Early Nineteenth-Century Liberalism

Jeremy Jennings

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199238804
Published online September 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Early Nineteenth-Century Liberalism

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  • History of Western Philosophy
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The broad outline of liberal doctrine across Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century can be easily delineated: liberals shared a fundamental commitment to individual liberty; to religious toleration; to limited government and the rule of law. Drawing on the discussion of forms of arbitrary power as a thread, this article highlights certain key themes in liberal thought up to the mid-nineteenth century. It focuses on liberalism in France and concludes with a discussion of liberalism in Britain, specifically with an analysis of the writings of John Stuart Mill. By way of background, the article first examines the account of despotism as rule by fear provided by Montesquieu in the mid-eighteenth century. It then shows how Alexis de Tocqueville was able to formulate a new concept of the oppression most likely to occur in modern societies. It does this by suggesting that we might take the concept of usurpation, formulated by Benjamin Constant, as a point of transition.

Keywords: Europe; liberalism; arbitrary power; France; Britain; John Stuart Mill; despotism; Montesquieu; Alexis de Tocqueville; usurpation

Article.  8695 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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