This chapter offers an intellectual history of liberalism, focusing on the classical view that was eventually displaced by modern, “high” liberalism. It first considers classical liberalism's notion of equality and property rights as well as economic liberty before discussing the ideas of thinkers like John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume, and F. A. Hayek. It then explores the emergence of market society, with particular emphasis on what Smith called “the system of natural liberty.” It also examines classical liberal ideas in action during under revolutionary America and concludes with an analysis of the essential features of classical liberalism: a thick conception of economic liberty grounded mainly in consequentialist considerations; a formal conception of equality that sees the outcome of free market exchanges as largely definitive of justice; and a limited but important state role in tax-funded education and social service programs.
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