The best books on liberalism and politics

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. 

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The books I picked & why

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

Dillon S. Tatum Why did I love 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.

By Charles W. Mills,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Rights/White Wrongs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Liberalism is the political philosophy of equal persons - yet liberalism has denied equality to those it saw as sub-persons. Liberalism is the creed of fairness - yet liberalism has been complicit with European imperialism and African slavery. Liberalism is the classic ideology of Enlightenment and political transparency - yet liberalism has cast a dark veil over its actual racist past and present. In sum, liberalism's promise of equal rights has historically been
denied to blacks and other people of color.

In Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism, political philosopher Charles Mills challenges mainstream accounts that ignore this…


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

Dillon S. Tatum Why did I love 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.

By Jeanne Morefield,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Empires Without Imperialism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The end of the Cold War ushered in a moment of nearly pure American dominance on the world stage, yet that era now seems ages ago. Since 9/11 many informed commentators have focused on the relative decline of American power in the global system. While some have welcomed this as a salutary development, outspoken proponents of American power-particularly neoconservatives-have lamented this turn of events. As Jeanne Morefield argues in Empires Without
Imperialism, the defenders of a liberal international order steered by the US have both invoked nostalgia for a golden liberal past and succumbed to amnesia, forgetting the decidedly illiberal…


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

Dillon S. Tatum Why did I love 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.

By Duncan Bell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reordering the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A leading scholar of British political thought explores the relationship between liberalism and empire

Reordering the World is a penetrating account of the complexity and contradictions found in liberal visions of empire. Focusing mainly on nineteenth-century Britain-at the time the largest empire in history and a key incubator of liberal political thought-Duncan Bell sheds new light on some of the most important themes in modern imperial ideology.

The book ranges widely across Victorian intellectual life and beyond. The opening essays explore the nature of liberalism, varieties of imperial ideology, the uses and abuses of ancient history, the imaginative functions of…


Book cover of Liberalism: A Counter-History

Dillon S. Tatum Why did I love 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.

By Domenico Losurdo, Gregory Elliott (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Liberalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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.


Book cover of Liberal Internationalism: Theory, History, Practice

Dillon S. Tatum Why did I love 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.

By Beate Jahn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Liberal Internationalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This study provides an original conception of liberalism that accounts for its internal contradictions and explains the current crisis of liberal internationalism. Examining the disjuncture between liberal theory and practice, it offers a firmer grasp on the historical role of liberalism in world politics.


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The Fornax Assassin

By J.C. Gemmell,

Book cover of The Fornax Assassin

J.C. Gemmell Author Of The Fornax Assassin

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Who am I?

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J.C.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In 2038 a devastating pandemic sweeps across the world. Two decades later, Britain remains the epicenter for the Fornax variant, annexed by a terrified global community.

David Malik is as careful as any man to avoid contact with the virus. But when his sister tests positive as an asymptomatic carrier, she must relocate to Fornax Island to join the isolated population of contagious untreatables. Fortunately, the British prime minister’s latest manifesto includes reintegrating the islanders with the nation. Yet, he does not survive a visit to Fornax Island to unveil his new policies.

The military suspects one of its junior officers is responsible for his death. Malik seizes his chance to represent the possible assassin, allowing him to protect his sister. Yet within days of taking on the case, he finds himself accused of masterminding the assassination. 

The Fornax Assassin

By J.C. Gemmell,

What is this book about?

2038: a devastating pandemic sweeps across the world. Two decades later, Britain remains the epicentre for the fornax variant, annexed by a terrified global community.

David Malik is as careful as any man to avoid contact with the virus. But when his sister tests positive as an asymptomatic carrier, she must relocate to Fornax Island to join the isolated population of contagious-untreatables.

Fortunately, the British prime minister’s latest manifesto includes reintegrating the islanders with the nation. Yet, he does not survive a visit to Fornax Island to unveil his new policies.

The military suspects one of its junior officers is…


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