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As we have already suggested in the opening paragraphs of this chapter, the roots of political liberalism antedated the nineteenth century. The philosophic principles of this creed were based on earlier ideas such as natural rights and utilitarianism. Political liberals held that human actions to be moral must be voluntary, and that a society seeking to follow the laws of nature must cherish individual liberty. Since they believed human reason was capable of discerning these laws, liberals believed that enlightened self-interest was an accurate guide for political action. In the next chapter we will take note of the kinship which existed between political liberals and economic liberals. Here we need only to say that both envisaged the chief functions of the state as primarily protective of life, liberty, and property, and active mainly to check abuses and prevent license. [excerpt]


This is a part of Section XIII: Political Liberalism and Nationalism, 1815-1871. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.