Christopher Caldwell

Progress & Its Discontents

Liberalism: The Life of an Idea

By

Princeton University Press 468pp £24.95 order from our bookshop

It is not hard to spot a liberal. ‘Scrupulous, hardworking, impatient, dogmatic, and without a shred of humor or tact,’ is how Edmund Fawcett describes Sir Edwin Chadwick, the 19th-century manager of poorhouses and sewers, in one of the vignettes that make up his ambitious new history. Somewhat trickier is describing what liberals actually believe. It has to do with capitalism, John Stuart Mill and English ideas of ordered liberty and the inviolability of the individual. But liberalism has always been protean. It used to mean keeping government on a short leash; today it means inviting government into every corner of life. The word ‘liberalism’ makes Europeans think of robber barons in Chicago. It makes Americans think of transsexuals in Stockholm. 

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The breadth of Clarke’s knowledge and experience, coupled to a conspicuous absence of pomposity, makes for easy an… ,
    • In this month's Silenced Voices, Lucy Popescu shines a light on Myanmar's persecution of writers and journalists, p… ,
    • Lecture on war and peace in 19th-century Europe by Professor Sir Richard Evans, Thurs 25 Oct, 6.30pm Europe House… ,
    • 'Why, throughout the world, are so many people fascinated by the fiction and reality of espionage? And why of all p… ,
    • . here on books, Muriel Spark and life's tangled dance ,
    • RT : There aren't enough aggressive subtitles these days: ,
    • Churchill's on the cover of the October edition of the magazine. Piers Brendon reviews two new books about the Brit… ,