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Word Count: 543
Based on the Latin word liber meaning free liberalism is a political point of view opposed to any system that threatens the freedom of the individual and prevents him from realizing his full human potential Liberalism has flourished in Western society since the 18th century but its history may be divided into two markedly distinct periods the classical and the modern Classical liberalism had its roots in the revolt of the growing middle classes against government control of the economy In the late Middle Ages and the early modern period governments played a decisive role in expanding and controlling commerce and industry This practice commonly called mercantilism was felt by many to inhibit rather than enhance economic growth The opposition to mercantilism found its greatest expression in philosopher and economist Adam Smiths The Wealth of Nations This book promoted the ideal of a free-market economy that would operate without government interference Formulations of liberal theory thus had as their basis Thomas Jeffersons notion that the government is best that governs least The goal of liberals was to find ways to control excessive government power and to limit government to its primary purposes of providing for the common defense preserving domestic tranquility and guaranteeing the rights of private property and the obligations of contract During the late 18th and the 19th centuries liberals did succeed through various means in limiting the powers of government The separation of powers as delineated in the United States Constitution is a clear example of the operation of classical liberalism What liberals did not foresee was that while governments became incapable of controlling economies they were thereby also unable to prevent great economic power from concentrating in the hands of a few people who could be as despotic in their own way as any authoritarian government The situation soon became an unhappy reversal formerly governments had exercised control over the economy but by the late 19th century
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