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Enlightenment Ways of Thinking

Classical liberalism views human nature from a skeptical perspective. This perception is similar to that of conservative liberalism. For instance, one of the most predominant classical liberal philosophers John Locke wrote in the late 17th century that reason rarely controls human emotions. Therefore, the conservative thinker Burke and the liberal Locke share the belief that social and political systems are always in danger of failing due to the violence and disorder caused by humans. Other classical liberals share identical views on human nature, including Trenchard, Livingston, and Adams.

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Moreover, classical liberals believe that democracy needs to be restrained because the majority rule can suppress minorities’ freedoms. They described democracy as dangerous because of the possible oppression the tyranny of the majority can bring to the rest of society. Famous classical liberal thinker James Madison, a president of the United States in the 19th century, argued that pure democracy could be despotic because of the unlimited power that citizens get when they become a majority of the electorate. Lastly, classical liberals view progress as the outcome of individuals exercising their natural rights, such as freedom of expression, religion, and assembly. It is possible to reach progress and liberty by the separation of powers and the inherent right to possess private property. People should be treated equally, although each has unequal talents, which makes the economy diverse.

Furthermore, radical liberals believe that humans are inherently good, and people are naturally capable of controlling their emotions with reason. Thus, thinkers like Paine, who was writing in the late 18th century, have an optimistic view of human nature. Moreover, their perspective on progress includes the desire to abolish traditional political, social, and religious institutions. They believe that the ultimate goal of development is liberation. Unlike classical liberals, radical thinkers argue that people’s natural rights should be followed by freedom from any restrictions. These differences are due to the conflicting views on human nature, as conservatives believe that people are irrational, whereas radical philosophers state that people are rational. During the French Revolution in 1789, radical ideas were expressed in The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Radical liberalism highlights that people can reach progress by abolishing the Old Regime and building a new order. Thus, radical thinkers supported violence during the revolution, whereas conservatives thought France was collapsing. Burke and other conservatives believed that progress in society should be gradual, which is the opposite of radical beliefs.

Lastly, one of the most predominant radical communitarianism philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote the Social Contract in 1762. He believes that individuals have equal talents, and their differences are minor, leading to the creation of an egalitarian society. Unlike Madison, Rousseau states that competitive commerce does not guide humans to progress because it only leads to further inequality. Radical philosophers believe that progress can be achieved by abolishing old regimes and the pursuits of private possessions. During the French Revolution, a group of people called Jacobins identifies themselves with ideas of radical communitarianism. Philosopher Maximilien Robespierre wrote about General Will’s importance, advocating for the need of shared belief between the reformers. The idea implied using violence to persuade other revolutionaries to follow the views of progress designed by radical communitarians. Jacobins’ brutal policing lead to the most violent part of the revolution called Reign of Terror.

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