Whilst adherents of Liberalism often look to thinkers such as Locke, Rousseau and Mills for their ideological inheritance, National Liberals might also look to figures such as Mazzini, Benningsen and Lasker. The latter were all liberal thinkers too but found that their belief in individual rights could best be protected within the framework of a ‘free nation’ rather than within say an Empire (or presently, a supra-national body such as the EU).
In the mid nineteenth century the majority of liberals would have been National Liberals. Most saw that the best hope for individual and civil rights lay in the downfall of European hereditary monarchies and their replacement by nation states.
Even in Britain (where foreign invasion was an ancient memory and the monarchy had long lost real ‘power’) the great Liberal leaders of the day such as Palmerston (a later PM) welcomed liberal patriots such as Guiseppe Mazzini.
In the 20th century, as nations began to gain their independence, some liberals began to lose interest in the issues of nationhood. The territorial boundaries once again began to be accepted without regard to the nations that remain trapped within Continental Empires or indeed became trapped within Colonial Empires.
Not all liberals of course ignored nationhood, American President Woodrow Wilson made great efforts in ensuring nations emerged from the ashes of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires post the Great War.
Nevertheless the results of two World Wars convinced many liberals that nation states were inherently volatile and would lead to further wars. Thus developed what we might call left-liberalism.
Such thinking led many to support global western (mainly American) intervention in the Cold War period and in European political unification (under the EU).
Yet despite this shift in liberal thought there was and now once again re-emerging, an alternative liberalism which recognises the importance of national institutions and identity.
NATIONAL LIBERAL POLITICIANS & PARTIES
In the 19th century the struggle for independence in Europe threw up numerous radical and national-liberal activists and thinkers. Some of these were:
Guiseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) agitated (often whilst in exile in England) for a unified Italian state (presently divided into small principalities or under Papal or Austrian rule. His ceaseless efforts paved the way for a final unification in 1870.
Rudolf Benningsen (1824-1902) campaigned for the unity and the constitutional liberty of Germany and founded a Nationalist Association for Gernan Liberals.
Eduard Lasker (1829–1884) was an avid liberal parliamentarian and a founding member of the German National Liberal Party.
By the 20th century however many of the European national liberal parties were overshadowed and/or disappeared under the impact of socialist and fascist forces.
In the United Kingdom, Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), Radical West Midlands Liberal leader in Birmingham formed the Liberal Unionist Party, a fusion of Radicalism and intense patriotism (albeit imperialist). This was ultimately absorbed by the Conservatives.
Around the turn of the 20th century a number of other Liberal figures developed theories and ideas outside the Liberal Party e.g. Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesteron who promoted Distributism (anti-big business and collectivist economic theory).
LIBERAL NATIONAL PARTY (UK)
More significantly, in 1931 a number of Liberal M.P’s split away from the party in protest at the leaderships dogmatic adherence to free trade at a time of global recession.
Naming themselves the Liberal National Party (later National Liberal), they won more seats than the Liberal Party until 1964, albeit in alliance with the Conservative party as part of an ongoing coalition known as the ‘National Government’.
Despite the wishes of their membership the leadership failed to develop their policies and became dependant upon the Conservatives for their seats. Fearing that they might suffer as badly as their ex-colleagues in the Liberal Party if they had to fight the Conservatives as well they were reluctant to upset their much larger allies. Following a similar pattern to that adopted by the Liberal Unionists nearly 50 years previously the LN and Conservative Constituency parties were merged (post the Woolton-Teviot agreement in 1947. Thereafter the party became an anachronism and was officially wound up in 1968.
MODERN NATIONAL LIBERALISM
Today however there is a new National Liberal Party for Britain.
The party was formed by the political ‘Think-Tank’ the Third Way at the end of 2006, believing there was a pressing need for a patriotic liberal presence on the political scene. The left-liberalism adopted by the majority of (but not all) Liberal parties worldwide is not attractive to the majority and not even representative of many of their voters. Indeed there seems little to distinguish between the three ‘establishment’ parties.
The modern National Liberal Party, like its predecessor, is happy to work in coalition and partnership with other political groups. Unlike however our earlier forebears we have developed a better understanding of the National Liberal ideology and won’t surrender our independence. We call upon all those who recognise the ‘national liberal’ within them to join us in bringing sanity back to British politics.
Copyright to: NLP, PO Box 4217, Hornchurch, Essex RM12 4PJ – 2008
Date: April 1, 2008