The best liberalism books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about liberalism and why they recommend each book.

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The Lost History of Liberalism

By Helena Rosenblatt,

Book cover of The Lost History of Liberalism: From Ancient Rome to the Twenty-First Century

The concept of human rights will seem to many at first sight a powerful, positive, and relatively uncontroversial idea. However, the concept is both historically and philosophically bound up with the political theory of liberalism which is very controversial. Many people praise or condemn liberalism without a clear idea of what it is, how it developed historically, or its diverse forms. Helena Rosenblatt’s valuable history tells the story of liberalism from ancient times to the present, showing us the various forms it can take and has taken.

Contrary to widely held beliefs liberalism has been concerned not only with individual rights but with individual duties and the common good. Thus liberalism is not simply opposed to conservatism or socialism but has complex relationships with these rival philosophies. All contemporary debates about liberalism are likely to remain confused if they fail to take account of Rosenblatt’s history.


Who am I?

I am an emeritus professor in the Department of Government, University of Essex. I taught political theory for many years with a speciality in the theory and practice of human rights. I'm the author of Edmund Burke and the Critique of Political Radicalism and Human Rights. I've published many articles in political theory, philosophy of social science, and human rights. I've directed academic programmes in political theory, The Enlightenment, and human rights. I've lectured on human rights in some 25 countries. I was a founder-member of my local branch of Amnesty International and served on the board of Amnesty’s British Section for five years, for two years as its Chairperson.


I wrote...

Human Rights

By Michael Freeman,

Book cover of Human Rights

What is my book about?

The United Nations committed itself to the promotion of human rights in its Charter of 1945 and elaborated these principles in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Since then a vast body of international, regional and national law has developed to clarify and protect human rights. Yet for a long time the social sciences largely ignored these developments.

Since the end of the last century, social science has woken up to the role human rights play in international and national law and politics. In this book, I describe and evaluate these contributions, and relate them to human rights law and `real-world’ politics. I consider the interaction of law and politics, claims of `universal’ rights and cultural diversity, human rights and global inequalities, and the supposed crisis of liberal democracy.

Amsterdam

By Russell Shorto,

Book cover of Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City

The writer loves Amsterdam that much is clear. He deftly shows how this one city grew from the most unpromising location to become not only a great city in its own right, but also the city where tolerance, markets, and the ideals of liberal tolerant capitalist society were forged and burnished. Our modern liberal cosmopolitanism was created in Amsterdam. We owe a great deal to Amsterdam and its citizens. 


Who am I?

I grew up in a small village in a very rural part of Scotland. It was perhaps inevitable, then, that I would have an interest in the urban. Cities, especially big cities, seemed wonderfully exciting when I was growing up, full of mystery and promise, intoxicating, transgressive, with a hint of danger and a whiff of excitement. That fascination has stayed with me throughout my academic career as I have explored different facets of the urban experience. I am aware of the growing inequality but remain optimistic about the progressive possibilities and redemptive power of the urban experience to change lives and attitudes.


I wrote...

The Unequal City

By John Rennie Short,

Book cover of The Unequal City

What is my book about?

The Unequal City tells the story of urban change. A number of trends are examined, including the role of liquid capital; the resurgence of the population; the construction of megaprojects, and hosting of global megaevents; the role of the new rich; and the emergence of a new middle class. This book explores the reasons behind the displacement of the poor to the suburbs and beyond. Drawing upon case studies from around the world, it highlights the reuse of older industrial spaces, the greening of the cities, growing inequalities, and the securitization of the public spaces. 

Liberalism

By Domenico Losurdo, Gregory Elliott (translator),

Book cover of Liberalism: A Counter-History

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.


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. 

Strangers in Their Own Land

By Arlie Russell Hochschild,

Book cover of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Hochschild provides a textured and personalized account of Tea Party-supporting men and women whom she got to know in the bayou area of Louisiana in the 2010s. Her concept of the “deep story”—defined as a story that feels true even when it is factually incorrect—helped me to understand why people may believe the lies they absorb from the internet and other media. Her insights into how economic disruption drove these Americans toward a more abrasive form of politics also gels with my own historical understanding of fascist sympathies. In an era when many experts adopt a strident tone, I love Hochschild’s work for its genuine effort to understand. 


Who am I?

I am fascinated by how and why extremist thought enters the mainstream. It is what drew me to researching American fascist sympathizers in the 1920s and 1930s, and it is what scares me about the direction of politics in the United States today. When I am not hanging out with my family in Washington, DC, I am teaching in the American studies department at the University of Amsterdam. It’s a long commute, but my students make it worth it. I love to teach courses about protest traditions and democratic challenges in the United States in the twentieth century up until the present. 


I wrote...

The Machine Has a Soul: American Sympathy with Italian Fascism

By Katy Hull,

Book cover of The Machine Has a Soul: American Sympathy with Italian Fascism

What is my book about?

My book looks at American fascist sympathizers who were at the center of cultural and political life in the 1920s and 1930s, to understand why they supported Mussolini’s regime. Many of the issues that Americans faced in the 1920s and 1930s—from technological change and economic dislocation to disillusionment with democracy—are familiar to us today. And the proposed solution of fascist authoritarianism also has parallels in our present times. That is why I wanted to write this book: it is a piece of history that feels as urgent to understand in the 2020s as it did one hundred years ago.  

Second Treatise on Government

By John Locke,

Book cover of Second Treatise on Government

Locke’s Second Treatise on Government is the first book to present a coherent liberal theory of the State. Many of its core ideas are now common-sense: that the legitimate end of government is to preserve and enlarge the freedom of its subjects; that sovereigns should be held accountable to the law; and that individuals have a natural right to life, liberty, and property even in the absence of government.

This is a short and readable book that reminds us how much the liberal tradition initiated by Locke is, at least rhetorically, embedded in much of contemporary discourse on democracy and politics.

This book is also of paramount importance to libertarians because it presents one of the first articulated arguments for private property as a means to create wealth.


Who am I?

Jeffrey Miron has taught a popular course on libertarian principles at Harvard for 17 years, explaining how to apply libertarianism to economic and social affairs. Miron also serves as the Vice President for Research at the libertarian Cato Institute. Miron has a consistent track record of defending libertarian policies, such as the legalization of all drugs, vastly expanded legal immigration (perhaps to the point of open borders), drastically reduced government expenditure, and substantial deregulation.


I wrote...

Libertarianism, from A to Z

By Jeffrey A. Miron,

Book cover of Libertarianism, from A to Z

What is my book about?

Libertarianism principles seem basic enough – keep government out of boardrooms, bedrooms, and wallets, and let markets work the way they should. But what reasoning justifies those stances, and how can they be elucidated clearly and applied consistently?

In Libertarianism, from A to Z, acclaimed Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron set the record straight with a dictionary that takes the reader beyond the mere surface of libertarian thought to reveal the philosophy’s underlying logic. 

Empires Without Imperialism

By Jeanne Morefield,

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

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.


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. 

Reordering the World

By Duncan Bell,

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

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.


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 False Promise of Liberal Order

By Patrick Porter,

Book cover of The False Promise of Liberal Order: Nostalgia, Delusion and the Rise of Trump

Despite having been maligned for so long in the British academy, in this book Porter shows the continuing vitality of the intellectual tradition of classical realism for understanding power politics today. He gratifyingly sweeps away the dewy-eyed nostalgia for the so-called ‘rules-based order’ that supposedly crumbled on Trump’s election to the White House in 2016. In addition to usefully reminding us of all the hypocrisy bound up with liberal internationalism, Porter also forces us to reckon with the core question of all politics – how far power is needed to underpin political order. Although I demur from some of his conclusions, Porter scrapes the tablet clean, offering the possibility of a more forthright and meaningful debate. 


Who am I?

Having come of age at the End of History in the late 1990s, it seemed to me back then that the only big political questions left were international ones. Everything in domestic politics appeared to be settled. As I pursued this interest through my scholarly work as an academic, I came to understand how questions of international and domestic order were intertwined – and that one could not be understood without the other. As we’re now living through the end of the End of History, unsurprisingly we’re seeing tremendous strain on political systems at both the national and international level. These books will provide, I hope, some signposts as to what comes next.  


I wrote...

The New Twenty Years’ Crisis 1919-2019: A Critique of International Relations

By Philip Cunliffe,

Book cover of The New Twenty Years’ Crisis 1919-2019: A Critique of International Relations

What is my book about?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine shows that the international order defined by liberal globalization is under severe strain. Will it survive, and if not, what will replace it? In The New Twenty Years' Crisis 1999-2019, Philip Cunliffe shows that the decline of our liberal international order began in 1999. In contrast to claims that the order has been undermined by authoritarian hegemonic challengers such as Putin’s Russia, Cunliffe argues that the primary drivers of the crisis are internal. In search of a solution, this book argues that breaking through the current impasse will require pushing past the fear that the twenty-first century will repeat the mistakes of the twentieth. Only then can we finally escape the twenty years crisis that perpetually bedevils liberal international order.

Liberalism Against Populism

By William H. Riker,

Book cover of Liberalism Against Populism: A Confrontation Between the Theory of Democracy and the Theory of Social Choice

This political science classic explains why it is impossible to create a voting system that reliably reveals citizen preferences; all systems can be manipulated by those who frame the questions and timing of elections. What this implies, Riker argues, is that democracy’s strength is not allowing citizens to micromanage policy; its strength is allowing the people to remove elected officials that don’t serve their interests. This is a scholarly work—not for the casual reader—it offers illuminating examples contains illuminating examples that illustrate key principles, and is accessible to an educated reader with some effort.


Who am I?

I am an economist by training, who has researched and taught classes related to business, governance, and democracy for more than 30 years at the University of Southern California. My work is multidisciplinary, spanning economics, finance, law, and political science, with a grounding in empirical analysis. In addition to two books and numerous scholarly articles, I am a frequent op-ed contributor and media commentator on topics related to democracy. I also direct the Initiative and Referendum Institute, a nonpartisan education organization focused on direct democracy.


I wrote...

Let the People Rule: How Direct Democracy Can Meet the Populist Challenge

By John G. Matsusaka,

Book cover of Let the People Rule: How Direct Democracy Can Meet the Populist Challenge

What is my book about?

Many Americans of both parties feel that democracy is adrift, that government has become unresponsive to the concerns of ordinary people, and that “elites” have too much influence. My book, using an array of historical and empirical evidence, shows that this concern is not imaginary—popular control over government in fact has been declining over time. The book explains how this situation gradually came about over the last century, largely as an unanticipated byproduct of rational efforts to modernize government. There is no simple way to restore popular confidence in government, but the book shows how some pressure can be alleviated by using referendums to decide important policy issues such as abortion, immigration, and schooling.

Trials of Nation Making

By Brooke Larson,

Book cover of Trials of Nation Making: Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810–1910

Few scholars possess the ability to take complex historical situations and present them in a manner that is equal parts educational, palatable, and engaging. Brooke Larson is one of those rare talents. When I was in graduate school, I devoured Larson’s Cochabamba, and soon found myself looking to get my hands on anything authored by her. Needless to say, I was eager to read Trials of Nation Making when it was released. I was not disappointed. This wonderfully engaging history examines the role that race and ethnicity played in the framing, founding, and forming of Andean republics, where Creole elites sought to solve the so-called “Indian Problem.” But this is no top-down history. As Larson masterfully illustrates, Indigenous historical actors employed a range of strategies—from legal action to open rebellion—to demand participation in nation-making processes.  


Who am I?

I am a professor of Latin American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My teaching and research focus on Andean history, and I have written several books on the period of political violence that pitted guerrillas of the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) against Peruvian security forces and peasant militias during the 1980s and 1990s. I have been researching in Peru for twenty years, from Lima’s shantytowns, to the Andes mountains, to the Amazon jungle. A Peruvian-American, I maintain strong family ties to the region and am a proud, yet frequently heartbroken, supporter of the national soccer team.


I wrote...

With Masses and Arms: Peru's Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement

By Miguel La Serna,

Book cover of With Masses and Arms: Peru's Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement

What is my book about?

My gripping history of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) provides vital insight into both the history of modern Peru and the link between political violence and the culture of communications in Latin America. Smaller than the well-known Shining Path but just as remarkable, the MRTA emerged in the early 1980s at the beginning of a long and bloody civil war. Taking a close look at the daily experiences of women and men who fought on both sides of the conflict, this fast-paced narrative explores the intricacies of armed action from the ground up.

In this sense, the history of the MRTA is the story of the euphoric draw of armed action and the devastating consequences that result when a political movement succumbs to the whims of its most militant followers.

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