Why Liberal conception of the state is not Liberalism?
Whether the theory is liberal or conservative, that is not our concern. The concern is if the state is liberal — to what extent & in which fashion the state adopts liberal methods & processes for administration and enactments of law.
Liberalism — in a sense, means to shun conservativeness or avoid restrictions in policymaking, enactments and administration of states.
In different periods of history, the term ‘liberal’ has been used in various senses, and no one sense/meaning is final. So, it is not easy to give a precise definition of ‘liberal’. Very often, ‘neo’, ‘classical’, ‘modern’ are prefixed for the word ‘liberal’. That changes the meaning of it. The ‘liberal state’, however, adopts liberal policies, principles and methods.
The next throbbing question is, what does it mean by adopting liberal policies & principles? It simply means to have a liberal attitude towards the rights, privileges, functions of the state’s citizens. It has been assumed that restriction on any form of conservativeness adopted by the government will curb the liberty and simultaneously the spontaneity of the individuals leading to the slow down of growth in one’s personality, individuality & inherent qualities. However, it is also believed that completely shunning conservativeness will put society in chaos & jungle-raj.
Consequently, a liberal state denotes a ‘limited government. This can also be called the ‘Theory of limited state’, introduced by several thinkers. The term ‘limited’ can be confusing. It exactly means limited functions and role of the state or non-intervention of the state.
The concept of a liberal state can be explained by another standpoint. It has been maintained by recent critics that, all strands of the liberal era confer certain rights and privileges upon persons and these must be protected at any cost. Accordingly, a liberal state gives priority to the cause of the individuals. In the controversy ‘individual vs state’, the liberal state always favours the interests and cause of the individual. Understandably it is the opposite of a conservative, authoritarian and totalitarian state.
Dictionary meaning of liberal is — respectful and accepting behaviours or opinions, different from others. A state is liberal when it acknowledges the opinions, attitudes and behaviours of individuals and does not think of these as a threat to the existence and administration of the state.
There are differences among political philosophers as to the functions of a liberal state. However, there is a common strand between them. It says an individual must have maximum freedom so that his/her development does not receive any setback due to policy or action. A vital pre-condition of an individual’s development is granting of rights and privileges equally. If any inequality or discrimination is to be followed that must be for the general interest of the body politic and to the least disadvantage of anybody.
By resorting to this system of authority for a liberal state, the state will be in a position to ensure the progress of the individual citizens of the state.
In summary, Liberalism as a concept completely shuns conservativeness. While the liberal state tries to minimize the conservativeness and aims to strike the right balance to help its citizens to grow to their maximum potential.