Liberalism has been gradually developing since the 1700s as a response to the breakdown of feudal society , which was a society organised around a hierarchy in which resources were very unequally shared out. In its early form, liberalism challenged the privileged position and absolutism of those at the top of the hierarchy and proposed a more equal

society based on merit and a constitutional form of government. Liberalism’s core principle is the importance of the

human individual as opposed to any group or collective body. Individuals are each considered of equal moral worth, and the goal of a liberal society is therefore to allow each unique individual to develop and flourish according to his/her abilities

Liberal doctrine is the great equaliser because it proposes that people are born equal and should have the equal right or opportunity to pursue their full potential. It is also a protection doctrine because it focuses on the sacredness of the individual, argues for toleration, emphasises the need to rule with the consent of the governed, and seeks to create a political system based on meritocracy . Built into liberal doctrine is the forward-looking idea of human progress under

meritocratic systems of advancement. Taken to the extreme, the protective view of liberalism or ‘negative’ liberty

(see below) assumes that human beings are absolutely autonomous – capable of acting without any structural or communal constraints on their decisions. This can lead to an atomistic view of society, in which political communities lose their collective identity and become mere collections of self-interested individuals.