- Prof. Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Syracuse University
According to the conventional history, liberalism went through two phases, laissez-faire liberalism and modern liberalism.
This book rediscoveers a lost tradition of liberal thought and shows that liberalism went through three phases:
- Classical liberalism believed in positive freedom, the right of people to manage their own affairs and to govern themselves.
- Victorian liberalism had two aspects. Laissez-faire liberalism accommodated the industrial economy by inventing the ideal of negative freedom: freedom was simply absence of government control. There was also a more idealistic aspect of Victorian liberalism which is largely forgotten today but which was central to the abolitionist and feminist movements.
- Modernist liberalism kept the laissez-faire idea of negative freedom but applied it to a narrow realm of personal behavior. It expected centralized organizations to make important decisions, and it emphasized personal freedom.
Laissez-faire and modernist liberalism redefined freedom as negative in order to accommodate economic growth. To revitalize the liberal tradition, we need to revive the ideal of positive freedom.