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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

5 - Classical Liberalism, Poverty, and Morality


The tradition of classical liberal thinking draws primarily from three disciplines: moral philosophy, social science, and political (or juridical) science, supplemented by ancillary disciplines such as psychology, history, and sociology. Each of the three elements reinforces the others to produce a coherent theory of the relationship of freedom, rights, government, and order. Classical liberal thinkers, despite often robust disagreement among themselves, have agreed that the creation of more wealth is the solution to the alleviation of poverty and that, because outcomes are not themselves generally subject to choice, just and efficient institutions are the key to increasing wealth and diminishing poverty. Moreover, although many make room for state provision of assistance to the poor and indigent, all agree that there is a hierarchy of means for the alleviation of poverty, cascading from personal responsibility and self-help, to mutual aid, to charity, to the least preferred option, state compulsion.
Cohen, G. A.The Tanner Lectures on Human ValuesPeterson, B.Salt Lake CityUniversity of Utah Press 1992
Green, PhilipThe Pursuit of InequalityNew YorkPantheon Books 1981
Steiner, HillelAn Essay on RightsOxfordBlackwell 1994