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Liberalism: The Life of an Idea Hardcover – May 4, 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"[E]xcellent. . . . What Fawcett clearly and compellingly shows is that the relationship of capitalism to the state, of economics to politics, should be at the heart of any history of liberal ideas. Whether you take his version as a story about liberalism's realist adaptability or its counterrevolutionary intent, it's a fitting one for a moment in which capitalism and political economy are back on the agenda."--Katrina Forrester, The Nation

"Fawcett's...history of the bundle of ideas and practices that liberals have espoused since the Spanish liberales coined the term after the Napoleonic wars is an excellent guide to liberalism's rise and fall."--David Marquand, New Republic

"As Fawcett's compelling history reveals, the twentieth century turned out to be much more unstable and dangerous than the early liberals anticipated and has forced liberals ever since to temper their expectations for human betterment with a world-weary search for small steps that can keep the liberal international system on an upward trajectory."--Foreign Affairs

"Fawcett expertly reveals [liberalism's] evolution, dead-ends, and permutations. A sprawling yarn that somehow remains utterly coherent and on-point, this is history at its very best."--Jeff Bloodworth, Gannon University, Cercles

"[A] richly informative historical tour of liberal leaders and concepts. . . . [Fawcett] takes a commendably liberal approach."--Alan Wolfe, New York Times Book Review

"[A] comprehensive, quirky, scholarly and personal exploration of one of the dominant ideas in political discourse. . . . [T]his is a phenomenal work of research and synthesis. . . . A pool of profound, rigorous research and thought that has no shallow end."--Kirkus Reviews

"[Liberalism: The Life of an Idea] confirms the virtues of the disciplined generalist's approach to the exploration of politics. Deftly combining history, economic thought, and political theory, Fawcett has produced the sort of synoptic work that in our era is increasingly unlikely to come from universities. . . . [It] not only draws on the practicing journalist's close observation of political affairs but also the educated person of letters' facility across many disciplines. The result is an engrossing narrative of liberalism's dramatic career--often lustrous but also marked by its share of delusion, hypocrisy, hubris, and tragedy."--Peter Berkowitz, Real Clear Politics

"Liberalism by Edmund Fawcett is not only a gripping piece of intellectual history, it also equips the reader to understand today's threats--and how they might be withstood. . . . Liberalism is indeed under siege. Those who would fortify the walls would do well to study the foundations. Mr Fawcett's book offers an admirable archaeology."--Economist

"A book so good I want to read it again. . . . [A]n intellectual page-turner made even more readable by its personal, sometimes quirky, style and its seamless mix of philosophy, history, biography and history of ideas."--David Goodhart, Standpoint

"In Liberalism: The Life of an Idea, Fawcett draws on the experiences and ideas of dozen of thinkers and politicians in an informative, lively, and provocative history of a political tradition he deems 'worth standing up for.'. . . Fawcett's book is an immensely interesting, informative, and important assessment of liberalism. . . . Liberalism is as relevant as ever, Fawcett concludes, passionately and persuasively."--Glenn C. Altschuler, Huffington Post

"[An] impressive account of the 'life of an idea.'. . . [O]ne of the many virtues of Fawcett's unfailingly stimulating book is that he makes you look past the misleading labels with which we characterise political argument. For anyone interested in the history of the ideas that have shaped our society, his book is essential reading."--Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday

"[A] fine work of intellectual history that shows, among much else, that experience can shape ideas, too."--William Anthony Hay, Wall Street Journal

"[M]agnificent."--Bruce Edward Walker, Morning Sun

From the Author

Some words of mine about Liberalism will be in the preface to the paperback later in 2015
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 488 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (May 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691156891
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691156897
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #522,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Identifying myself as liberal all my life, I went through life thinking I knew what liberalism was all about and knew the difference between liberal and conservative politicians and philosophy. How wrong I was. Shortly after starting this book I soon realized how little I really knew and how complex the liberal political philosophy really was.

Western liberalism is a package of ideals born from the French Revolution. Yet it really does not matter your political viewpoint, anyone could find something to relish from reading this book. Anyone with more than a passing interest in political science should purchase, read, and digest this book. Fawcett discusses the main exponents of the liberal political philosophy from the vantage of biography, to history, to historical analysis, to political philosophy, to a history of ideas, and navigates effortlessly to and from each of these aspects with total command.

Edmund Fawcett, a correspondent for the Economist magazine, which in the interests of disclosure, he states started as a leading proponent of the liberal philosophy, has produced a text which demystifies the sometimes confusing and contradictory world of liberal political thought. There is a cavalcade of liberal expositors, thinkers, philosophers, political scientists, social movements, and historical trends, but Fawcett is able, perhaps for the first time, the explain these many diverse elements into a coherent package. Through the book Fawcett displays a unique ability to simply and clearly explain complex philosophical or political philosophies.

One of the mistakes I fell into which the book clarified was associating "left" with "liberal" and "right" with "conservative." Part of this error originates from the "core values" Fawcett ascribes to the liberal philosophy.
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Format: Hardcover
Fawcett has written an excellent book that will be greatly appreciated by anyone with an interest in liberalism. While the book is a work of serious scholarship, it is quite readable and its appeal will not be limited to the academic audience. Nonetheless, it is a lengthy book that goes into considerable depth and detail. Be prepared to invest some time as Fawcett narrates the story of liberalism in both theory and practice.
I have always accepted the conventional wisdom that liberalism is a philosophy of liberty. An argument that liberty is the paramount political value and that the primary purpose of government is the protection of individual rights and liberties. Fawcett argues from the outset that "it's more than liberty". he identifies four "guiding thoughts' that have been essential to liberalism:conflict, resistance to power, progress and respect. Liberals accept that social conflict is inevitable, that people will have different interests and values. Liberals believe that power must be limited. Liberals believe that the lives of people can and should be improved. Finally, liberals believe that all are entitled to dignity and respect.
Some may respond by saying "Well, who can argue with that". Thus, the point should be made that Fawcett is defining liberalism in very broad terms. The liberalism of which he speaks includes a variety of elements, left, right and center. Indeed, his discussions includes figures who are usually characterized as libertarians(Hayek and Friedman), modern liberals(FDR and LBJ) and conservatives(Reagan and Thatcher)
Therein may lie a weakness. If all of the above are liberals, if as Fawcett argues such diverse thinkers as Mill, Hegel, Rawls and Sartre all qualify as liberals, is the liberal tent just a little too big? Then again this a book that offers some rather tasty food for thought.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It has taken me many weeks to thoughtfully read and consider all of the information here. It is in no way completely comprehensive, but I feel I have a better grip of liberalism and its history than before....that's nothing to sneeze at.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Faucet does an excellent job of articulating an intrinsically complex history in a way that is understandable and dare I say readable. There is a thread of more than just hope that liberals like me need to carry on.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book, easy to follow and understand by all levels of readers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Best read I have found in 20 years. Truly. I carry it around a lot for reading on the buses. Author's main contention is that there isn't a short definition of Liberalism. No author, no Moses. Political choices and contingency. Practitioners argument, bargaining, compromise. Great author.

Addition to my review on Fawcett's Liberalism

This done off network with Pillarbox

Finished Liberalism and feel Fawcett deserves more at Amazon here.

Fawcett is an English journalist writing much of his life on his love for the English Liberal Party. Unlike myself, the man can write a sentence. Read his book.

Briton has some differences with the US. England has had a much longer period of local stable institutions. For very much longer than the US, England was developing the Provinces with local handling of whatever problem might arrive. America began to do this with councils and courts from the beginning of Jamestown and Plymouth. In the 80s Thatcher was the very right wing prime minister. When we had Reagan. Right after WW II England rebuilt with many enterprises government initiated. Their Socialism. Thatcher decentralized much of this skilled activity to private enterprise or to more local control. Since the War, the Labour Party --more Socialist advocating --has fended with the Conservative Tories --for power. Once 40% of the working force was organized and voted Labour. Recently, Labour and the desire to Socialize --really took a loss. A coalition of Conservatives and Liberals rules Parliament momentarily.

So Briton is used to handling problems at the local level. But the Liberals --not Labour --were once only 7% of the voters. The great turning point in England was finally signing the Elementary Education Act 1870.
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