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A compelling history of liberalism from the nineteenth century to today Despite playing a decisive role in shaping the past two hundred years of American and European politics, liberalism is no longer the dominant force it once was. In this expanded and updated edition of what has become a classic history of liberalism, Edmund Fawcett traces its ideals, successes, and failures through the lives and ideas of exemplary thinkers and politicians from the early nineteenth century to today. Significant revisions-including a new conclusion-reflect recent changes affecting the world political order that many see as presenting new and very potent threats to the survival of liberal democracy as we know it. A richly detailed account of a vulnerable but critically important political creed, this book reminds us that to defend liberalism it is vital to understand its character and history.
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"In this wonderfully fluent tour through the history of modern liberal thinking, Edmund Fawcett examines a generous selection of important thinkers from the 1830s to our own time in a way that locates both the lineage of their political thinking and the politics of their times. Sharp analysis is combined with a compelling narrative of serious thinkers at work. There is much to learn in this book, which is truly a joy to read. He makes judgments, but they are aids, not substitutes, for our own thinking about liberalism as an idea and about its present possibilities."--Thomas Bender, New York University
"Liberalism: The Life of an Idea possesses both the authority made possible by sustained scholarly research, and the clarity and simplicity found in first-rate journalism. It covers two centuries of the history of a principle guiding political practice and the various philosophies that have attempted to justify or defame it. It is a very timely reminder of the achievements and problems of a political tradition now everywhere under siege."--Gareth Stedman Jones, University of Cambridge and Queen Mary, University of London
"[A] fine work of intellectual history that shows, among much else, that experience can shape ideas, too."--William Anthony Hay
"Elegant, fluently written, and wryly amusing, this enlightening history of liberalism tells a persuasive story of ideas and politics through the lives of a huge variety of characters. The result is tremendously enjoyable."--Duncan Kelly, author of The Propriety of Liberty
"This is, quite simply, one of the most lively and engaging books that I've read in some time. With a brisk narrative that holds the reader's attention from start to finish, Liberalism provides a comprehensive survey of the subject, introducing a remarkable diversity of people and ideas, and offering a creative reconsideration of familiar tensions. It is impossible to imagine a reader who wouldn't learn much from it. I certainly did."--Ryan Patrick Hanley, author of Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue
"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.... Fawcett's book offers an admirable archaeology."--The Economist
"A richly informative historical tour of liberal leaders and concepts. . . . [Fawcett] takes a commendably liberal approach."---Alan Wolfe, New York Times Book 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 workmanlike 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
"[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
Edmund Fawcett worked at The Economist for more than three decades, serving as chief correspondent in Washington, Paris, and Berlin, as well as European and literary editor. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, and the Times Literary Supplement, among other publications.
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