, the church was found to be corrupt due to its lack of division of power. Protestant groups then rebelled because they believed they had the right to think for themselves and have their own opinions, this has left us with different branches of religion. This point in time was important because it made individuals think, prove humans are rational and able to make their own decisions. It forced individuals to act in their own self interests as it is their right and freedom. This resulted in great breakthroughs because humans were no longer blindly following their leaders, but they were questioning everything and individually finding success and it ultimately shaped the liberalism we live with today.


1700 - 1815

Enlightenment was a vital change in belief in Europe due to philosophers and intellectual breakthroughs. Individualism was a huge belief, proving that humans can make decisions for themselves rationally as well as reasonably and do not need leaders to make every decision in the lives of their citizens. Self interest was another new and big belief present at this time. This period in time had the biggest effect on classic liberalism due to their beliefs in the importance of the individual following their self interest, living with rights and freedoms and private property. Classic liberalism incorporates all of these principles today, but probably would not if it were not for enlightenment philosophers pushing society to explore their self interests by valuing themselves individually, thinking for themselves and not depending on leaders to make decisions for them.

Industrial Revolution

1700 - 1801

Industrial Revolution was the point in time when individuals were forced to leave their jobs in agriculture to move into town to be apart of industry and factories. It marks the change from the feudal system to the industrial period where social, political and economic changes were abundant. Technology played a greater role in the economy, economic freedom due to self interest in a free market and competition between individuals and companies appeared. Classical liberalism was shaped due to this becasue of its effects on the economy. Individuals were allowed to work where they wanted based on the new belief that individuals were important and valued. Working conditions may have been poor, but the economy at this point in time was thriving. Economic freedom was apparent forming the free market society that we live in today. Individuals were able to act in their own self interest and companies were in competition causing a well rounded and prosperous economy.

American Revolution


The American Revolution was the point in time where due to enlightenment, Americans truly viewed themselves as independent and decided to act on their belief to no longer be ruled by Britain because of the hardships they endured because of it. They made the Declaration of Independence to demonstrate their independence from Britain and to the world they were no longer property, but a nation. They then decided to rule by citizens and democracy, not by a monarch that had caused so much oppression. Within the Declaration of Independence, individual rights and freedoms was stressed and assured to every citizen. This significantly impacted classic liberalism due to its stressing of individual rights and freedoms for all of its citizens.

French Revolution

1789 - 1799

The French Revolution is believed to be one of the most vital events pushing towards classic liberalism in society. At this point in time, there were set classes that did not allow individuals to move from class to class, but were stuck for their entire lives. The first estate were the nobles, the second estate were the clergy and the third estate were the commoners. The difference between these classes was the rights, freedoms and privileges that drastically changed from class to class. France then started to face financial problems due to overspending on unnecessary expenses. Taxes were heightened for the third estate and that is when they started to question their King, the oppression they were faced with and decided they needed to take action against the system. Their motto was, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," meaning that they were fighting for their rights, freedoms and ultimately established the declaration of the rights of man and of citizen. The French Revolution was the first event to establish the rights and freedoms of individualism and self interest. This event incorporated in the minds of everyone a change in perspective and a firm belief in this new ideology. Eventually this ideology was spread all over, even making its way to Canada. The French Revolution demonstrated some of the biggest principles of classic liberalism, such as individual rights and freedoms as well as their protection. The French Revolution demonstrates the ideas of Enlightenment developing into a belief, which we now know as classical liberalism.

Changes to the Class System


This point in time was when class systems based on birth died out, but unfortunately wealth classes then became apparent. Individuals were more likely to act in self interest in the free market that now was present. More power was within the people, just like classic liberalism so highly values. Equality for all individuals as well as rule of law held vital significance. No individual in positions of power were able to take advantage of their positions to avoid consequences for breaking societal laws and rules. Classic liberalism was still in the midst of taking hold, but this point in time the society and liberalism we know today was in the midst of being so dominantly present in society.