Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

The Liberal Tradition in South Africa, 1910–2019


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Race looms large in the politics of many countries, but perhaps nowhere more so than in South Africa. Liberals of both the classical and left varieties joined in their opposition to Apartheid, a political system that discriminated along racial lines. The historical account of this paper focuses especially on the classical liberal tradition and begins primarily in 1910, when the South African colonies were united into a polity with their own central Parliament, though at that time they were still a dominion of the United Kingdom. The first half of the paper provides a unified historical narrative describing the role of liberals, while the second half is more episodic, treating persons, organizations, and liberals in politics. The bulk of classical liberals today are found in a small number of independent think tanks and to a limited extent in the second-largest political party in South Africa.

Podcast related to this article: Martin van Staden on Classical Liberalism in South Africa (EJW Audio, November 2019).