History

Jeremy Bentham, 1745-1832

Jeremy Bentham, the English moral philosopher, jurist, social reformer, political economist and founding father of modern utilitarianism was born in London on 15 February 1748. His ambitious father, also a lawyer, had plans for young Jeremy to become Lord Chancellor of England, not only making his name but also his fortune in the process. Despite […]

Ralf Dahrendorf (Lord Dahrendorf), 1929-2009

Writing in 1997, Ralf Dahrendorf referred to his favourite countries: Britain and Germany, and the Europe – even the Europe – to which they both belong; his commitment to public service, to academia, to politics and to liberalism has been visible in all of them. Born in Hamburg, that most anglophile of German cities, on […]

Elliot Dodds, 1889-1977

Elliott Dodds lived a life of rich variety and contrast. A southerner by birth, he became indelibly associated with the laissez-faire Liberalism of the northern counties. A journalist, whose political beliefs were breathed into every corner of the Huddersfield Examiner, he wrote extensively throughout his life on the changing relationship between individual liberty and the […]

Thomas Hill Green, 1836-1882

Thomas Hill Green was that rare combination, a high-powered philosopher and political theorist who also contributed effectively to practical politics. His friend, the Cambridge philosopher, Henry Sidgwick, said that while he could hold his own with Green in metaphysics and epistemology, when it came to politics, ‘I always felt the chances were that before long […]

John and Barbara Hammond, 1872-1949 and 1873-1961

John Lawrence Le Breton Hammond (known as Lawrence) was born in 1872, the son of the Vicar of Drighlington in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Lucy Barbara Bradby (known as Barbara) was born in 1873, the daughter of the headmaster of Haileybury College. Married in 1901, the Hammonds had no children. They became pioneer social […]

Leonard Trelawney Hobhouse, 1864-1929

Leonard Trelawney Hobhouse, born at Liskeard, Cornwall on 8 September 1864, came from a long line of Anglican clerics. His father, the Venerable Reginald Hobhouse, was Rector of St Ive, near Liskeard, a position he had obtained through his political connections with Sir Robert Peel. His mother was a Trelawney from the prominent West Country […]

John Atkinson Hobson, 1858-1940

John Atkinson Hobson, the economic writer and radical journalist most associated (along with L. T. Hobhouse) with Edwardian New Liberalism was born in Derby on 6 July 1858, the second son of William and Josephine (ne Atkinson) Hobson. William Hobson was the proprietor of the Derbyshire Advertiser, to which his son later contributed, and was […]

John Maynard Keynes (Lord Keynes), 1883-1946

Maynard Keynes was an active Liberal as well as one of the most important liberal writers of the twentieth century. He revolutionised economics, creating the case for deficit spending to stimulate employment which became the basis of government economic policy throughout the Western world for almost four decades. He helped to found the international economic […]

John Stuart Mill, 1806-1873

John Stuart Mill, philosopher, economist, journalist, political writer, social reformer, and, briefly, Liberal MP, is one of the most famous figures in the pantheon of Liberal theorists, and the greatest of the Victorian Liberal thinkers. Yet his relevance is not restricted to the nineteenth century; as L. T. Hobhouse wrote in 1911, in his single […]

Ramsay Muir, 1872-1941

Ramsay Muir was a leading figure in the Liberal Summer School movement and the National Liberal Federation in the 1920s and 1930s. He was briefly a Liberal MP, but, more importantly, he was one of the most prominent Liberal thinkers in inter-war Britain, and had a marked influence on party policy. After his death, Muir […]

Thomas Paine, 1737-1809

Thomas Paine was born on 29 January 1737 at Thetford in Norfolk and was educated at the local grammar school. His father was a stay-maker, and this was Paine’s first occupation. In 1759, he married Mary Lambert, the daughter of a customs officer, but she died within a few months. This may have determined him […]

David Ricardo, 1772-1823

Less well-known than Adam Smith, Ricardo is nevertheless his intellectual and philosophical equal. He is credited alongside Smith with founding the classical school of economics. Inspired by Smith and driven by his friend, James Mill (father of John Stuart Mill), Ricardo provides an historical bridge between the economic and political liberals, although his own writings […]

Adam Smith, 1723-1790

Adam Smith did for economic liberalism what John Locke had done for political liberalism, namely, to lay the philosophical foundations on which others would build a distinctive liberal tradition. Smith’s ideas, however, have permeated the western political tradition to the extent where not only liberals but also other contemporary schools of thought claim to be […]

Graham Wallas, 1858-1932

Graham Wallas was born in Sunderland on 31 May 1858, the son of an Evangelical clergyman of the Church of England who later became Rector of Shobrooke in Devon, where the young Wallas was brought up. He went to public school at Shrewsbury and thence to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he read Greats. Wallas […]

Bentham on Utilitarianism

Extract from Principles of the civil code in Theory of Legislation, trans R Hildreth, 8th edn, London, 1894.

Community politics

Community Politics describes a particular style of locally organised campaigning on specifically local issues pioneered by the Liberal Party in the 1950s and 1960s and now practised by Liberal Democrat activists throughout the UK.

The New Liberalism

The disaster of the 1895 election, when the Liberals lost almost a hundred seats, struck a mortal blow at Rosebery's leadership and pointed to the urgent need for a new direction. Although for some it was the party's abandonment of its historic principles of self-help, voluntaryism and constitutional reform that lay at fault, to others it was the failure of the party to embrace the new imperialism. A growing number also felt that Liberalism's failure to formulate an adequate response to the new social problems of industrialisation had undermined its appeal.

Journal articles

Letters to the Editor

The Birmingham caucus (Oliver Harris); Anarchism and Liberalism (Shaun Pitt).

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Events

The ideas that built the Liberal Democrats

What do Liberal Democrats believe? And what stems from our historical legacy?

Against the background of the ‘Agenda 2020’ review of values and beliefs, discuss the party’s ideological inheritance with David Boyle, Teena Lashmore and Nick Thornsby at the History Group’s fringe meeting at the York Liberal Democrat conference. Chair: David Howarth.

Great Liberal thinkers: lessons for the future

To mark the launch of our publication, ‘Liberal Thinkers’, Baroness Liz Barker and MPs Alan Beith, David Laws and John Pugh draw lessons from past Liberal thinkers for the future direction of the Liberal Democrats.

Think Liberal: The Dictionary of Liberal Thought

‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Locke, Bentham, Mill, Hobhouse, Keynes, Rawls … Liberalism has been built on more than three centuries work of political thinkers and writers, and the aspirations of countless human beings who have fought for freedom, democracy, the rule of law and open and tolerant societies.

Now, in the first-ever such publication, the History Group’s Dictionary of Liberal Thought provides an accessible guide to the key thinkers, groups and concepts associated with liberalism – not only British but also European and American. The essential reference book for every thinking Liberal.

This meeting will launch the new Dictionary of Liberal Thought.

Speakers: David Howarth MP and Michael Meadowcroft. Chair: Steve Webb MP, Liberal Democrat manifesto coordinator.