Power & Market

JLS: Explaining the Interventionist Trend of British Liberalism in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

From the Journal of Libertarian Studies:

ABSTRACT: Traditionally, scholars have portrayed British popular Liberalism as thoroughly laissez-faire, minarchist, and anti-imperialist before the late nineteenth century. After this point, many scholars claim, popular Liberals broke with their traditional policies for humanitarian and pragmatic reasons by funding social welfare programs, regulating the economy, and endorsing imperialism. This article disagrees, contending instead that British popular Liberalism was never sufficiently committed to classical liberalism. A misguided humanitarian impulse arose within the movement that permitted exceptions to laissez-faire at home and interventionism abroad. Popular Liberals believed that because these exceptions were rare and undertaken in good faith, they did not undermine the movement. However, these initial interventions advocated by popular Liberals established a precedent that was exploited whenever further interventions seemed expedient. In the end, this statist trend destroyed the movement.

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