Liberalism begins to take shape in the wake of the Protestant Reformation and religious wars of the early modern period. It emerges as a distinctive political orientation with the growth of the territorial state and rapid economic, social, scientific, and cultural transformations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It continues to be a dominant school of thought in political philosophy and a potent political force in the world.
Liberalism can take different forms and be approached from various perspectives. There is debate about what constitutes its definitional core and some have argued that it is best understood as a cluster of connected and evolving positions, value commitments, and arguments. Keeping these points in mind, a distinction can be made between liberalism’s constitutive positions and the more abstract philosophical theories used to justify those positions. Liberal positions are derivable from a variety of philosophical stances: natural rights, social contract,...
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