The goal of political liberalism, the first incarnation of liberalism, as an ideology and movement was to elevate, protect, and enforce the notions that there is (a) nothing sacred in nature and (b) nothing else in society other than “human being” or “Man.” The political liberals were atheists or deists who resisted all notions of the existence or participation of God in public life.
Political liberalism is an ideology that seeks the elimination of servitude to religious or human masters. People are only expected to obey the law, which is rooted in natural rights and the sovereignty of the people.
Political liberalism is a philosophy of “commonalty” that seeks to destroy individuality, particularity, and egoism in the political life of human beings by ensuring that public life is purely human. The state or public life is differentiated in liberal thought from civil society where purely particular, individual, or egoistic interests are pursued.
The individual in liberal political theory is always an egoist. The collective, the public, the nation, the state is the true being that requires persons to shed or discard their individuality and inequality and consecrate themselves to the higher presupposition, the “commonalty.” Political liberalism struggled to secure the freedom of persons from the dominion of a personal master and the freedom of each individual person from other persons.
Political liberalism was the enemy of monarchy and aristocracy. Its historical agent, the bourgeoisie, destroyed monarchy and aristocracy in revolutions in America and France and the constitutional reforms in Britain and Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Political liberalism rejects the notion that power and authority can be legitimately vested in particular individuals through birthright, charisma, or religious blessing. Political legitimacy is derived through legal entitlement, a constitution or charter which confers sovereignty on the “commonalty.”
In Stirner’s parlance, “commonalty” refers to the body politic, the entirety of the population in a nation-state. It carries two other meanings as well. First, it entails shared cultural beliefs that emphasize a compliant, productive morality, and the notion that the state is the dominant social institution, excluding no one and guaranteeing rights for all. The corollary is that the person’s value consists in being a citizen or a subject of the state. The commonalty emerged as the revolutionary and reformist movements in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century struggled to defeat monarchism and the privileges of the aristocracy.
The basic principles of political liberalism, which elevate the interests of the commonalty, include:
1 . The state must not be structured on the basis of social classes, individuals
should be represented .
2. The state is the absolute arbiter of rights and, thus, should be a commonalty
of free and equal citizens, all enjoying the same rights.
3. Sovereignty is based on majority rule, which is operationalized
through the mastery of the majority of representatives, and the concomitant
powerlessness of constituents.
4. While boundaries remain between the state and civil society, within
the state there are no separate, particular interests, only the genera l
5. Each citizen devotes self to the welfare of the whole, or the state, and
thus, each person dissolves into the state making the state’s welfare
his goal and idea l .
Political liberalism intended t o make the commonalty the heir to the privileged aristocracy within the state and achieves this goal by asserting dominance over all other social institutions, including religion, and over civil society and individuals. In political liberal ism, personal freedom means ” freedom from persons” or the securing of each individual from other persons . In theory, the law alone commands.
While ” individual liberty” was the professed goal of the liberal state, the evolution of political liberalism censured only the subordination of the person to the state, a consequence of the Thermidorian Reaction that succeeds every revolution and every reformation. Stirner says that the reaction only proves what revolution and reformation really are, vehicles to extend and strengthen the power of the state.
The epoch of statism, the absolute domination of society and individuality by the state, dawns with political liberalism. It i s the first robbery of modernity. The state appropriates the right and power of persons to make decisions about their own lives autonomously from the state and commonalty. No one has the right to command, even to command their own behavior. Only the state can command.
Second, while the state is no longer structured on the basis of social classes or estates, class inequalities do not disappear. Instead, sharp differences between the bourgeoisie, or the class of property, and the proletariat, the class of labor, emerge as important social dynamics that the state must control. Anticipating Marx, and echoing the class analysis of the socialist movements of his day, Stirner observes that the rise of the bourgeoisie is coterminous with the rise of political liberalism.
Political liberalism is the theory that justifies and promotes the ascendance of the bourgeoisie, as well as the dispossession of the proletariat. Stirner observes that the cultural and political systems work against the laborers. In the realm of culture, Stirner argues that class inequality is legitimated in a society that believes that possession reflects moral superiority, or the idea that those who own property and wealth do so because they lead settled, secure, stable family lives and pursue honorable trades and businesses.
In the realm of politics, rights and other desiderata are distributed according to the “consideration” bought by the class that has money. In the early stages of bourgeois domination, the state is able to control the societal rifts prompted by class inequality because both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat believe in the ” truth of money and property.
However, labor begins to recognize that it is not rewarded according to its value; it is “exploited.”
It is the enemy of the bourgeoisie and will rise against it and political liberalism.
Three years before Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto a n d seventeen years before Marx published the first volume o f Capital, Stirner writes, “the laborers have the most enormous power i n their hands, and, if they once become thoroughly conscious of it, nothing could withstand them.
Stirner suggests that the laborers have to regard the product of labor as theirs, stop the system that devalues them, and enjoy the product of labor as theirs. Stirner concludes that the state of political liberalism rests on ” the slavery olabor. If labor resists the liberal state and becomes free, the state is lost.