Liberalism: Politics, Ideology, and the Market

Liberalism: Politics, Ideology, and the Market

Liberalism: Politics, Ideology, and the Market

Liberalism: Politics, Ideology, and the Market

Excerpt

There have been many books on liberalism, some of them very distinguished, so it is important to characterize the approach adopted here, not least to alert the reader to the nature of the argument which follows. This can best be done by considering the thesis so passionately sustained by Anthony Arblaster in The Rise and Decline of Western Liberalism .

Arblaster offers us a definition of liberalism, an account of its historical career and, upon that basis, the judgement that liberalism no longer deserves our respect. Arblaster's views are inspired by Marxism. In consequence, 'liberalism' is defined in terms of its protection of private property; this is to claim that liberalism and capitalism go hand in hand. Following Marx and the Hungarian Marxist philosopher György von Lukács, Arblaster considers that the historical career of liberalism sees a move from progressivism to reaction. Where once the bourgeoisie had fought for new freedoms, it became fearful, once it was the dominant class of a rising proletariat; in consequence, in or about the year 1848, it became politically reactionary -- a movement which Lukács saw represented in literature in terms of a change from Stendhal to Flaubert and modernism. Arblaster does not believe that liberalism has recovered its nerve: he sees its continued loyalty to capitalism as evidence that it could again embrace authoritarianism, and he generally remarks on modern liberalism's effete spinelessness.

These charges are so serious that the argument is largely structured so as to confront them head on. Let me begin . . .

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