The best books on liberalism and politics

Dillon S. Tatum Author Of Liberalism and Transformation: The Global Politics of Violence and Intervention
By Dillon S. Tatum

Who am I?

Dillon Stone Tatum is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Francis Marion University. His research interests are on the history, development, and politics of liberal internationalism, international political theory, and critical security studies.

I wrote...

Liberalism and Transformation: The Global Politics of Violence and Intervention

By Dillon S. Tatum,

Book cover of Liberalism and Transformation: The Global Politics of Violence and Intervention

What is my book about?

Liberalism and Transformation is the first scholarly work that explores the historical, philosophical, and intellectual development of global liberalism since the nineteenth century in the context of the deployment of violence, force, and intervention. Using an approach that includes interpretive and contextual analysis of texts from writers, philosophers, and policy-makers across nearly two centuries, as well as historiographical and historical analysis of archival documents (some of which have been recently declassified) and other media.

Liberalism and Transformation narrates the messy history of emancipatory liberalism and its engagement with issues of war and peace. The book contributes to both a rethinking of liberal democracy and its relationship to world politics, as well as the effects of liberal internationalism on global processes. 

The books I picked & why

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Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism

By Charles W. Mills,

Book cover of Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism

Why this book?

Charles Mills was a giant in contemporary political theory and is perhaps best known for his book The Racial Contract. In his most recent book, Black Rights/White Wrongs, Mills interrogates what he calls “racial liberalism” and the racist underpinnings of modern liberal theory. What I think is most remarkable about this book, though, is its further attempt to reconstruct a “radical liberalism” meant to address issues of racial justice. This book has been a major influence on me in the way I think about and imagine the limits and possibilities of liberalism as a tradition.

Empires Without Imperialism: Anglo-American Decline and the Politics of Deflection

By Jeanne Morefield,

Book cover of Empires Without Imperialism: Anglo-American Decline and the Politics of Deflection

Why this book?

Over the past decade, there has been an enormous amount written about the “decline of global liberalism,” and particularly the so-called US-led liberal international order. Jeanne Morefield’s book Empires without Imperialism examines the nostalgia of liberal orders in comparing nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Britain and contemporary Anglo-American debates about liberalism and world politics. Morefield takes us through arguments from a diverse cast of characters including classicists like Alfred Zimmern and Donald Kagan, historians like Niall Ferguson, and political actors like Jan Smuts and Michael Ignatieff in order to understand how liberals draw on history as part of their political projects.

Reordering the World: Essays on Liberalism and Empire

By Duncan Bell,

Book cover of Reordering the World: Essays on Liberalism and Empire

Why this book?

Duncan Bell’s collection of essays, Reordering the World, analyzes Victorian (and Victorian-adjacent) liberal imaginaries of empire and world politics. Of specific interest for Bell is the central place settler colonialism had in the constitution of liberal intellectual traditions, and the complex relationship between liberalism as an ideology and liberalism as part-and-parcel of the British empire. Of particular note in this collection are the essays in part I, which I have found to be indispensable in my own grappling with the contours of liberalism as a political and intellectual tradition.

Liberalism: A Counter-History

By Domenico Losurdo, Gregory Elliott (translator),

Book cover of Liberalism: A Counter-History

Why this book?

Italian philosopher and historian Domenico Losurdo’s book Liberalism: A Counter-History represents one of the most ambitious attempts to conceptually and historically tie the liberal tradition to the politics of slavery, empire, and genocide. What I find to be most evocative about Losurdo’s “counter-history” is both his sweeping narrative of the liberal tradition balanced against a close reading of key figures in that tradition. Losurdo provides an important critique of liberalism, and provides us with the analytic and methodological tools to interrogate its legacy, its past, its future.

Liberal Internationalism: Theory, History, Practice

By Beate Jahn,

Book cover of Liberal Internationalism: Theory, History, Practice

Why this book?

Beate Jahn’s Liberal Internationalism is an exciting blend of analysis of the liberal tradition of political thought, while also providing an “immanent critique” of liberalism’s global contradictions—both historically, and in contemporary constellations. Jahn’s book represents, to me at least, the “sweet-spot” between carefully considered analysis, concept-building, and ethical reflection.

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