What Was Liberalism?: The Past, Present, and Promise of a Noble Idea

What Was Liberalism?: The Past, Present, and Promise of a Noble Idea

by James Traub


View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


A sweeping history of liberalism, from its earliest origins to its imperiled present and uncertain future

Donald Trump is the first American president to regard liberal values with open contempt. He has company: the leaders of Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Turkey, among others, are also avowed illiberals. What happened? Why did liberalism lose the support it once enjoyed? In What Was Liberalism?, James Traub returns to the origins of liberalism, in the aftermath of the American and French revolutions and in the works of such great thinkers as John Stuart Mill and Isaiah Berlin.

Although the first liberals were deeply skeptical of majority rule, the liberal faith adapted, coming to encompass belief in not only individual rights and free markets, but also state action to provide basic goods. By the second half of the twentieth century, liberalism had become the national creed of the most powerful country in the world. But this consensus did not last. Liberalism is now widely regarded as an antiquated doctrine. What Was LIberalism? reviews the evolution of the liberal idea over more than two centuries for lessons on how it can rebuild its majoritarian foundations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781541616851
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 09/24/2019
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 778,023
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

James Traub has spent the last forty years as a journalist for American's leading publications, including the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine. He now teaches foreign policy and intellectual history at New York University and at NYU Abu Dhabi, and is a columnist and contributor at Foreign Policy. He is the author of six previous books on foreign and domestic affairs. His most recent work is John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit. He lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Why Liberalism Matters 1

1 Protecting the People from Themselves 13

2 John Stuart Mill and the Defense of Liberty 37

3 The New Republic and the Refounding of American Liberalism 61

4 Isaiah Berlin and the Anti-totalitarians 93

5 America After the War: Liberalism as Civic Religion 117

6 The End of History in Postwar Europe 141

7 The Great Society Goes Up in Flames 155

8 Europe in the Grip of Nationalism 195

9 The Populist Plutocrat 233

10 Why Did One-Half of America Choose Illiberal Democracy? 243

11 A Liberal Nationalism 257

Acknowledgments 277

Notes 279

Index 295

Customer Reviews