The political life of one idea [10 June 2004]

The political life of one idea (the translated text is a fragment of the Bulgarian full text)

Division of power, parliamentarism, freedom of speech

After the liberals organized themselves in political movement in 19th century, step by step they put the fundaments of the modern constitutional state. What were their efforts? Their main ambition was connected with affirmation of division of power, which to be the basis of constitutions, with parliamentary representation, elected by the people and freedom of speech. They were against the censorship, as well as for the freedom of associations and meetings. With their political actions the liberals cut down the power of monarchies and opposed against the Weltanschauung’s and religious prejudices. In practice they managed to clear the path for development of the individual citizen, as well as to lay the legal fundaments for defending of human dignity and rights, which are essential part of the constitutions in every democratic country. That is why we can assert that with the development of the constitutional state in Europe during the 19th century, the liberalism succeed to contribute to absolute monarchies decay. Concerning of the other important lever for the political influence – the religion and its institutional forms – although the representatives of the classical liberalism build their moral philosophy on the basis of values, advocated by the protestant theology, at the same time they believe that the religious’ prejudices are a matter of personal sphere, as well as their transfer to the social life should be restrained. On account of this reason the liberals proclaimed the division between the church and the state, as well as the principle boundless of the sciences and arts development.
The liberal idea began its political life in Great Britain and Scotland. In these two countries the liberals believed that the private property protection is the basis for material and social prosperity of the citizens. The liberals accept the free competition of the individual abilities as an optimal instrument for governing and development of the economic and social life. To be such a competition possible, the main precondition is to be removed all obstacles, which the state places to the competitors. The classical liberals defended the thesis that the free market is the best protection against the monopoly, because in a long-term plan it leads to relatively equal distribution of the property. That is why according to them the state should undertake the law creation and enforcement, but should not interfere in the economic development distributing the goods through taxes and restrictions.

Political disturbance and revolutions in Europe in 1848

The liberal ideas gained an intensive political influence in the European history mostly in 19th century. The change of the social and political conditions, largely a result of the fast economic development, gave rise to tension in the European societies after the decisions of the congress of Vienna (1814-1815), which consolidated the European political status quo. One of the consequences of this tension is the French revolution of 1830, concluded with success of the liberal bourgeoisie’s representative, which opposed to the participation only of hereditary land owners in the government and received an access to key spheres of government.

“The liberal era”

In most European countries the liberal idea found supporters predominantly among the economic influential bourgeoisie, among specific intellectual circles, representatives of the free professions and the administration. That is why during the second half of the 19th century the “liberal era” began, not only in the field of the education and science, but and in the economic area. A lot of factories, industrial corporations, railway, banks, builders and insurance companies were founded, in result of which in the big cities occurred serious changes in the social stratification. These changes are the reason, which made the liberals give up some of their position to the becoming more powerful Christian-social and social democratic labour movements.
Although some reverses, it could be said that during the 60’s and 70’s of 19th century the liberal bourgeoisie in Europe strengthen it political influence. The ideas of the liberal party founded in 19th century in England, which was the inheritor of the party of the big land proprietors and the rich tradesmen (the Whigs), had a great impetus in it development during the William Gladstone’s cabinet, who managed to make the party one of the most influential representatives of the liberal movement in Europe. The main themes of his policy were the free trade development, which to serve to the bourgeoisie’s interests, as well as to protect the poor people’s right, the development of the labor legislation, the reforms in the local government, the development of the education, active foreign policy etc. Until the World War I the liberal party is the second major party at the United Kingdom and played a important role in the British politics.
With the development of the industrial revolution and the appearance of so called social issue, concerned the workers’ condition, the classical liberalism gradually began to lose its political influence.
In the first years of the 20th century the organized liberal political formations lost ground on the account of the social democracy, as well as on other non-liberal movements.

The perspectives after 1945

Although the political disorder, which Europe suffered between the two World wars, the legislative and institutional acquisitions of the liberalism were kept and became the base for the further build up of the civic society in Western Europe after 1945. The liberal traditions have continued their influence on the ideas of the Christian democratic parties in the economic, as well on the social democratic parties in political aspect. In the spirit of their predecessors the new founded liberal parties advocate for more freedom of the citizens, for democratization of the society, and at the same time they oppose to the state’s protectionism. The liberals today do not underestimate the new threats towards the liberty in the contemporary society, for instance the limited share in the democratic state’s development; the lesser chances the individual to settle his life on his will, the more limited opportunities for secure work place, as well as the dependence on the collective system for security and the bureaucracy.

Teodora Polimenova

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