Overview: How did Liberalism Evolve?

Child labourer, United States, late 1800s
In Unit Two, you learned about classical liberalism and how the principles of classical liberalism became important factors in the economic and political ideologies of Western Europe and North America.

Significant changes that take place in society do not happen quickly. Also, they do not happen without some unrest. The same was true with liberalism.

Although classical liberalism brought with it many positive changes, it also presented many challenges to society.

  • Can you think of any reasons people might disagree with classical liberalism?
  • Is classical liberalism missing any key values you believe in?

Ideologies are ideas about what kind of political and economic systems will produce an ideal world. The principles of classical liberalism led to democracy and capitalism-the dominant political and economic systems in the Western world today. But did the ideals proposed by the great thinkers, leaders, and citizens work?

As you will learn in this unit, citizens, economists, and philosophers found much to criticize in classical liberalism. Some responded by constructing new ideologies that they believed would serve people better. Others fought for changes to liberalism that would lead to a more just and equal society.

As you complete this unit, consider the issue question:
  • To what extent is resistance to liberalism justified?

As you read the pages that follow, look closely at the images provided, and complete the required textbook readings, take notes about the evolution of liberalism. In this unit, you will continue to develop your skills in interpreting various sources of historical information.

This unit has three sections:

  1. How did societies and ideologies respond to classical liberalism?
  2. How did capitalist economic systems respond to classical liberalism?
  3. How did modern liberalism evolve?