chapter  1
16 Pages

Liberalism in Practice

WithPeter L. P. Simpson

Liberalism is a doctrine about the state and society and their interrelations, and in particular about the interrelations between the state and the thinking and desires of those who make up society. As such the doctrine of liberalism is intrinsically tied to the idea of the state. Before the modern emergence of the state, no institutional structure had a monopoly on coercive enforcement. The power to coerce has, of course, always existed and always been part of communal human life. The state of nature doctrine has two main features that deserve special notice: it treats human beings as isolated units, and it treats political power as indivisibly single. In the state of nature, people are thought of as moved by individual goods that divide and bring them into conflict. Prior to the famous revolution called the Protestant Reformation, the religious authorities in human communities generally held a power equal and sometimes superior to that of the political authorities.