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Liberalism: A Counter-History Hardcover – April 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Liberalism: A Counter-History by Domenico Losurdo stimulatingly uncovers the contradictions of an ideology that is much too self-righteously invoked."—Pankaj Mishra, Guardian


"A brilliant exercise in unmasking liberal pretensions, surveying over three centuries with magisterial command of the sources."—Financial Times

About the Author

Domenico Losurdo is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Urbino, Italy. He is the author of many books in Italian, German, French and Spanish. In English, he has published Hegel and the Freedom of Moderns and Heidegger and the Ideology of War.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (April 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844676935
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844676934
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,159,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Augustus Carmichael on January 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Domenico Losurdo is an Italian historian of political philosophy. History of political thought is probably the single most fascinating non-fiction subject for me personally, and Mr. Krul's review suggested that this would be relevant to the field I'll hopefully be entering next year. However, this book challenged my preconceived notions of liberalism in ways that I didn't expect it to. Losurdo, in this study of the dark side of the liberal legacy, refutes many of the myths liberals tell themselves about their history and their accomplishments. I already considered myself to be a critic of liberalism before going into this book, but Losurdo presents many objections to the liberal legacy that I hadn't even considered before.

In order to explain this book, it's important to understand what Losurdo is criticizing in this text. Liberalism, in political rhetoric and scholarly writings, presents itself as an unambiguously positive force in world history. It started with the French and American revolutions, and has spread universal values by way of a dialectical process where it overcame the irrational, violent prejudices that had previously plagued humanity. Liberal societies may have played host to slavery, white supremacy, class chauvinism, and mass disenfranchisement, but these evils were simply phases in the process of the unfolding of universal freedoms, and were contradictions that stemmed from the historically contingent circumstances of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. It's difficult to exaggerate how widespread this interpretation has become. It's a vision of liberalism that liberals and conservatives, critics on the left and the right share.
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56 of 66 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Krul on August 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Domenico Losurdo's "Liberalism: A Counter-History" is a brilliant and engaging exposé of the real history of liberalism as an ideology, in contradistinction to the hagiographical and justificatory self-descriptions that liberals usually give to it. Almost all systematic histories of liberalism and liberal thought have been written by liberals or its sympathizers, and therefore Losurdo's critical narrative is a welcome antidote to this in every sense Whiggish approach. Losurdo proceeds largely chronologically, but there is a clear thematic structure to the book. Using the writings of impeccably liberal sources and many of the most famous founders of liberal thought, from Burke and Locke to Jefferson and De Tocqueville, he shows how liberalism's self-perception and self-presentation as the politics of freedom was undermined time and again by its reliance on the suppression of 'inferiors'. In order to realize the freedom of the liberals, black slaves, women, the working class, and so forth all had to give way; the freedom of the liberal classes was always founded on the exploitation of others. Only when the gentry and the merchant classes were freed of the need to do manual labor and were guaranteed their position as rulers of society could they defend the liberty liberalism promised against the absolute and arbitrary power of monarchs, clergy, and other traditional opponents. In fact, as Losurdo shows by analyzing the writings of US Vice President and ideologue of the Confederacy John C. Calhoun, the stronger the oppression by the liberal class of their 'inferiors', the more they saw themselves as the ultimate defenders of human liberty and the more jealously they guarded their privileges against the dangers of oppressive government.Read more ›
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Peter S. Bradley on August 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Is slavery a "liberal" institution?

Can slave-holders be "liberals"?

Was the Confederacy a movement toward the realization of a liberal social order?

Domenico Losurdo, who is a Marxist professor of philosophy at the University of Urbino, seems to say "yes" to these questions. Or at least he seems to argues that the people who originally asked these questions would have said "yes" because they were liberals who saw no paradox between being liberals, and believing in the equality of man, and being slaveholders. As Losurdo points out, John Locke, a fountainhead of the Enlightenment's liberal ideas about the good of limited government, individualism and tolerance, was a shareholder in the Royal African Company, and therefore had a vested interest in the slave trade. (p. 24.) Locke made no bones about his view that slavery - modern chattel slavery - was justified and good, just as he made no bones about his view that papists and the Irish were to be ruthlessly repressed. (p.25.)

Locke was not alone in this liberal "illiberalism." As Losurdo delights in pointing out, through an encyclopedic collection of quotes from the great names of liberalism, such De Tocqueville, Franklin, Jefferson, Mandeville, Franklin, Disraeli, Burke, Hume and others, were variously enthusiasts of, or apologists for, the liberal project of slavery, racism, extermination of native peoples, and oppression of the poor, in the name of the "community of the free," i.e,, those who had the education, status and virtue that made them fit to exercise their freedom. Thus, we see Jefferson talking with the equanimity of a Hitler at the prospect of the extermination of blacks and Indians (p.
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