Values of Liberalism

Video Series
Liberal Values
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom


In this series we would like to introduce you to some of the different ideas that compose liberalism. Liberalism is a coherent vision made of various components, and that can be grasped complementarily from different disciplines.



Now individualism does not mean some simplistic faith that individuals live in an atomistic way. No. Individuals are social beings and that is also precisely why they need rights: individual rights are to be understood in relationship to others.



Now self-direction and self-flourishing are connected to individual responsibility and freedom of course. There can’t be self-flourishing without individual responsibility. There can’t be self-flourishing as slaves. Only free people, responsible people can achieve the happiness of directing their process of self-flourishing. Freedom is the precondition to self-flourishing.




Freedom of choice is essential for civilized society worthy of the name - that is, a society made of free and responsible individuals. A civilized society is a society of grown-ups, not a society of infants to whom Mum and Dad always tell what to do and what not to do – not a society with a Nanny state watching over us as we are too irresponsible or too stupid to make the right choices.



The rule of law is supposed to protect us from arbitrary state power and maximize freedom, a condition for personal and economic flourishing.



We probably owe the most famous and best defense of freedom of speech to the English liberal philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill in his classic essay “On Liberty”. Why is freedom of speech so important, he argues? Well, first because a silenced opinion could actually be true. And to think that that could not be the case is actually to assume one’s own infallibility.



Spinoza or Voltaire for example were great thinkers who understood the value – the human value – of tolerance. They described the Dutch society and the English society of their respective times as open and thus civilized.



Trust is like a lubricant in the gears, in the mechanisms of human interactions. Indeed: it lowers what economists call “transaction costs” and, as such, trust is something that makes it easier to do things together, share, exchange and trade.



Economic development is based on the ability of creating value for others. It is based on entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurship itself is about freedom: Freedom to have ideas on how to render services, freedom to test them, freedom to succeed, and importantly, freedom to fail and make mistakes – but be responsible for them.



There is first a moral argument to be made in favor of open borders to people. My individual right to freedom is also a right to move freely, to move the property I have on my own body, as long as I do not encroach on someone else’s private property. The pursuit of happiness should not be blocked by borders.



Democracy presupposes accountability of the polity. This means transparency of public decision-making on spending on the one hand so we can as citizens assess the services we get, and clear taxation, so we can assess how much we pay for these services.