On the 4th of November 1789, the famous Liberal and Welshman, Richard Price, gave a sermon that sparked lively political discussion; he spoke of several political ideas that attract much attention to this day.

  • Richard Price spoke in a meeting in London to recall ‘the Glorious Revolution of 1688’ and discussed his response to another Revolution at the time in France. The Glorious Revolution was a significant event in British history, and several ideas belonging to renowned thinker John Locke – such as the social agreement, natural rights and tolerance – reflected the new ideas of a period known as the starting place of liberal thinking. Richard Price intended to show how the French revolutionists were spreading and developing the liberal principles mentioned by Locke a century earlier.

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    John Locke
  • Richard Price was a man of his time, with ideas reflecting the popular liberal ideas of the age, including those of well-known philosophers like Immanuel Kant. This period is called the Age of Enlightenment, during which several of liberalism’s central principles were established, such as individualism and rationalism. Much focus was also given to the potential of changing the international regime to ensure peaceful collaboration in place of war.

    The 19th century involved disagreement between the different classical and modern liberal streams, as questions regarding justice, equality and democracy arose during the Industrial Revolution. Socialists such as Robert Owen questioned classical liberalism. At the same time, new liberal thinkers appeared and figures like John Stuart Mill became well-known. These modern socialists attempted to unify liberal individualism with more progressive social ideas such as freedom and equality. These ideas led to the social liberalism in the work of those such as T.H. Green, L.T. Hobhouse and the Welshman Henry Jones. They emphasised the role of the liberal state, and this political agenda was seen in the United Kingdom in the politics and policies of Lloyd George.

    During the 20th century, further attempts were made to connect liberalism and equality, particularly the idea that state intervention was necessary in achieving this. The work of Isaiah Berlin, discussing negative freedom and positive freedom, shows some of the potential tensions created. Following the depression of the 1930s and 1940s, the ideas of liberal economists such as John Maynard Keynes came to heavily influence employment and economic policies in Wales and beyond.

    At the end of the 20th century, the American John Rawls pronounced his egalitarian liberalism principles, prompting a libertarian response from Robert Nozick. Several discussions continue today on the themes introduced by Rawls and Nozick, including an attempt to redefine ideas such as rights, equality and freedom in the context of modern society. Although the Liberal Party is currently weak, in Wales and beyond, this is apparently in part due to the fact that liberalism principles are now seen across society. It can be said that they provide a framework for the political discussions of our time. And as we face new political challenges on subjects such as citizenship, civic participation, multiculturalism and globalisation, it must be remembered that these ideas and discussions originated in the liberal tradition.