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Liberalism: A Counter-History

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In this definitive historical investigation, Italian author and philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues that from the outset liberalism, as a philosophical position and ideology, has been bound up with the most illiberal of policies: slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism and snobbery. Narrating an intellectual history running from the eighteenth through to the twentieth centur In this definitive historical investigation, Italian author and philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues that from the outset liberalism, as a philosophical position and ideology, has been bound up with the most illiberal of policies: slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism and snobbery. Narrating an intellectual history running from the eighteenth through to the twentieth centuries, Losurdo examines the thought of preeminent liberal writers such as Locke, Burke, Tocqueville, Constant, Bentham, and Sieyès, revealing the inner contradictions of an intellectual position that has exercised a formative influence on today’s politics. Among the dominant strains of liberalism, he discerns the counter-currents of more radical positions, lost in the constitution of the modern world order.


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In this definitive historical investigation, Italian author and philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues that from the outset liberalism, as a philosophical position and ideology, has been bound up with the most illiberal of policies: slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism and snobbery. Narrating an intellectual history running from the eighteenth through to the twentieth centur In this definitive historical investigation, Italian author and philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues that from the outset liberalism, as a philosophical position and ideology, has been bound up with the most illiberal of policies: slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism and snobbery. Narrating an intellectual history running from the eighteenth through to the twentieth centuries, Losurdo examines the thought of preeminent liberal writers such as Locke, Burke, Tocqueville, Constant, Bentham, and Sieyès, revealing the inner contradictions of an intellectual position that has exercised a formative influence on today’s politics. Among the dominant strains of liberalism, he discerns the counter-currents of more radical positions, lost in the constitution of the modern world order.

30 review for Liberalism: A Counter-History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel Avocado

    holy shit wow. this book took me about two months to finish and when i finally reached the last sentence i sighed a very heavy sigh of relief. this is a rather dense, difficult book so i will try to sum up my feelings as succinctly as possible: fuck de toucquville but in case you wanted something more in depth, heres the longer version: liberalism is full of contradictions and it has historically been able to correct these contradictions, which is partly why it is such a difficult concept to define holy shit wow. this book took me about two months to finish and when i finally reached the last sentence i sighed a very heavy sigh of relief. this is a rather dense, difficult book so i will try to sum up my feelings as succinctly as possible: fuck de toucquville but in case you wanted something more in depth, heres the longer version: liberalism is full of contradictions and it has historically been able to correct these contradictions, which is partly why it is such a difficult concept to define. in fact losurdo never defines it completely, which leaves me feeling very unsatisfied but i suppose i will just have to deal with it. losurdo is one of those authors who repeats himself endlessly and you find yourself wondering why on earth he keeps going back to certain topics when he already covered them in an earlier chapter. it all pays off eventually, however; losurdo is extremely good at cementing a concept. i had no idea liberalism had inspired so much hateful, loathesome, racist, genocidal practices. the book leads you through centuries of liberalism, ending with mussolini's blackshirts, apartheid in south africa, jim crow in the US, and finally, the holocaust. these events inherited liberalism's long, bloody history. i did have a few minor issues with the book--particularly the translation. why is the word r*dskin used for native americans? was there any need for this? it is used throughout the entire book. im not sure if it's the translation or if losurdo himself used an equivalent term in the original italian, but it's really disturbing. also 'blacks' for black people--being a romance language speaker myself, i know that 'negros' is a respectful term for black people, but in english you should really just say 'black people'. again, when you compare it to the horrors losurdo describes in this book, it's very minor but it's still rather disturbing. soething else i fucking hated was how he would just introduce some new liberal like he had been speaking about him the entire time. i found myself looking up names and what that person was known for more often than not. losurdo simply presents these people as if the reader is entirely comfortable with that particular author's entire body of work. i should add that even if you dont know the majority of the names in the book, you will still be able to follow and understand what losurdo is speaking about. i would even suggest that the names themselves arent that important since they are all presented in proper historical context. still, it's rather daunting seeing these names introduced--it feels like you've missed something. anyway, i can't quite explain this book very well right now. im a little overwhelmed because i just finished it and there are quite a number of horrifying events described in detail. while this is a difficult, complex read, it is ultimately extremely rewarding. highly recommend.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    i try to fish out immediate political lessons from philosophy books if i can. the precise position of one of the many dozens of thinkers losurdo mentions in the book doesn't interest me as much, and i can barely keep track of books like this unless i'm taking detailed notes. which i didn't in this case. i'm too busy and tired. just reading this goddamn book took me six months. losurdo's chronicle of liberalism's contradictions (the 'racial/spatial delimitation of the community of the free') and i try to fish out immediate political lessons from philosophy books if i can. the precise position of one of the many dozens of thinkers losurdo mentions in the book doesn't interest me as much, and i can barely keep track of books like this unless i'm taking detailed notes. which i didn't in this case. i'm too busy and tired. just reading this goddamn book took me six months. losurdo's chronicle of liberalism's contradictions (the 'racial/spatial delimitation of the community of the free') and its uneasy progress in the shadow of different instances of radicalism (the french and haitian revolutions, the paris commune, the bolshevik revolution) which consistently redefine what the terms 'liberty' or 'freedom' actually mean, indicates to me that debate or engagement with the liberal tradition isn't a good use of a radical's time. losurdo's conclusion points to the old marxist adage that the point of philosophy isn't just to understand the world, but to change it. liberalism is flexible enough to adapt itself to any material circumstance - the presence of chattel slavery, colonial brutality, workhouses and enclosures, or the welfare state, limited civil rights, and nominal democracy. our job is to change the world, and the liberalism of the future will catch up eventually.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Domhnall

    Liberalism was arguably born when the Netherlands gained freedom from Philip II of Spain and its wealthy commercial class took political control. While the Dutch celebrated their liberation from the shackles and restraints of the ancien regime and its mediaeval values, what they prized in particular was their freedom to engage without restraint in the creation of wealth through their own colonies and their hold over the slave trade of that time. The liberty they idealized and proclaimed was thus Liberalism was arguably born when the Netherlands gained freedom from Philip II of Spain and its wealthy commercial class took political control. While the Dutch celebrated their liberation from the shackles and restraints of the ancien regime and its mediaeval values, what they prized in particular was their freedom to engage without restraint in the creation of wealth through their own colonies and their hold over the slave trade of that time. The liberty they idealized and proclaimed was thus both very restrictive in its application and very paradoxical, in that it prioritised the lack of governmental restraint in order to maximise the power of those in control over their family, servants and slaves. This curious blend of liberty and oppression was given philosophical expression by their own philosopher of Liberalism, Hugo Grotius http://www.themolinist.com/rights-wro... By no coincidence, John Locke, the English philosopher of Liberalism, came from exile in Holland along with William Of Orange in the 1688 Glorious Revolution, by which the English peacefully replaced a Catholic Stuart regime with a Protestant one, while violently repressing religious dissenters and Catholics, lifting restraints on enclosure and the displacement of the poor from common land to permit private profit, and promoting a policy of mass murder towards the Irish, seeking to take their lands away from them to benefit English landlords and Protestant settlers. All of this had Locke’s complete approval and he extended this to the American colonies, where he offered a philosophical justification for the extermination of the native Americans and the large scale deployment of slave labour. When modern Americans appeal to Locke as a sympathetic philosopher of liberty that is not such an odd thing, since they were explicitly his target audience. In the Seven Years War, American colonists were completely in accord with their English allies as they defended the cause of liberty against the French crown. However, the War of Independence saw American separatists depict England as the land of aristocratic tyranny and this transformation had everything to do with restrictions on their freedom to mistreat and dehumanise black slaves and to drive native Americans from their lands. The resulting constitution provided for the most complete expression of Liberal values, securing the dignity of the White elite as free men, elevating property rights to the highest level of importance, and carefully locating slavery under the heading of property rights. While slaves were classed as chattels, they were (uniquely) treated as people when determining the population of each state for voting purposes, No surprise then that in the early decades, a majority of presidents were slave owners and from slave states. Britain of course retained a huge interest in slavery through its colonies but the language of Liberalism did lack clarity on the subject. For some time the logic of the system implied that slavery might be extended to the home country, and applied to vagrants, criminals and paupers as well as to servants and certain employees who could be bought and sold as assets alongside an enterprise such as a coal mine This was eventually decided against in a 1772 case, concerning an Englishman who brought his personal slave to England. Instead, it was ruled that slavery was only to feature in colonial lands and, in case this appeared to imply some prospect of liberty for slaves reaching England, those Black loyalists who fought for Britain in America’s War of Independence were not allowed to settle in Britain but deported to Sierra Leone. For the home country, then, Liberalism found options short of slavery by which to assimilate people into the category of property and to elevate the importance of property beyond any concern for the rights of their subordinates. England devised such a range of property crimes for which the penalty was death, including the crime of poaching if a non landowner took a wild bird or beast for food, that it shocked the rest of Europe. The option often arose though to commute that sentence and substitute a life of forced labour in the colonies, notably in Australia. From 1834, paupers were offered the choice to starve or to enter a workhouse, atrocious institutions hardly to be preferred over the conditions of a slave, while the use of orphanages as a resource to supply (for sale) compliant young servants and apprentices could be considered (I suggest) as a variation on Jonathen Swift’s modest proposal for farming the babies of Irish paupers. http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” was published in 1835. This French politician and writer visited the USA (and later on England and Ireland) and reported in a very clear eyed manner on the conditions he observed for colonists, native Americans and black slaves. His writing had a direct bearing on his political aspirations, which included promoting a similar liberal democracy for France, and guiding the colonial exploitation of Algeria in particular, where the Arabs were to be assigned a status comparable to native Americans. The violence and racist nature of France’s colonial exploits were in line with the worst of European behaviour in Africa, but France itself was always an unreliable member of the Liberal club owing to its periodic distraction with notions about the rights of man. For Burke and his successors, the issue was one of moderation and common sense - to seize power and control from the Ancien Regime, ending the feudal order of things, without making the foolish error of extending the franchise too far and empowering those who lack property and are thus liable to use government as a means of stealing from those with property. Of course, only chaos could ensue when property was not sacred. For Burke, as for Locke, there was a natural order to human affairs. The French Revolution threw this aside with its appeal to the Rights of Man and the result was terror and chaos. This had to be accounted for and several lines of enquiry emerged. Since Liberalism was associated with moderation and self discipline, revolution must arise through the lack of such qualities. This lack could be attributed to a disease or to a congenital defect. For the disease model of egalitarianism, Burke traced the cause in a conspiracy theory that would have increasing significance in European politics. He blamed the Jews and set out a full account of the mechanics by which this conspiracy operated. The broad theme is that international finance, in the form of Jewish bankers, provided governments with the loans to fund all sorts of benefits for paupers and others at the expense of property and the class of people on whose shoulders fell the burden of generating wealth and paying taxes. This anti-Semitic ‘motif’ prospered in the coming decades and was brought to a high level of refinement by one of the greatest prophets of racism and colonial cynicism in that terrible century, none other than the Jewish politician, Disraeli. “The natural equality of man and the abrogation of property are proclaimed by the secret societies who form provisional governments, and men of Jewish race are found at the head of every one of them...” Thus “ the people of God co-operate with atheists; the most skillful accumulators of property ally themselves with communists; the peculiar and chosen race touch the hand of all the scum and low castes of Europe.” [p.276-7 has much more] Burke also opened up the theme of racial determinism, appealing to “the chosen race of the sons of England,” a “nation in whose veins the blood of freedom circulates,” to contrast with the intrinsic servility, herd spirit and inability to enjoy a regular, orderly liberty, which he identified of course in the French. (The biblical strand of the chosen people, alongside the association of black skin with the biblical curse of Ham, was thematic since at least Locke.) A number of sources identified racial degeneration through interbreeding with inferior peoples as the congenital source of the egalitarian disease, of whom Gobineau was important, introducing the novel and spurious concept of a superior Aryan race which embraced Germans but excluded the French and the Celtic peoples. In time, Herbert Spencer and his notion of “Social Darwinism” elaborated the theory by which humanity was to be rank ordered and he pointed to the alarming risks of inter breeding, or miscegenation, leading to degeneration of the human stock. Spencer was no scientist and Social Darwinism did not, as it pretended to do, have the support of Charles Darwin’s work. Darwin did not invent the well established idea of evolution - he investigated scientific explanations for evolution, whereas Spencer investigated ideological racism with a spurious scientific glaze. Similarly, Malthus published his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1834, long before the Origin of Species, but it found a ready audience in the Liberal objectors to any form of poverty relief and not least in the administrator, Trevelyan, put in place by the British Government to oversee the collapse of the Irish peasant population (from 4.5 million to 2.5 million) in the Great Potato Famine of 1845. It was with reference to miscegenation that racists accounted for the congenital defects of the Mediterranean people, notably the Spanish, and the condition of Latin America was seen to be beyond recall as a result of extensive intermarriage with and between blacks and native Americans. One of the perceived horrors of black slavery was seen to be the sexual exploitation of black women, with a resulting tendency to degeneration of the master race, in addition of course to the concern of Christian fundamentalists at the immorality of such illicit couplings. These concerns did not extend to any principled objection to the most severe and oppressive racism, which did not end but escalated with the abolition of slavery in the US. The last law against miscegenation was abolished in the state of Alabama in the year 2000. While the story of racism in the USA is well rehearsed, what Losurdo points out is the infringement on the rights also of the white population, who could be subject to both legal and extra-legal (often very violent) sanctions for any deviation from accepted thinking and behaviour. There were at least two Liberalisms. [p278] One equated ‘true liberty’ with untrammelled control by the master over his family, his servants and his goods. Another tried to come to terms with the refusal of their servants to be assimilated with the master’s belongings. In so far as the latter caused some unease in the consciences of some sections of “the community of the free,” this was alleviated by repressing slavery - at least restricting it to the colonies - and masking the aspects of social relations that most blatantly gave the lie to their professed attachment to liberty. The idea of self government by the dominant class and race persisted though; in the USA, while the abolition of slavery was imposed from above by a determined government, the principle was retained in the regime of terrorist white supremacy which soon followed. Liberalism ultimately was the product of a social and political revolution which did not involve any emancipation, but rather the reverse, for those social and ethnic groups outside of the new elite. [p320] What emerged was "herrenvolk" democracy, democracy for the master race.

  4. 4 out of 5

    tom bomp

    Great book. Not always a coherent narrative but goes through a lot of key points relating to liberalism' s consistent racism and authoritarianism outside the self declared freemen. Shows how the most murderous episodes in colonialism were justified and applauded by key liberal figures. Has problems defining liberalism exactly, but as he says this is down to its incredible flexibility and the conflict between the space of freemen where liberal ideals hold and the space outside where freemen are j Great book. Not always a coherent narrative but goes through a lot of key points relating to liberalism' s consistent racism and authoritarianism outside the self declared freemen. Shows how the most murderous episodes in colonialism were justified and applauded by key liberal figures. Has problems defining liberalism exactly, but as he says this is down to its incredible flexibility and the conflict between the space of freemen where liberal ideals hold and the space outside where freemen are justified in any action up to genocide. points out many liberal advances were only done under pressure from outside and resisted - highlights the key role of the Haitian revolution and the implacable opposition from many liberals. Like i say it's not always a perfectly coherent narrative but the stuff it covers is so important and presented well so it deserves 5 stars imo. Will put you off citing 17th/18th/19th century liberals for life. Reveals the ways liberalism's supposed commitment to freedom has been qualified to justify keeping a large portion of the population in slavery or servitude - with very few speaking out against slavery, seeing it as simply people disposing freely of their property. Shows how quite a few liberals at the time hated the French Revolution for going too far in empowering too many people, instead of following the example of England and restricting power to a privileged few. Also notes how the defence of slavery required clearly "anti-liberal" policies - the maintenance of slavery was more important than, for example, white people's rights to distribute abolitionist pamphlets or even speak about it, and interesting also more important than slave owner's rights to give their slaves an education. This isn't meant as a "poor slaveowners!" thing, just showing that even the "liberty" defence of slavery was really just a fudge and maintenance of the economic order of slavery was the key priority above all else. It's a useful example to think about with other systems of domination that seemingly restrict the powerful's "freedom" but only in order to better dominate the oppressed. I'll quote one astonishingly vile thing Losurdo mentions, I'm spoiler tagging it because it's one of the most racist things I've ever read (view spoiler)[Sieyès envisaged a similarly ‘gentle’ revolution, and likewise for the purposes of producing a class or race of labourers as docile as possible. Like Bentham, the French liberal indulged in a eugenicist utopia (or dystopia). He imagined a ‘cross’ (croisement) between monkeys and ‘blacks’ for creating domesticated beings adapted to servile work: ‘the new race of anthropomorphic monkeys’. In this way, whites, who remained at the top of the social hierarchy as directors of production, could dispose of blacks as auxiliary instruments of production, or slaves proper, who would precisely be the anthropomorphic monkeys: However extraordinary, however immoral this idea might seem at first sight, I have reflected on it at length, and can find no other way in a great nation, especially in countries that are very hot or very cold, to reconcile the directors of works with the simple instruments of labour. (hide spoiler)] (halfway through) He seems to be suggesting a key difference between liberalism and radicalism, even when liberals seem to have some sort of radical view, is that radicalism completely legitimises the actions of the oppressed from below while liberalism can only ever see change coming from above. I don't like that the translator regularly uses the term "redskins" even outside of quoted/paraphrased stuff - like it's a kind of offensive term and even if you're trying to show the horrifying white supremacist attitudes of the time it's not necessary outside of direct quotes... just seems a pretty big misstep imo, which is a shame.

  5. 4 out of 5

    James

    Losurdo seeks to answer the question of why believers in Liberalism oversaw the racialization of slavery and the destruction of worker’s autonomy in industrialization. Liberalism therefore granted utter tyranny and began to dismantle protections granted to slaves, servants, and workers. Losurdo argues that it began in Holland as the Dutch wanted freedom of trade. It transferred to slaveowners believing themselves to be the natural holders of liberal ideals, since the wealth and leisure of people Losurdo seeks to answer the question of why believers in Liberalism oversaw the racialization of slavery and the destruction of worker’s autonomy in industrialization. Liberalism therefore granted utter tyranny and began to dismantle protections granted to slaves, servants, and workers. Losurdo argues that it began in Holland as the Dutch wanted freedom of trade. It transferred to slaveowners believing themselves to be the natural holders of liberal ideals, since the wealth and leisure of people removed from any sort of labor meant they could develop philosophical enlightened views. This also worked in the creation of poor houses and anti-poor laws in England and the United States, as workers and slaves were meant to be engaged in labor in order to properly discipline them. Therefore, early liberals defined freedom as being able to have utter control over members outside the community of free men. This helps explain why so many enlightened English and Americans were also slave owners. Liberals in the 19th century therefore believed that hierarchal society was natural and good for those outside their community. Even as the British led anti-slavery crusades, it was more to discourage revolts within their own West Indies possessions. Liberalism was deeply suspicious of democratic hoards, arguing for anti-absolutism, which included democratic absolutism. Even after the French revolution, in which people were defined as citizens, those outside the enlightened community were considered passive citizens, and subject to the need for hard work. As empires grew and capitalism expanded, this led to the “Master-Race Democracy” being spread throughout the planet, in which the west ruled people who were genetically, or structurally inferior. Note: In Losurdo’s overall argument, which he stresses whiteness was seen as a way to displace inferior races, he refers to Native Americans as “redskins”, which seems like a major translation error. Key Themes and Concepts: -The “Community of Free Men” meant that those who were enlightened were above those those were not enlightened, and entitled to be masters of those, by race and by class. -The “Master-Race Democracy” held that the white race was inheritantly more rational and was entitled to rule those who were not white, even if it was unpleasant and barbaric at times.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    I am very torn about giving this a 3 or a 4. I think 3.5 would have been ideal. In terms of importance and my desire to have lots of people read it(especially useless bien pensant types in America, Britain, France, and those wahhabi-humanist nations I like to jokingly conflate and call 'Nethersweden') I would rank it a 5. The good: Myth busting on an epic scope. Explodes most of a public school education in the anglosphere. Denies from liberalism is sanctimonious privilege of claiming to have been I am very torn about giving this a 3 or a 4. I think 3.5 would have been ideal. In terms of importance and my desire to have lots of people read it(especially useless bien pensant types in America, Britain, France, and those wahhabi-humanist nations I like to jokingly conflate and call 'Nethersweden') I would rank it a 5. The good: Myth busting on an epic scope. Explodes most of a public school education in the anglosphere. Denies from liberalism is sanctimonious privilege of claiming to have been pre-ordained in history and a self-evident march of progress whose victory will one day triumph. Explores the extremely dark history of many traditionally liberal regimes, whose crimes were similar in scale and scope to that of the totalitarian abortions of the twentieth century-but often viewed as less terrible for the simple fact that far less written records from the victims still exist. Shows the intrinsic ties to racism and terror in the defense of private property and how these are inseparable and fundamental bedrocks of the ideology. Overall, philosophically speaking, this was a 5 star book. So then we have to go to the history and... The bad: I was really expecting this book to have a modern day section. And while its totally fine for its focus to be 18th-19th Century history, its silence beyond the interwar eugenics movement is somewhat galling. Surely, considering its publication date, the evangelical liberalism of neoconservatism could have been at least touched upon? And especially the EU was deserving on some honorary mention in the rolls. Given the early case studies, more on the 19th century colonial experiences of Belgium and Netherlands would have been welcome too. There was a bit of cheap conflation with historical figures views on one issue being taken to represent their entire effect. Franklin's and Roosevelt's views of Native Americans were alot more complicated than portrayed here. Particularly in the case of the American Revolution, where both sides upheld slavery, this was a bit bizarre. You would think, reading this book, that southern plantation owners were the driving force of 1776, when in fact they were (excepting Virginia) by far more likely to support the loyalist cause. It was New England after all, which started and fueled the war. Concluding remarks: While I loved the argument that only Toussant L'Overture and Simon Bolivar were the only truly successful liberals if we take the pop culture understanding of the word into the past, I feel like Alexander Hamilton should have gotten a mention even though he wasn't an executive leader. The ban on foreign born people running for president specifically exists to exclude him from American power beyond what he already had, and it is my opinion that he correctly saw the future and American history would have ended up alot better with more of him. As it was, outside of the deep south at least, the conclusion of the Civil War did in many ways create Hamilton's America, and botched as it could be (and still is) it was a vast improvement over what was evolving before that point. Not relevant to reviewing the book, but I also have to say there was a bit of delicious irony for a Marxist to write a book about a utopian ideology which is actually dependent on forced labor, fundamentally oppressive towards minorities and legally proclaimed outsiders (anyone remember the USSR's classification of 'former persons'?). But still, it seems ever since 1991 (or hell, 1956) the critical marxists have really lost their euphoria and often become quite astute critics of our present system. The liberals have yet to do so, and they must be made to do so. This book is part of that process and despite my quibbles I recommend everyone to read it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sara Salem

    Definitely interesting because it details how liberalism emerged and how the main liberal intellectuals for the most part supported slavery and colonialism. However it goes beyond this fact by showing how and why they did so and what kinds of intellectual assumptions were embedded in liberalism that allowed these contradictions to emerge (if they are even contradictions). I enjoyed it but for some reason it didn't flow very well and was a bit repetitive. But definitely worth reading. Definitely interesting because it details how liberalism emerged and how the main liberal intellectuals for the most part supported slavery and colonialism. However it goes beyond this fact by showing how and why they did so and what kinds of intellectual assumptions were embedded in liberalism that allowed these contradictions to emerge (if they are even contradictions). I enjoyed it but for some reason it didn't flow very well and was a bit repetitive. But definitely worth reading.

  8. 4 out of 5

    James

    Absolutely fantastic. I haven't enjoyed seeing classical liberals getting annihilated by a well-read Marxist this much since Capital Vol. 1. Absolutely fantastic. I haven't enjoyed seeing classical liberals getting annihilated by a well-read Marxist this much since Capital Vol. 1.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    I remember studying political theory as an undergraduate, struggling through a canon, unsure of the terms on which it could be criticised - citing George or Marx against Locke, reading Trotsky on Machiavelli. This is a book that would have been valuable at the time - indeed, it looks like the English translation was published about when I would have most benefited from it! Domenico Losurdo provides a comprehensive challenge to the philosophers of liberalism, demonstrating its grand hypocrisies a I remember studying political theory as an undergraduate, struggling through a canon, unsure of the terms on which it could be criticised - citing George or Marx against Locke, reading Trotsky on Machiavelli. This is a book that would have been valuable at the time - indeed, it looks like the English translation was published about when I would have most benefited from it! Domenico Losurdo provides a comprehensive challenge to the philosophers of liberalism, demonstrating its grand hypocrisies and silences - the 'sacred space' to which the benefits of liberalism have been restricted, and the 'profane spaces' (colonial subjects and slaves abroad, the swinish multitude in the metropole) which were excluded. He carefully traces the connections between the still-applauded liberal canon and the worst horrors of the twentieth-century, demonstrating that Nazism was not a barbarous break with liberalism so much as a culmination of its logic. At the same time, Losurdo is keen to stress the conflicts within liberalism and the emergence of a challenge simultaneously from without and within - the challenge of a radicalism which verged on socialism, a discordant liberalism from below which demanded the expansion of its sacred space and an end to its exclusions. I think this is pretty critical - Losurdo reads liberalism against itself, but does not mean to imply that liberalism was just an empty, cynical gambit. There are liberal insights which he hopes to rescue, and thereby avoid falling into the alliance with reaction which can sometimes characterise socialist anti-liberalism. But in reading liberalism against itself, there is a danger that Losurdo takes his subjects too much at their word. Towards the beginning of the book, he hues a little closely to the reactionary critics of liberalism - the defenders of British imperialism who denounced the American slavers - although he does ultimately come to defend the American 'revolution' in limited terms. This is quite a narrow intellectual history of liberalism, and at times the reliance on the great philosophers (and, I should add, some rather out-of-date historians) can begin to grate - there is little effort to interrogate the wider reception of these ideas by recourse to the writing of 'ordinary' liberals and their critics from below. Particularly absurd is Losurdo's acceptance of the word of legislation, where he sometimes overemphasises the restrictions placed even on the oppressor - although there is something useful in portraying slavery as systemic and outside the slaver's control, it's pretty grotesque to imply that the law was effective in preventing slavers from raping their slaves. Less seriously, it does not do much for Losurdo's argument that he seems to think the USA's sodomy laws (remaining in 14 states until 2003) were leading to heterosexual couples being arrested for anal sex - taking the word of legislation as given in this manner can serve to reduce everything to a liberal notion of freedom/unfreedom, obscuring specific relations of oppression (race, gender, sexuality) and especially the way these relations are reproduced outside the law. There were points where this narrative - Losurdo's argument about the dialectic of dis/emancipation - reminded me of Nancy Fraser's reworking of Karl Polanyi, with the same acceptance of a broadly liberal, idealist framework even as it is turned against liberalism's exclusions. As useful as Losurdo's arguments may have been to my undergraduate self, caught within a discipline hostile to socialism and materialism, there is the same frustration at not being able to go beyond it - at almost avoiding a socialist critique of liberalism on socialist terms.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Britta Böhler

    Dense (but not in a good way) and repetitive.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jon Morgan

    This was disappointing. The author's critique of liberalism as founded in racial and class exclusion is thoroughly documented in the writings of Locke, de Tocqueville, Mill, and many other exponents of liberalism. That said, I feel that this critique has been made elsewhere already, and the organization of this text does not so much present a history - a detailed explication of liberalism over time - as it does a litany, a rehashing and restating of the same exclusionary biases of liberalism fou This was disappointing. The author's critique of liberalism as founded in racial and class exclusion is thoroughly documented in the writings of Locke, de Tocqueville, Mill, and many other exponents of liberalism. That said, I feel that this critique has been made elsewhere already, and the organization of this text does not so much present a history - a detailed explication of liberalism over time - as it does a litany, a rehashing and restating of the same exclusionary biases of liberalism found in multiple authors and schools. The problem with this approach is, first, that it does little to show change over time - the last two chapters purport to document these flaws of liberalism into the twentieth century, but mostly rehash the nineteenth. Secondly, the most interesting angle on this subject that the author argues, the spatial segregation of the world into the sacred and profane by liberalism, is only half developed and confined to a short chapter. In sum, this book is solidly documented, but not well structured and lacking an incisive original thesis. I think this would be most useful for someone who is already familiar with the critique of liberalism (from, say, a Marxist perspective) and wants pointers to critical problems with liberalism in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

  12. 4 out of 5

    L. A.

    Really stellar. A phenomenal account of the relationship between white supermacy/colonialism, capital accumulation and the development of the Liberal tradition. The only I found frustrating was that this is almost exclusively an intellectual history, confined to the written works of several authors, and although they were no doubt very influential both in terms of the development of the Liberal tradition in all of its destructive twists and turns, as I finished it I felt like I was missing a mor Really stellar. A phenomenal account of the relationship between white supermacy/colonialism, capital accumulation and the development of the Liberal tradition. The only I found frustrating was that this is almost exclusively an intellectual history, confined to the written works of several authors, and although they were no doubt very influential both in terms of the development of the Liberal tradition in all of its destructive twists and turns, as I finished it I felt like I was missing a more direct connection to how the ideas presented by the authors under investigation were connected to the process of governance. This is, however, beyond the scope of the argument this book was set to make and a much more complex and less directly tractable question, so its hard for me to get that disappointed about it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Liberalism: A Counter History, by Domenico Losurdo is a fascinating look at the beginnings of Liberalism and its relation to slavery. Losurdo spares no detail on each of histories most well known political philosophers, including Burke, Locke, Mill and more, and how each of these individuals thought about slavery. It would seem that slavery and Liberalism would be opposing ideals, one promoting the complete loss of personal freedom and the other supporting greater political and social freedoms. Liberalism: A Counter History, by Domenico Losurdo is a fascinating look at the beginnings of Liberalism and its relation to slavery. Losurdo spares no detail on each of histories most well known political philosophers, including Burke, Locke, Mill and more, and how each of these individuals thought about slavery. It would seem that slavery and Liberalism would be opposing ideals, one promoting the complete loss of personal freedom and the other supporting greater political and social freedoms. However, Losurdo shows this is not the case. Many Liberal philosophers did not believe slavery was counter to Liberal thought, because they believed other races and social classes were beneath them. A house of peers refers to white upper class men, and not anything else, at least according to many early American philosophers and politicians. Losurdo makes interesting claims that assert the early USA was a "master race democracy" where freedom was allowed, but only for a certain race of people. Freedom should never trickle down to other races, at least according to many early Americans. The buck doesn't stop there however. Many British and French politicians and thinkers believed similar things about other colours or creeds, including those of the lower class. Losudro indeed does an excellent job bringing to light just how ironic early Liberalism really was. This book does not necessarily get to political, rather it examines the racial bigotry that much of the world suffered from in the 18th and 19th centuries. How chattel slavery could ever exist in a democratic nation is mind boggling, but Losurdo does a wonderful job outlining the mentality and political thought that existed to justify and defend the institution of slavery. Many of these justifications are steeped in Liberal ideology, such as the freedom to own and control ones own property, even if said property is a human being. Losurdo's book is a simple but intensely fascinating read that will bring the darker side of Liberal thought to life. It wasn't all freedom and liberty, Liberalism often justified the most brutal and despicable trade. I would definitely recommend this book to those interested in political history, or those looking for a deeper understanding of Liberalism and its uses, especially relating to slavery.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elen

    An exhaustive study of the really obvious, though clearly not obvious enough to a lot of people. And when I say exhaustive I really mean it, incredibly impressive amounts of research and just appalling quotations from the kinds of people (Locke, Adam Smith, Bentham, all of the Founding Fathers) who get name dropped on a constant basis are stacked against the inhumane shit they pulled. Would highly recommend to anyone who still has faith in the "principles" that continue to dominate western thoug An exhaustive study of the really obvious, though clearly not obvious enough to a lot of people. And when I say exhaustive I really mean it, incredibly impressive amounts of research and just appalling quotations from the kinds of people (Locke, Adam Smith, Bentham, all of the Founding Fathers) who get name dropped on a constant basis are stacked against the inhumane shit they pulled. Would highly recommend to anyone who still has faith in the "principles" that continue to dominate western thought, and it should definitely be required reading for anyone who's ever used the phrase "what the founding fathers intended." Some of the mental acrobatics involved in justifying slavery and genocide that these people engaged in are absolutely breathtaking and the pissy "no u!" fights between Benjamin Franklin and the liberal elites in England got into over whether or not it was okay to, you know, own human beings are just mind boggling. The translator seemed to make some odd word choices here and there and the tone seems to shift fairly often but I'm not gonna hold that against the author.

  15. 5 out of 5

    lindsi

    One of the most important books I’ve ever read, hands down. The framework of “master race democracy” is probably the single most useful way to conceptualize the apparent paradox of the Anglosphere as both self-proclaimed champion of liberty and the most viscous, genocidal empire in history that I’ve yet to encounter, and I find myself referencing it all the time in conversation. Reframing the American Revolution, for instance, not as a battle of liberty vs despotism but as a struggle between two One of the most important books I’ve ever read, hands down. The framework of “master race democracy” is probably the single most useful way to conceptualize the apparent paradox of the Anglosphere as both self-proclaimed champion of liberty and the most viscous, genocidal empire in history that I’ve yet to encounter, and I find myself referencing it all the time in conversation. Reframing the American Revolution, for instance, not as a battle of liberty vs despotism but as a struggle between two factions of white supremacists vying for control of the “community of the free,” has finally given me the language to explain the contradictions I’ve felt and observed for so long as a nonwhite person living in the US. I truly cannot recommend this book enough, it’s dense but 100% worth the effort.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kelbaenor (Dan)

    A fantastic riposte to the traditional hagiography of liberalism prevalent today. Losurdo masterfully traces the history of liberal thought and it's contradictions, exposing that the ideology of the "community of the free" has always been one based on freedom for a select group of exploiters living off the servitude of their "lessers". A fantastic riposte to the traditional hagiography of liberalism prevalent today. Losurdo masterfully traces the history of liberal thought and it's contradictions, exposing that the ideology of the "community of the free" has always been one based on freedom for a select group of exploiters living off the servitude of their "lessers".

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Alternate subtitle: Why de Tocqueville Sucks and You Should Never Lend Credence to Anything He Said Ever Again. Caveat: I dislike liberals because I am a communist. If any conservatives read this and somehow think I'm on their side because I'm insulting liberals, just know that I despise you at least as much as I do the libs. This is not a breezy read. It is dense, weighty, at times tedious, and suboptimally translated and/or written. Yet it is very important and I think our world would be far bet Alternate subtitle: Why de Tocqueville Sucks and You Should Never Lend Credence to Anything He Said Ever Again. Caveat: I dislike liberals because I am a communist. If any conservatives read this and somehow think I'm on their side because I'm insulting liberals, just know that I despise you at least as much as I do the libs. This is not a breezy read. It is dense, weighty, at times tedious, and suboptimally translated and/or written. Yet it is very important and I think our world would be far better off if more people were familiar with Losurdo's argument. Indeed even since only a quarter of the way through the book, I have been doing my part to educate people about the thesis here. It is so simple and explains so much. Once you understand that liberalism has always been solely about protecting the liberty of the privileged class at the expense of everyone else, and that "liberty" was always for liberals a synonym for "property," well then everything about modern liberalism makes sense. What falls most into place is how modern liberals relish the expression of lofty ideals, and love to proclaim their righteousness about any moral question; yet when a moral imperative involves violence, chaos, or otherwise upending the status quo, a liberal suddenly develops an allergy to doing anything meaningful. This maddening hypocrisy and blatant lack of sincerity in one's stated ideals becomes far more comprehensible when you realize that this is the political ideology whose trajectory -- from birth to rise and plateau -- coincided precisely with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and mass genocide in the Americas. Liberty and freedom were always staunchly reserved for certain classes of people, and for liberalism always meant the most savage exploitation of everyone else. Losurdo illustrates this amazingly well, even if he gets quite repetitive by the end. Despite the lack of a neat and tight definition, Losurdo indisputably shows how liberalism goes hand-in-hand with mass exploitation of the (usually racial) undercaste. Once you understand all this, it becomes frankly astonishing that so many millions of people proudly identify as "liberal." It makes me chomp at the bit to explain to everyone what liberalism has always meant. Washington and Jefferson, both slaveowners, were liberals. So was Calhoun, the rabid Civil War secessionist, and notorious Indian-slaughterer Andrew Jackson. When you meet someone and they tell you they're a liberal, you should absolutely ask them, "Oh I see, the ideology that vociferously excused slavery and genocide? Interesting choice!" Also astonishing is how liberalism in modern-times ever became synonymous with a "bleeding heart" or with, y'know, even minimally caring about people. That's certainly a modern innovation on liberalism, and one that ultimately is not backed up by any meaningful action. I suspect a lot of this modern, warm & fuzzy connotation to liberalism is just a result of the Overton window shifting. Ascendant fascists were always going to caricature the more "civil" liberals as way too soft -- even when they're clearly not. So come for the important political history, and stay for the hilarious skewering of de Tocqueville, who really comes off as basically the worst. I'm happy to say that I recognized de Tocqueville sucked when I first read Democracy in America, I just didn't have the political analysis to understand exactly how awful he was. Not Bad Reviews @pointblaek

  18. 5 out of 5

    Zach Carter

    "Bidding farewell to hagiography is the precondition for landing on the firm ground of history." Losurdo has constructed here a masterpiece. Incredibly well-sourced and thorough, he goes through the last 4 centuries of the rise of liberalism, from the rebellion against Spain's Phillip II, to the Glorious Revolution in England, to the American Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, the French Revolution, the War of 1812, the US Civil War, and the onset of the First World War. Admittedly, the book is l "Bidding farewell to hagiography is the precondition for landing on the firm ground of history." Losurdo has constructed here a masterpiece. Incredibly well-sourced and thorough, he goes through the last 4 centuries of the rise of liberalism, from the rebellion against Spain's Phillip II, to the Glorious Revolution in England, to the American Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, the French Revolution, the War of 1812, the US Civil War, and the onset of the First World War. Admittedly, the book is long, and in some sections it reads a little dry from excessive quoting and hopping around to different prominent liberals. But the last three chapters really bring it all home and circle back to the questions raised in the first few chapters, like What is Liberalism? and Were the U.S. and England liberal countries? His analysis is sharp, unsparing, and provides a much-needed guide to understanding events of the twentieth century (which he alludes to in the last chapter). He also introduces really great concepts and dialectical relationships, like emancipation/dis-emancipation and sacred space/profane space. It reminds me a lot of Gerald Horne's writing in The Dawning of the Apocalypse, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism, and The Counter Revolution of 1776. I think they'd be really great companion texts to this. This was my first Losurdo book, and I will definitely be reading more!

  19. 4 out of 5

    sube

    This book is a counter-history of liberalism - it seeks to expose its hypocrisy, its paradoxes, but it does not actually critique liberalism as such, only its history. This is unfortunate - the book is, especially at the beginning, a listing of racist attitudes of well-known liberal authors. Which gets tiring - but has educational value. Later on he analyses liberalism's justification of exploitation (where he writes a lot about the exploitation of white servants in the u.s., seemingly unwilling This book is a counter-history of liberalism - it seeks to expose its hypocrisy, its paradoxes, but it does not actually critique liberalism as such, only its history. This is unfortunate - the book is, especially at the beginning, a listing of racist attitudes of well-known liberal authors. Which gets tiring - but has educational value. Later on he analyses liberalism's justification of exploitation (where he writes a lot about the exploitation of white servants in the u.s., seemingly unwilling to engage with settler-colonialism as framework here), response of liberalism to events like the Haitian Revolution, the evolution of liberalism's attitude to proletariat, etc. These are interesting - but insufficient, as he is e.g. unwilling to properly critique the French Revolution. This is my main issue with the book: it does not critique liberalism, it simply seeks to expose its hypocrisy. This is clear when he states that "to take up the legacy of this intellectual tradition is an absolutely unavoidable task." (p. 344) However, the account of the transformation of how the community of the free was first delineated racially and how that transformed racially I think is quite good - which is covered in chapter 2, and I liked the most.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Gordan Karlic

    This book isn't some eye opener for me, because I knew a lot of the things authors wrote. Because of that, it wasn't that interesting to me, but somebody that isn't a historian or is really interested in the subject will find this book a really good read. One thing I can say I didn't like was title liberalism. The author was writing about liberalism mostly from 1760 - 1860 in the USA, GB, and France - several problems, liberalism changed a lot during that period and author (at least in my opinion) This book isn't some eye opener for me, because I knew a lot of the things authors wrote. Because of that, it wasn't that interesting to me, but somebody that isn't a historian or is really interested in the subject will find this book a really good read. One thing I can say I didn't like was title liberalism. The author was writing about liberalism mostly from 1760 - 1860 in the USA, GB, and France - several problems, liberalism changed a lot during that period and author (at least in my opinion) grouped all of it together. One more problem liberalism is much broader subject that those 3 countries, for example, liberalism in Hungary is very different from liberalism in the USA or Russian liberalism from that of South American countries, long story short, it is kinda hard to group subject that broad into one mold, but be that as it may, author did really good job of trying.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anndra Dunn

    A comprehensive and convincing argument against conventional perspectives on liberalism and particularly its relationship with slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. It shows how these things had a 'twin birth' in the early modern period and were entangled with it right up to the modern era, and even presaged the horrors of fascism which Losurdo links to parts of the liberal tradition (similarly to Ishay Landa's argument in The Apprentice's Sorceror). Losurdo's primary method of showing all this A comprehensive and convincing argument against conventional perspectives on liberalism and particularly its relationship with slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. It shows how these things had a 'twin birth' in the early modern period and were entangled with it right up to the modern era, and even presaged the horrors of fascism which Losurdo links to parts of the liberal tradition (similarly to Ishay Landa's argument in The Apprentice's Sorceror). Losurdo's primary method of showing all this is to let countless prominent liberal theorists and philosophers and writers and statesmen hoist themselves with their own petards, quoting them at length and highlighting hypocrisies, inconsistencies, and often outright bigotry and racism (justified by the very liberal ideals they claim make them more civilized). It's a very dense book (sometimes it feels like Losurdo is making his argument three times over in slightly different variations just to make sure you're convinced) but full of interesting snippets. The translation into English is functional though not the most exciting. The book took me about a year to get through (mostly reading it in very brief spurts while commuting, admittedly, but even so) but I'm glad I did.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    An exhaustive analysis of the il-liberalness (unliberalness? a-liberalness?) at the heart of foundational liberal thinkers, primarily through their handling of slavery but also indentured servitude, workers' rights, and the extension of suffrage to the "wrong" people. Anyone who's read these thinkers extensively won't be surprised by the larger argument, but Losurdo has done the reader a favor in the great deal of work spent cataloging and contextualizing a vast number of examples where liberal An exhaustive analysis of the il-liberalness (unliberalness? a-liberalness?) at the heart of foundational liberal thinkers, primarily through their handling of slavery but also indentured servitude, workers' rights, and the extension of suffrage to the "wrong" people. Anyone who's read these thinkers extensively won't be surprised by the larger argument, but Losurdo has done the reader a favor in the great deal of work spent cataloging and contextualizing a vast number of examples where liberal thinkers sought to protect democracy from those populations they thought couldn't be trusted with it. If there's a knock on the book, it is that the argument gets repetitive at times, but it's hard to fault an author for being thorough.

  23. 5 out of 5

    John Victor

    really good debunking of liberal pretensions, although its focused on race relations, which is definitely an area that needs to be examined but takes away from the broader scope this book could have otherwise i think

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa

    Do you consider yourself on the left politically? Read this and purge your liberal tendencies and ascend towards true radical thinking. Or don't whatever I don't care about you or this. Do you consider yourself on the left politically? Read this and purge your liberal tendencies and ascend towards true radical thinking. Or don't whatever I don't care about you or this.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Scott Neigh

    A wide-ranging, detailed, and highly critical examination of the history of liberalism. It both engages with the ideas of liberal thinkers across various eras and examines the material context in which those ideas and thinkers existed. It centres slavery and colonialism, as well as oppression/repression of poor and working people within the metropole, and not surprisingly arrives at a very different understanding of the last few centuries than liberals themselves generally do. There are a few th A wide-ranging, detailed, and highly critical examination of the history of liberalism. It both engages with the ideas of liberal thinkers across various eras and examines the material context in which those ideas and thinkers existed. It centres slavery and colonialism, as well as oppression/repression of poor and working people within the metropole, and not surprisingly arrives at a very different understanding of the last few centuries than liberals themselves generally do. There are a few things I'd quibble with. Not sure it always hits quite the right note in talking about how the unfreedom of enslaved Africans in the New World and of folks subjected to forced labour in Europe were different in some ways but similar in others, for instance – not that it is awful on this question, at least as far as my non-expert white-lefty-guy reading can tell, but I think I've seen things from Black North American scholars that capture the nuances more effectively. Also, it probably could have done more to show the diversity within liberal thought at different moments and on different topics, though I suspect that would have just complicated the writing without necessitating any fundamental change in argument. And the writing feels a little odd in places – it's translated from Italian, so I suspect that's an artefact of translation – but not so much I minded, and it is quite readable. Those are relatively limited concerns, though, with what is overall a useful, interesting, and important book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Best read in tandem with Ferrara's Liberty: the god that failed, Losurdo's Liberalism provides a needed alternative to the hagiographies all too common in histories of America and the liberal West at large. Losurdo handily demonstrates how ill the West was after being poisoned by liberal ideology. Liberalism did not unite civilized peoples but divided them by nationalism and enforced it's freedoms with the soldier's bayonet and slaver's whip. Who among us, having realized what a rotten deal libe Best read in tandem with Ferrara's Liberty: the god that failed, Losurdo's Liberalism provides a needed alternative to the hagiographies all too common in histories of America and the liberal West at large. Losurdo handily demonstrates how ill the West was after being poisoned by liberal ideology. Liberalism did not unite civilized peoples but divided them by nationalism and enforced it's freedoms with the soldier's bayonet and slaver's whip. Who among us, having realized what a rotten deal liberalism was, would not gladly strive for a bold integralist future?

  27. 4 out of 5

    Otto Lehto

    This book is important and well-researched (with one important caveat that will be handled in a moment), but riddled with enough problems to seriously mar its standing as a definitive "counter-history" to liberalism's self-serving golden fairy-tale. (It barely deserves four stars, so this might as well be a three-star review. Consider it thus.) The book makes the case that liberalism, far from being the counterforce to oppression, tyranny, slavery and war, has (almost) always, in fact, defended a This book is important and well-researched (with one important caveat that will be handled in a moment), but riddled with enough problems to seriously mar its standing as a definitive "counter-history" to liberalism's self-serving golden fairy-tale. (It barely deserves four stars, so this might as well be a three-star review. Consider it thus.) The book makes the case that liberalism, far from being the counterforce to oppression, tyranny, slavery and war, has (almost) always, in fact, defended and even created new justifications (not to mention new institutional means) for the oppression of foreigners, races, minorities, workers, poor people, etc. Liberalism, it proves, has a complex history on both sides of these issues. Private property was too often the private property of colonialists and slave holders, and limited government was too often a government limited by race, wealth, gender and privilege. The book makes that case well. But let's not omit the bad: 1) the book is so clumsily structured that it is laughable. A Gysinian-Burroughsinian cut-up technique might have produced more coherence. The style is best described as CITATIONAL, ILLOGICAL VOMIT. Blame the French. 2) The one big caveat, promised above, about the book's research merits, is the extremely uneven accuracy of the citations from "the classics." Losurdo is often guilty of lying by omission, and distortion by selection. While entirely justified in focusing (and thus shedding new light) on the pro-slavery, racist, genocidal, elitist and anti-democratic statements made by liberal thinkers, he fails to paint an accurate and balanced portrait of their overall philosophies, leading to a bias against their good intentions and moral qualifications. In particular cases, where I happen to know the source, as with Locke, Smith and Mises, I can safely say Losurdo, by selective editing, often makes the liberals sound much worse than they actually were. E.g. Locke's approval of slavery was much more qualified than the book makes it out. 3) Related to the previous point, in an alarmingly large number of cases, Losurdo distorts the original so far as to make it unrecognizable. He accuses Mises of approving of fascism (whereas he ultimately bitterly condemned it); and of Smith of being in favour of anti-union legislation (whereas in fact he was always pro-free-association of workers while he lampooned business cartels). Such research failures (compounded on top of the stylistic failure) reflect poorly on the overall project. A more serious critical analysis of the author's use of citations (in a false or misleading manner) would be in order. How on Earth can I justify giving 4 stars to a book with such damning faults? Firstly, the real score, remember, is 3.5, but Goodreads does not allow for that. But secondly, more importantly, valuing the merits of the book is easy: the larger case it makes is overwhelmingly convincing; it damns "the dark side" (he himself uses the analogy of the "unconscious underbelly") of the liberal political tradition in a way that does not depend upon the accuracy of individual character portraits, nor on the stylistic or philosophical strengths of the prose in which the bomb is cocooned. Damn good reading material, whose historical-journalistic discoveries, although hardly entirely new, serve to counterbalance the obligatory self-satisfaction of Western feel-good liberals. Not even the many faults of the book can repudiate that awesome merit.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Vishal Misra

    Losurdo starts his investigation of liberalism with the question "what is liberalism". With clarity and incisive analysis he shows that liberalism, as defined by its pioneers, Locke, Bentham, Tocqueville, Constant, Calhoun, Washington et al is the ideology of slavery, war, the racial State and colonialism. Historically, calls for individual freedom have been bound up in the assertion of individual property rights. This structure allowed Calhoun to declare slavery a "positive good". From this bac Losurdo starts his investigation of liberalism with the question "what is liberalism". With clarity and incisive analysis he shows that liberalism, as defined by its pioneers, Locke, Bentham, Tocqueville, Constant, Calhoun, Washington et al is the ideology of slavery, war, the racial State and colonialism. Historically, calls for individual freedom have been bound up in the assertion of individual property rights. This structure allowed Calhoun to declare slavery a "positive good". From this backdrop, Losurdo investigates the exclusion clauses that prevent someone from joining the community of free individuals envisaged by liberalism. Women, non white people and non landowners have all been excluded as the rabble. People too stupid to be rational or to understand the common good. Even JS Mill, the least objectionable of the bunch subscribed to temporary slavery to civilise the savage. Conversely, non liberals such as Adam Smith argued that slavery could only be prevented by the state. Losurdo masterfully shows that liberalism, which decries state intervention as despotism, both relies on the state to expand and also devalues most individuals. Indeed, radicals and socialists, through respecting all individuals demand self constraint precisely by valuing the individual. In our current Trump and Brexit times, this is essential reading regarding how liberalism and laissez-faire breeds the grounds for the illiberalism that sustains liberalism underneath its veneer of high minded principles. It unmasks the pretensions from an ideology always rooted in white supremacy. This alone makes the book a breath of fresh air.

  29. 4 out of 5

    ptrcpldi

    A thorough, well-based and well-written overview on the liberal tradition and its (many) contradictions. I would recommend this to anyone that is looking for arguments and historical data in order to go against the solidified idea that liberalism is the fuel that stokes the fires of equality. Losurdo brilliantly describes the main phases of the development of liberal thought, addressing most of its main authors, such as: de Tocqueville, Locke, Smith, Jefferson, Stuart Mill, and Macaulay. Easy to A thorough, well-based and well-written overview on the liberal tradition and its (many) contradictions. I would recommend this to anyone that is looking for arguments and historical data in order to go against the solidified idea that liberalism is the fuel that stokes the fires of equality. Losurdo brilliantly describes the main phases of the development of liberal thought, addressing most of its main authors, such as: de Tocqueville, Locke, Smith, Jefferson, Stuart Mill, and Macaulay. Easy to read for a non-historian (my case), but only in the practical standpoint. The reports that Losurdo recollects to express the way the Indians (both in the US and India), African Americans, poor white people in Europe and any colonized population, for that matter were treated during liberal governments or portrayed by some liberal authors are gut-wrenching, so proceed with care. I would say that this is a mandatory reading for any Marxist that wants to get out there in the field and needs to be ready to counter-argument liberal fallacies. Superb book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Elliott

    It's fitting to read this book the day after the most neoliberal congress in the nation's history has only become more neoliberal. Suddenly The Washington Consensus seems a bit of an understatement in regard to labels. In this country free market economics (which has never realized it's rather dubious promise of 'a rising tide...' by the way), is more an essential organ. Even those ostensibly on the left in this country are quick, oh so quick, to leave the economic mantra undisturbed. 'It works! It's fitting to read this book the day after the most neoliberal congress in the nation's history has only become more neoliberal. Suddenly The Washington Consensus seems a bit of an understatement in regard to labels. In this country free market economics (which has never realized it's rather dubious promise of 'a rising tide...' by the way), is more an essential organ. Even those ostensibly on the left in this country are quick, oh so quick, to leave the economic mantra undisturbed. 'It works!' They declaim contrary to reality, which makes this book all the better. Losurdo presents a very insightful albeit dense critique of the origins and recent history of liberal dogma. He charts those hallowed saints of the contemporary right: Burke, de Tocqueville, and Adam Smith as they slip their way around "liberty and justice for all (except for our slaves)!" And then shows how that rather blatant hypocrisy has mutated into today's Palins.

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