Salient Features of Liberalism are as follows:
1. Recognition of Importance of Individual:
Liberalism accords to the individual a high position of importance. Individual is accepted as the central point of all political, economic and social activities. It is meaningless to talk of society minus individuals, because a society is nothing but a large and active group of individuals. The society is a means to the end, which is the individual. Society is for the individual and not the individual for the society.
2. Faith in Rationality of Individual:
Liberalism has a firm faith in the intelligence and rationality of individual. Being rational, every individual knows well what is good for him and what is not. No person can be and should be forced to accept and follow such conventions, laws and principles as do not conform to his logic and intellect. The supporters of Liberalism place emphasis upon the organised intellectual power of human individual as the basis of all human progress and development.
3. Opposition to Blind Faith and Tradition:
Medieval Age was bound down by superstitions and traditions. The political, economic and religious institutions were looked upon as the ideals. The liberalists opposed these institutions and prepared the way for further changes. The liberalists had little faith in superstitions and old dogmatic traditions. They stood for a society free from superstitions and irrational traditions.
4. Support for Human Rights and Freedom:
The liberal thinkers support human rights and freedom. No State or society should abolish or restrict them. The State is to protect all the rights. According to them the basic rights are: the right to life, right to property and the rights to liberty, equality and justice.
5. Firm Support for Liberty:
The liberalists support liberty as the most cherished ideal. It includes the liberty of expression, liberty of family, liberty of religion, economic liberty and social liberty. However, liberty is conceptualised in a positive way. It is not defined as absence of restraints. It stands for some rational restraints and seeks to eliminate irrational ones.
6. State as the means, Individual as the End:
Liberalism regards State only as an institution which has been created for the comfort and full development of the individuals inhabiting it. The State is the means and its aim is the development of individual. According to Bentham, the aim of the State was to promote ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Modern liberal thinkers consider the State as an instrument of general welfare and justice.
7. Constitutional and Limited Government:
Liberalism supports constitutional and limited government. While looking upon State as the means for individual development, liberalism does not favour the end of state or an undue limitation of the power of the state and its government. Liberalism is opposed only the absolutism of the rulers.
To begin with, liberalism favoured limiting the powers of the government, but with the passage of time it changed its own outlook and began to accept the role of the state as a hamonising factor between individual good and the social welfare. However, it strongly advocates that every government must function within its constitutional limits.
8. Support for Democracy:
Liberalism was born as a reaction against the absolutism of the rulers. It upheld democracy because it alone could really ensure the rights and freedoms of all. According to Locke, “a government should born out of the people’s consent and should be based on people’s consent.” Liberalism believes in representative institutions, adult franchise, free and fair elections, independent, impartial judiciary, rule of law and social welfare.
9. Faith in Secularism:
Liberalism supports the view that there should be no special religion of the state. All religions must enjoy equal freedom. People belonging to all religions should enjoy equal rights and freedoms. A very large number of countries all over the world now accept the secular views of liberalist.
10. Tolerance towards Dissent:
The liberalists tolerate dissent. They welcome opposition as an alternative point of view. They believe not in the exercise of violence and force in politics, but in persuasion and consultation in order to arrive at a decision. In a democracy, while the majority rule is an acceptable way of life, the minorities are to have the right to work for and secure their interests.
11. Pluralist Society:
The liberalists accept the pluralist nature of society. In a pluralist society, there are people associated with all kinds of classes, castes, religions and cultures. Each class or sect or religion or culture has its own interests and it is for the protection of their interests that men form groups and associations. A State has to function among all these groups and associations.
A State must not keep in view the interests of any one group or association, but look upon all as equals and serve the interests of all. The State must adopt a liberal attitude towards those who are in minority. Modern Liberalism supports social, economic and political pluralism.
12. Faith in Liberalisation of Economy:
Initially liberalism favoured absence of state action in the spheres of business, trade and economy. It favoured laisses faire, open competition and free trade. Later on, liberalism accepted the concept of welfare state. Presently, it stands for privatization, free trade, liberalization, open competition, free trade, market economy and globalization. It, however accepts the role of state in the economic life of society.
13. Faith in Internationalism and World Brotherhood:
Liberalism supports internationalism, world peace and brotherhood of all people. Liberalism believes in the motto ‘Live and let live’ liberal thinkers believe in the sovereignty of each State and its indivisibility. They support the right of every State to develop itself without any consideration of being big or small, rich or poor and developed or underdeveloped. It urges all nations to get together and try to find solutions to all human problems through international co-operation. It stands for world peace, internationalism and globalisation.