We’re Part of a Global Movement Ensuring Free & Open Democratic Societies
UnitedFuture is a liberal democratic party, part of a long tradition of liberalism dating back hundreds of years and a global network of organisations centered upon liberal principles.
New Zealand’s political history is also heavily influenced by liberal philosophy, with the New Zealand Liberal Party, the first real political party in New Zealand, governing from 1891 until 1912.
Below is a summary of the history, values and achievements of the liberal movement that UnitedFuture is a part of.
What is Liberalism?
Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. The former principle is stressed in classical liberalism while the latter is more evident in social liberalism. Liberals generally support ideas and programs such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, and international cooperation.
A Liberal History
Although strands of liberal thought have existed in Western philosophy since the Ancient Greeks, they began to coalesce at the time of the English Civil War in the 1640s. English philosopher John Locke is generally regarded as the father of modern liberalism. Locke developed the then radical notion that government acquires consent from the governed which has to be constantly present for a government to remain legitimate.
His influential Two Treatises (1690), the foundational text of liberal ideology, outlined his major ideas. His insistence that lawful government did not have a supernatural basis was a sharp break with then-dominant theories of governance. Locke also defined the concept of the separation of church and state. Based on the social contract principle, Locke argued that there was a natural right to the liberty of conscience, which he argued must therefore remain protected from any government authority.
Liberalism is frequently cited as the dominant ideology of modern times. Politically, liberals have organised extensively throughout the world. Liberal parties, think tanks, and other institutions are common in many nations, although they advocate for different causes based on their ideological orientation. Liberal parties can be centre-left, centrist, or centre-right depending on their location.
They can further be divided based on their adherence to social liberalism or classical liberalism, although all liberal parties and individuals share basic similarities, including the support for civil rights and democratic institutions. On a global level, liberals are united in the Liberal International, which contains over 100 influential liberal parties and organisations from across the ideological spectrum.
The Global Liberal Movement
Founded in 1947 Liberal International has become the pre-eminent network for promoting liberalism, strengthening liberal parties and for the promotion of liberal democracy around the world. There are a number of common principles which unite all liberal parties from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Oceania and Europe; human rights, free and fair elections and multiparty-democracy, social justice, tolerance, social market economy, free trade, environmental sustainability and a strong sense of international solidarity.
New Zealand’s Liberal Roots
The New Zealand Liberal Party was the first real political party in New Zealand. It governed from 1891 until 1912.
The First Liberal government established the basis of the later welfare state, with old age pensions, developed a system for settling industrial disputes, which was accepted by both employers and trade unions. In 1893 it extended voting rights to women, making New Zealand the first country in the world to enact universal female suffrage.
New Zealand gained international attention for the Liberal reforms, especially how the state regulated labour relations. Of special note were innovations in the areas of maximum hour regulations, minimum wage laws, and compulsory arbitration procedures.
The key figure in the establishment of the Liberal Party was John Ballance. Ballance, an MP, had served in a number of liberal-orientated governments, and had held office in posts such as Treasurer, Minister of Defence, and Minister of Native Affairs. He had a well-established reputation as a liberal, and was known for supporting land reform, women’s suffrage, and Māori rights.
The Liberal Party drew its support from two basic sources — the cities, and small farmers. In the cities, the Liberals were supported particularly strongly by workers and labourers, but also by the more socially progressive members of the middle class. In the countryside, the Liberals won support from those farmers who lacked the ability to compete with the large runholders, who monopolised most of the available land.
In 1893, John Ballance died unexpectedly and leadership of the party passed to Richard Seddon, who went on to become New Zealand’s longest serving Prime Minister.
Increasingly, the Liberals found themselves losing support on two fronts — farmers, having obtained their goal of land reform, were gradually drifting to the conservative opposition, and workers, having become dissatisfied at the slowed pace of reform, were beginning to talk of an independent labour party.
The foundation of the Labour Party in 1916 deprived the Liberals of many votes from working class areas, while the business world, concerned at Labour’s rise, was uniting behind the Reform Party’s “anti-socialism” platform. The Liberal Party was accused by Labour of being a party of the elite, and by Reform of having socialist sympathies — between the two, many predicted that the Liberals would continue to decline.
Gradually, the Liberal Party’s organisation declined as it was squeezed from both sides. In 1927, a faction of the Liberal Party formed a new organisation, which was eventually named the United Party. To the considerable surprise of most observers, including many members of the party itself, United won a considerable victory, and formed a government in 1928. Later, United would reluctantly merge with Reform to counter the Labour Party. The result of this merger, the National Party.
Click here to read more about New Zealand’s liberal history on Wikipedia.
The fundamental elements of contemporary society have liberal roots. The early waves of liberalism popularised economic individualism while expanding constitutional government and parliamentary authority.
The impact of liberal ideas steadily increased during the 17th century in England, culminating in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which enshrined parliamentary sovereignty and the right of revolution, and led to the establishment of what many consider the first modern, liberal state.
Significant legislative milestones in this period included the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 which strengthened the convention that forbade detention lacking sufficient cause or evidence. The Bill of Rights formally established the supremacy of the law and of parliament over the monarch and laid down basic rights for all Englishmen.
Liberals sought and established a constitutional order that prized important individual freedoms, such as the freedom of speech and of association, an independent judiciary and public trial by jury, and the abolition of aristocratic privileges.
A major liberal accomplishment of modern times includes the rise of liberal internationalism, which has been credited with the establishment of global organisations such as the United Nations.
Scholars have praised the influence of liberal internationalism, claiming that the rise of globalisation “constitutes a triumph of the liberal vision that first appeared in the eighteenth century” while also writing that liberalism is “the only comprehensive and hopeful vision of world affairs”. The gains of liberalism have been significant. In 2008 more than 80 countries around the world were characterised as liberal democracies and most of the world’s richest and most powerful nations are liberal democracies.