D omenico Losurdo ends his Liberalism: A Counter-History suggesting that only through bidding farewell to the habitual hagiography of the subject can there be serious consideration of the contribution to intellectual and political thought made by liberalism. Calhoun, champion of the slave-holding south of the USA, as a liberal. Most people would certainly consider slavery to be the absolute antithesis of liberty and the rights of man. However, for a prominent nineteenth-century liberal, such as Lord Acton, there was no doubt that Calhoun was a liberal.
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Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Liberalism by Domenico Losurdo. Gregory Elliott Translator. 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.
Narrating an intellectual history running from the eighteenth through to the twentieth centur 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. Among the dominant strains of liberalism, he discerns the counter-currents of more radical positions, lost in the constitution of the modern world order.
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Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Start your review of Liberalism: A Counter-History. May 21, Rei Avocado rated it it was amazing Shelves: marxist-theory-philosophy , peronal-favorites , marxist-history.
View 1 comment. Jul 01, Kyle rated it it was amazing. Jun 07, Domhnall rated it it was amazing Shelves: history , politics. Liberalism was arguably born when the Netherlands gained freedom from Philip II of Spain and its wealthy commercial class took political control. While the Dutch celebrated their liberation from the shackles and restraints of the ancien regime and its mediaeval values, what they prized in particular was their freedom to engage without restraint in the creation of wealth through their own colonies and their hold over the slave trade of that time.
The liberty they idealized and proclaimed was thus Liberalism was arguably born when the Netherlands gained freedom from Philip II of Spain and its wealthy commercial class took political control. The liberty they idealized and proclaimed was thus both very restrictive in its application and very paradoxical, in that it prioritised the lack of governmental restraint in order to maximise the power of those in control over their family, servants and slaves.
By no coincidence, John Locke, the English philosopher of Liberalism, came from exile in Holland along with William Of Orange in the Glorious Revolution, by which the English peacefully replaced a Catholic Stuart regime with a Protestant one, while violently repressing religious dissenters and Catholics, lifting restraints on enclosure and the displacement of the poor from common land to permit private profit, and promoting a policy of mass murder towards the Irish, seeking to take their lands away from them to benefit English landlords and Protestant settlers.
When modern Americans appeal to Locke as a sympathetic philosopher of liberty that is not such an odd thing, since they were explicitly his target audience. In the Seven Years War, American colonists were completely in accord with their English allies as they defended the cause of liberty against the French crown.
However, the War of Independence saw American separatists depict England as the land of aristocratic tyranny and this transformation had everything to do with restrictions on their freedom to mistreat and dehumanise black slaves and to drive native Americans from their lands. The resulting constitution provided for the most complete expression of Liberal values, securing the dignity of the White elite as free men, elevating property rights to the highest level of importance, and carefully locating slavery under the heading of property rights.
While slaves were classed as chattels, they were uniquely treated as people when determining the population of each state for voting purposes, No surprise then that in the early decades, a majority of presidents were slave owners and from slave states.
Britain of course retained a huge interest in slavery through its colonies but the language of Liberalism did lack clarity on the subject. For some time the logic of the system implied that slavery might be extended to the home country, and applied to vagrants, criminals and paupers as well as to servants and certain employees who could be bought and sold as assets alongside an enterprise such as a coal mine This was eventually decided against in a case, concerning an Englishman who brought his personal slave to England.
For the home country, then, Liberalism found options short of slavery by which to assimilate people into the category of property and to elevate the importance of property beyond any concern for the rights of their subordinates. England devised such a range of property crimes for which the penalty was death, including the crime of poaching if a non landowner took a wild bird or beast for food, that it shocked the rest of Europe. The option often arose though to commute that sentence and substitute a life of forced labour in the colonies, notably in Australia.
This French politician and writer visited the USA and later on England and Ireland and reported in a very clear eyed manner on the conditions he observed for colonists, native Americans and black slaves. His writing had a direct bearing on his political aspirations, which included promoting a similar liberal democracy for France, and guiding the colonial exploitation of Algeria in particular, where the Arabs were to be assigned a status comparable to native Americans.
For Burke and his successors, the issue was one of moderation and common sense - to seize power and control from the Ancien Regime, ending the feudal order of things, without making the foolish error of extending the franchise too far and empowering those who lack property and are thus liable to use government as a means of stealing from those with property. Of course, only chaos could ensue when property was not sacred. For Burke, as for Locke, there was a natural order to human affairs.
The French Revolution threw this aside with its appeal to the Rights of Man and the result was terror and chaos. This had to be accounted for and several lines of enquiry emerged. Since Liberalism was associated with moderation and self discipline, revolution must arise through the lack of such qualities.
This lack could be attributed to a disease or to a congenital defect. For the disease model of egalitarianism, Burke traced the cause in a conspiracy theory that would have increasing significance in European politics. He blamed the Jews and set out a full account of the mechanics by which this conspiracy operated.
The broad theme is that international finance, in the form of Jewish bankers, provided governments with the loans to fund all sorts of benefits for paupers and others at the expense of property and the class of people on whose shoulders fell the burden of generating wealth and paying taxes.
The biblical strand of the chosen people, alongside the association of black skin with the biblical curse of Ham, was thematic since at least Locke. A number of sources identified racial degeneration through interbreeding with inferior peoples as the congenital source of the egalitarian disease, of whom Gobineau was important, introducing the novel and spurious concept of a superior Aryan race which embraced Germans but excluded the French and the Celtic peoples.
Darwin did not invent the well established idea of evolution - he investigated scientific explanations for evolution, whereas Spencer investigated ideological racism with a spurious scientific glaze.
Similarly, Malthus published his Essay on the Principle of Population in , long before the Origin of Species, but it found a ready audience in the Liberal objectors to any form of poverty relief and not least in the administrator, Trevelyan, put in place by the British Government to oversee the collapse of the Irish peasant population from 4.
It was with reference to miscegenation that racists accounted for the congenital defects of the Mediterranean people, notably the Spanish, and the condition of Latin America was seen to be beyond recall as a result of extensive intermarriage with and between blacks and native Americans. One of the perceived horrors of black slavery was seen to be the sexual exploitation of black women, with a resulting tendency to degeneration of the master race, in addition of course to the concern of Christian fundamentalists at the immorality of such illicit couplings.
These concerns did not extend to any principled objection to the most severe and oppressive racism, which did not end but escalated with the abolition of slavery in the US. The last law against miscegenation was abolished in the state of Alabama in the year While the story of racism in the USA is well rehearsed, what Losurdo points out is the infringement on the rights also of the white population, who could be subject to both legal and extra-legal often very violent sanctions for any deviation from accepted thinking and behaviour.
There were at least two Liberalisms. The idea of self government by the dominant class and race persisted though; in the USA, while the abolition of slavery was imposed from above by a determined government, the principle was retained in the regime of terrorist white supremacy which soon followed.
Liberalism ultimately was the product of a social and political revolution which did not involve any emancipation, but rather the reverse, for those social and ethnic groups outside of the new elite. Jun 22, tom bomp rated it it was amazing Shelves: marxist , history , non-fiction , politics. Great book.
Not always a coherent narrative but goes through a lot of key points relating to liberalism' s consistent racism and authoritarianism outside the self declared freemen.
Shows how the most murderous episodes in colonialism were justified and applauded by key liberal figures. Has problems defining liberalism exactly, but as he says this is down to its incredible flexibility and the conflict between the space of freemen where liberal ideals hold and the space outside where freemen are j Great book.
Has problems defining liberalism exactly, but as he says this is down to its incredible flexibility and the conflict between the space of freemen where liberal ideals hold and the space outside where freemen are justified in any action up to genocide. Like i say it's not always a perfectly coherent narrative but the stuff it covers is so important and presented well so it deserves 5 stars imo.
Reveals the ways liberalism's supposed commitment to freedom has been qualified to justify keeping a large portion of the population in slavery or servitude - with very few speaking out against slavery, seeing it as simply people disposing freely of their property. Shows how quite a few liberals at the time hated the French Revolution for going too far in empowering too many people, instead of following the example of England and restricting power to a privileged few. Also notes how the defence of slavery required clearly "anti-liberal" policies - the maintenance of slavery was more important than, for example, white people's rights to distribute abolitionist pamphlets or even speak about it, and interesting also more important than slave owner's rights to give their slaves an education.
This isn't meant as a "poor slaveowners! It's a useful example to think about with other systems of domination that seemingly restrict the powerful's "freedom" but only in order to better dominate the oppressed.
Like Bentham, the French liberal indulged in a eugenicist utopia or dystopia. In this way, whites, who remained at the top of the social hierarchy as directors of production, could dispose of blacks as auxiliary instruments of production, or slaves proper, who would precisely be the anthropomorphic monkeys: However extraordinary, however immoral this idea might seem at first sight, I have reflected on it at length, and can find no other way in a great nation, especially in countries that are very hot or very cold, to reconcile the directors of works with the simple instruments of labour.
Jan 09, Christopher rated it liked it Shelves: nonfiction. I am very torn about giving this a 3 or a 4. I think 3.
In terms of importance and my desire to have lots of people read it especially useless bien pensant types in America, Britain, France, and those wahhabi-humanist nations I like to jokingly conflate and call 'Nethersweden' I would rank it a 5.
The good: Myth busting on an epic scope. Explodes most of a public school education in the anglosphere. Denies from liberalism is sanctimonious privilege of claiming to have been I am very torn about giving this a 3 or a 4. Denies from liberalism is sanctimonious privilege of claiming to have been pre-ordained in history and a self-evident march of progress whose victory will one day triumph. Explores the extremely dark history of many traditionally liberal regimes, whose crimes were similar in scale and scope to that of the totalitarian abortions of the twentieth century-but often viewed as less terrible for the simple fact that far less written records from the victims still exist.
Liberalism: A Counter-History
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And [this book] is no exception, for the outstanding knowledge of modern and contemporary political thought, the rigorous philology and the pursuit of sources that have been forgotten or expunged. This is not revisionist history, but history told from the point of view of those who are making it. His point is rather more straightforward: from its inception, liberalism has been about asserting the liberty and equality of the 'community of the free', over and against those excluded from that community. The author of multiple books, Losurdo focused on uncomfortable political leaders and themes that mainstream thought preferred to banish. Domenico Losurdo looks at the foundational link between liberalism and Atlantic slavery, and liberal philosophers' shifting positions on slavery in the period between Somersett v Stewart and the American Civil War.
In the book, Losurdo examines the inner contradictions of the highly influential liberal political tradition. Losurdo argues that the liberal tradition has often excused and even celebrated racism , slavery , exploitation and genocide. In the book, Losurdo characterises the dominant narrative regarding liberalism as hagiography , representing a gradual process of the expansion of liberty to all people. Rather, Losurdo investigates not only "the conceptual developments, but also and primarily the political and social relations it found expression in" which made itself known through various contradictions. One such example is when black Americans lost many of their newfound rights as the end of the Reconstruction Era gave way to the rise of Jim Crow laws. According to Losurdo, liberalism lent itself to the foundation of Herrenvolk democracy , where one ethnic group had rights over other disenfranchised and exploited groups. Losurdo finds the early United States, a racial state with a clear difference in the rights afforded between whites and even free blacks , to have been one such master-race democracy.