Marta Fulop

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science


Marshall Goldstein




Liberalism appears to have two meanings; one having an ethical component, which strives to allow individuals to fulfil their capabilities and be full members of society; the other, simply being a market-like relation between consumers. In this thesis I argue that there is a meaning left to liberalism other than enforcing the minimal rules of the competitive arena and that liberalism must encompass the new problems of growing unemployment and poverty in liberal democratic societies.

This thesis considers modern liberal thinkers who address the meaning of liberalism and the contemporary crises faced in Western democratic nations. These thinkers, Guy Debord, John Kenneth Galbraith, Norberto Bobbio, and Ralf Dahrendorf, provide a convenient overall perspective on the problem of liberalism.

Guy Debord views liberal societies as just a spectacle of mindless consumption which has gone beyond the grasp of thoughtful citizenship. However, while his arguments do have some valid points and remarks to make about our society, because Debord chooses to ignore the plight of the increasing numbers of those who do not fit into the general parameters of society, his argument that liberalism necessarily excludes ethical principles is flawed.

John Kenneth Galbraith addresses the issue of the growing number of poor and unemployed which raises the issue as to whether liberalism can address the needs of society as it changes.

Norberto Bobbio attempts to find a system which would solve the present shortcomings of our liberal democratic system. However, he offers a utopian vision which would not solve contemporary problems.

Finally, Ralf Dahrendorf addresses problems faced in contemporary liberal democracies and believes ethical liberalism has a future. While he recognizes the conflict between the market side and the ethical side of liberalism, he believes that this conflict, given the will, can and must be worked out to benefit every human being.


[missing pages:92,123]

McMaster University Library

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