The Transition to Liberalism

Henry Phelps Brown

in Egalitarianism and the Generation of Inequality

Published in print November 1988 | ISBN: 9780198286486
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191596773 | DOI:
 The Transition to Liberalism

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The potential effects of belief in the law of nature (as discussed in the previous chapter) were powerful, destructive of hierarchy, and would substitute human contract for divine institution, but they could not be realized until humans began to question the foundations of society and to uncover the basis of authority. These changes were stirring from the fourteenth century onwards, and were advanced by the breaking up of established authority (particularly that of the Church) and by economic development, especially the emergence of the nation state, principalities, and city states; these matters are discussed in the first section of the chapter. The concentration of the process of change in certain periods and places, known now as the Renaissance and Reformation, promoted egalitarianism through a new mental approach to political issues, in particular through the growth of towns and trading, and the rediscovery of Greek and Roman history; the second section discusses this. Next, the impact of the Renaissance on Sir Thomas More is explored in relation to his Utopia. Finally, individualism is examined as a product of both the Renaissance and Reformation; egalitarian inferences were drawn from it at the time, and it persisted into the eighteenth century in the form of liberalism.

Keywords: authority; Church; economic development; egalitarianism; history; individualism; law of nature; liberalism; Thomas More; Reformation; Renaissance; towns; trading; Utopia

Chapter.  13084 words. 

Subjects: Public Economics

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