The Making of Modern Liberalism

The Making of Modern Liberalism

The Making of Modern Liberalism

The Making of Modern Liberalism


The Making of Modern Liberalism is a deep and wide-ranging exploration of the origins and nature of liberalism from the Enlightenment through its triumphs and setbacks in the twentieth century and beyond. The book is the fruit of the more than four decades during which Alan Ryan, one of the world's leading political thinkers, has reflected on the past of the liberal tradition--and worried about its future.

Tracing the emergence of liberalism as articulated by some of its greatest proponents, including Locke, Tocqueville, Mill, Dewey, Russell, Popper, Berlin, and Rawls, the book explores key themes such as the meaning and nature of freedom, individual rights, and tolerance. It also examines how property rights fit within liberal thinking, how work and freedom are connected, and how far liberal freedoms are compatible with a socialized economy.

This is essential reading for anyone interested in political theory or the history of liberalism.


The oldest of these essays was published forty-seven years ago, the most recent a year or two ago; they are a small but representative sample of my work over the intervening forty-five years. They possess a consistency beyond that of their authorship, but I would not wish to be tried for my life on behalf of every last sentence in every last one of them. Indeed, I would not have done when they first appeared; the object of intellectual exchange is to have good ideas reinforced and less good ideas corrected. I have also resisted the urge to rewrite them or to write a running commentary on them; everyone knows the mixed sensations provoked by encounters with our former selves and their thoughts. I have silently corrected typographical errors and adjusted some verbal infelicities—I have come to think that the use of “they” and “them” as gender-neutral singular pronouns reads better than “he or she” or “her or him”—otherwise, apart from eliminating some repetitions, I have left the texts untouched. I disavow in passing below some of what now seems incautious or wrong; but this preface is intended for the most part to explain what makes these essays part of a single intellectual project. These essays were written in response to requests from colleagues and have been scattered among different publications and different kinds of publications; the provocation for collecting them here was that former students and colleagues suggested that both the essays and their readers would benefit if some of these essays were collected in one place; I am happy to believe them, especially since it affords an opportunity to bring out their connections to one another.

Like many political theorists, I mix conceptual analysis with criticism of particular writers, and vice versa. If it were not improper to appeal to authority, I would take comfort from the fact that so much of Marx’s work was a “critique” of whatever it might be, and that he clearly felt that the best, and perhaps the only, way to articulate what he wished to say about economics and politics, and the methodological difficulties of their study, was to set his own ideas against those of his contemporaries and predecessors. John Stuart Mill, equally obviously, was another writer who thought with and against the writers whose work he discusses in the essays that make up Dissertations and Discussions or form the target of book-length works such as Auguste Comte and Positivism or the longer and less sprightly . . .

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