What the liberal state means

Liberal state (or liberal state of law) is a model of government based on liberalism developed during the Enlightenment, between the 17th and 18th centuries.

Liberalism was opposed to the controlling and centralizing government of the absolutist state, whose main characteristics were the accumulation of wealth, control of the economy and an authoritarian relationship between the government and the people.

The liberal state, also called the liberal state of law , is aimed at valuing autonomy and protecting the rights of individuals, guaranteeing them the freedom to do what they wish as long as it does not violate the rights of others.

Economically, the liberal state is a direct result of the interests of the bourgeoisie. Its main scholar was Adam Smith, who believed that the market is free when it regulates itself without any state interference. It is the opposite model to the interventionist state, marked by exhaustive regulation of all areas of the economy, including the private sector.

How did the liberal state come about?

The liberal state emerged after the French Revolution, which was driven by liberal ideals inspired by the works of John Locke. The English philosopher, considered the father of liberalism, understood that individuals were born with the natural right to life, freedom and private property. This thought led to the idea that the State could no longer intervene in these matters.

For Locke, the relationship of the people with the government happens through a Social Contract through which society gives up some rights in order that the State is in charge of maintaining the social order. Thus, liberalism inspired this model of state aimed at guaranteeing individual freedoms while regulating the interests of society.

When the absolutist monarchy lost power and the bourgeoisie took control of the revolution, the birth privileges of royal families were replaced by the strength of capital. Consequently, there was a natural favoring of the bourgeois class, which started to benefit from the lack of state intervention and to explore the new possibilities of the free market.

Features of the liberal state

The main characteristics of the liberal state are:

Individual freedom

In a liberal state, individuals have freedoms that cannot be interfered with by the government. Thus, individuals can engage in any economic, political or social activity at any level, as long as it does not violate the rights of others.


In a liberal state, equality is achieved through respect for each person’s individualism. This means that everyone must be treated the same, regardless of gender, age, religion or race, always observing their differences in order to provide everyone with the same opportunities.


Tolerance is a consequence of the equality with which the government treats individuals in the liberal state, where everyone has the opportunity to be heard and respected, even during strikes and demonstrations.

Media freedom

The media operates impartially and is not tied to the government in liberal states. In this way, the media can publish information freely and without bias, especially on political matters.

Free market

In liberal states, the so-called “invisible hand of the market” predominates, which consists of the absence of government intervention in the economy. Thus, any individual can engage in economic activities and, thus, the market is self-regulating.

Liberal state, social rule of law and welfare state

The liberal state is the guarantor of the so-called first generation rights , which are of an individual and negative nature, since they require the state to abstain. These rights are considered fundamental and are related to freedom, civil and political rights.

The social state of law is one that deals with second generation rights , which require effective State attitudes. These are cultural, economic and social rights.

The welfare state is the social and economic posture adopted by the government with the objective of reducing social inequalities through income distribution policies, welfare measures and the provision of basic services.

Neoliberal state

The neoliberal state is marked by the figure of the state as a mere regulator of the economy.

The model was established in several countries in the 1970s, after the so-called “crisis of liberalism” when the absence of state intervention resulted in an imbalance in the law of supply and demand and culminated in the economic crisis of 1929.

The Great Depression, as the 1929 crisis is also known, demonstrated that the total lack of market regulation led to the unbridled growth of the industry and the consequent crash of the economy. In this context, neoliberalism attributed to the State the minimum role of regulator of the economy, always respecting the free market and competition.


by Abdullah Sam
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