This lesson will define and explain the political ideologies of the 19th century, specifically radicalism, republicanism, and liberalism. In doing so, it will highlight their beliefs in the right to vote, freedom from religion, separation of church from state, and laissez-faire economics.
The Meaning of Terms: Then vs. Now
Today, we'll be discussing a few of the political ideologies that molded the 19th century. As we do this, we'll tackle liberalism, radicalism, and republicanism. Before we begin, there's one very important thing you've got to keep in mind: in the 19th century, these terms had a very different meaning than they do today. So, try to clear your mind of any preconceived notions you may have when you hear words like 'liberal' or 'radical.' For our discussion, we'll first give a nod to radicalism and republicanism. However, since these groups were rather overshadowed by liberalism, most of our lesson will focus on it.
Radicalism began to brew in late 18th century England, but really, really grew in the first few decades of the 19th. Although there were several forms in which radicalism took shape, a general description of a radical could be a member of the working or middle class, or a supporter of these classes, who called for the right to vote, fair economic conditions, and freedom of the press. Adding to this definition, radicals were also not fans of monarchies, seeing them as an oppressive force that should be thrown off.
Another hallmark of radicalism was its opposition to the church's involvement in the state. Perhaps nowhere was this more plainly seen than in England's Catholic Emancipation, a series of laws that stopped one's religion from playing a role in whether or not a person held political office. Led by men like Jeremy Bentham, radicals called for the church to be separate from state affairs. They also desired the ousting of monarchies in favor of a constitutional republic, or in other words, a government run by the will of a voting people, not just a few wealthy elite.
This brings us to republicanism, a term that's sometimes used interchangeably with European radicalism. Rising up out of the French Revolution, republicanism, like radicalism, took on many forms. However, there are a few overarching characteristics. Republicanism called for the removal of absolute monarchies. It also called for a level political field in the form of universal suffrage, or in other words, the right to vote. Like their radical counterparts in England, European's who favored republicanism were dead-set against the Catholic Church nosing around in matters of the state.
This brings us to liberalism. In its classical form, liberalism was an ideology that held at its core a commitment to the liberty of the individual. This liberty came in the forms of freedom of speech, press, and the right to assemble. Led mostly by members of the working middle class (merchants, bankers, business owners), some will argue that liberalism was not really a fight for equality of all men, but instead equality for the working middle class.
Very concerned with economic reform, liberalism subscribed to the teachings of Adam Smith, the famous 18th century political economist and author of The Wealth of Nations. Like Smith, liberals supported the adoption of laissez-faire economics. A simpler way to say this is that liberals felt the government should keep their hands out of the economy and allow the free market to determine its own course. To ensure the government kept its hands out of the free market, the liberals of the late 19th century, also known as neo-classical liberals, called for small government.
Like radicalism and republicanism, liberalism also favored a secular state. Any linking of church and state was considered an archaic tradition that would only oppress the people. However, it must again be mentioned that much of the liberal philosophy stemmed from the desire for economic freedom. In other words, not just the state, but also the church should keep their hands out of the people's pockets.
Throughout history, many political ideologies have come on the scene. In the 19th century, three of these were radicalism, republicanism, and liberalism. With Jeremy Bentham as one of their ranks, radicals called for the right to vote, fair economic conditions, and freedom of the press. As witnessed in the Catholic Emancipation, radicals also called for a decline in the political influence of religion. They also favored the concept of constitutional republics over that of monarchies.
Like radicalism, republicanism favored the ending of omnipotent monarchies. Coming out of the French Revolution, republicanism called for the universal right to vote. Republicanism also felt the church should not influence the political realm.
Like the aforementioned ideologies, liberalism was built on the rights of the individual. However, these rights also pertained to economic freedoms. Growing mostly from the working middle class, liberalism held to the laissez-faire, hands-off beliefs of Adam Smith, the 18th century political economist and author of the The Wealth of Nations.
Once you've finished with this lesson, you will have the ability to:
- Describe the tenets of radicalism, republicanism and liberalism in the 19th century
- Identify the importance of the Catholic Emancipation and Jeremy Bentham to radicalism
- Summarize the importance of the French Revolution to republicanism and its similarities to radicalism
- Explain the influence of Adam Smith and his book The Wealth of Nations to liberalism