Courtesy Reuters

The Prospect for British Liberalism

IN EVERY country in the world Liberal parties are under a cloud; and the belief is widely held that Liberalism has had its day, has served its purpose, and must give place to other political creeds which are more definite in character and can command the support of powerful organized interests.

Is this belief well founded? Has Liberalism exhausted its inspiration? Is there no probability that organized Liberal parties will ever again play the dominant part which they played during the nineteenth century, notably in Britain? These questions deserve examination. But the answer to them must depend upon our definition of Liberalism.


Nine out of ten serious students of politics would agree that, in its great days, Liberalism was mainly identified with three causes or ideals: in the sphere of government, with the establishment of representative democracy; in the international sphere, with the support of demands for national freedom; and in the economic sphere, with individualism and laissez faire.

All these ideals seem now to be out of date, or out of fashion. Democracy has almost everywhere been established, and has almost everywhere brought disillusionment. It ought to act as a sieve to sort out the best leaders; it ought to create a universal sense of civic responsibility; and hitherto it has failed to do either of these things. On the contrary, its machinery is easily and almost universally worked or rigged by organized interests. Nationalism has come to be regarded as a vicious principle, which threatens to bring civilization down in ruins. Individualism is no longer a fashionable creed; the doctrine of laissez faire is all but universally regarded as a false doctrine; and in the economic sphere the conflict of the future, and indeed of the present, seems to lie between two forms of centralized control -- on the one hand, control by gigantic and almost irresponsible combines, linked together by the power of finance, which is today everywhere dominant; and on the other hand, the control of

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