Front Page Titles (by Subject) Aristocratic Liberty - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1
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Aristocratic Liberty - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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“Liberty and Whiggery in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” The Journal of Modern History 52 (June 1980): 254–278.
Were English Whig appeals to “liberty” hypocritical slogans to legitimatize the ascendancy of a privileged political and social order? To answer this question, we must examine the Whig conception of liberty in the early nineteenth century, and its connection with those social principles which the Whig aristocracy advocated: the inviolability of property, aristocratic honor, and the preservation of a hierarchically ordered society. With the coming of the nineteenth century, Whig aristocrats faced a dilemma when their principles, until now compatible with liberty, suddenly became politically incompatible with it. The ambiguous place of liberty in the Whig hierarchy of values is reflected in the policies they favored when they held the reins of power during the 1830s.
Whigs extolled the love of liberty as a virtue distinguishing their history and heroes (such men as Algernon Sidney and Charles James Fox). By the late eighteenth century the Whigs had usurped title to the seventeenth-century constitutional struggles which had witnessed the shift from “liberties” to “liberty.” The liberties that the Whigs gloried in wresting from the Stuart kings and that seemed applicable to the whole population, had in fact been derived from the more restrictive, less democratic concept of feudal liberties or privileges. Since these privileges were exclusive concessions to special groups, usually the nobility, “modern liberty was in its origin an aristocratic ideal. Thus “liberties” (class privileges) preceded the more universal “liberty.”
These earlier liberties were associated with a corporate hierarchical order of society. This class concept of privileged “liberties” was challenged by the democratic Levellers who attempted to apply liberty as a natural right for all men without distinctions. Later democratic radicals, such as Tom Paine, William Godwin, and Jeremy Bentham, advocated a species of liberty also uncongenial to the aristocratic Whigs who wished to maintain their class' privileged position as mediator between crown and people. Whigs argued that their convictions were “rational liberty” butressed by class honor as distinguished from the “impracticable liberty” of democrats.
The ambiguities and contradictions of the Whig profession of “liberty” is surveyed during the 1830s in such political outrages as the coercive legislation applied to Ireland which was reminiscent of the paternalistic attitudes of the Whigs toward slavery and the slave trade. Even in endorsing the moderate franchise of the Reform Bill, the Whigs wished the people to show subordination and deference to their betters out of respect for aristocratic honor. Tocqueville was right in exposing the Whig's exploitation of liberty. But the Whigs were acutely conscious of the conflict between liberty and other social privileges—property, honor, and hierarchy—on only a few issues, such as the Irish question. This “libertarian aristocratic ethic” valued liberty, but only “within the framework of an ordered society.”