Institute for Humane Studies

What is Liberalism? Past and Present

Thursday, April 25, 2019 3:00 PM
Vernon Smith Hall (formerly Metropolitan Building), 4th Floor

Please join us on Thursday, April 25t for a panel on “What is Liberalism? Past and Present” with Professor Helena Rosenblatt and Professor Daniel Klein, as they discuss liberal thought, its meanings, and its leading thinkers—including Adam Smith, John Dewey, Benjamin Constant, and Friedrich Hayek. In her recent book, The Lost History of Liberalism: From Ancient Rome to the Twenty-first Century, Professor Rosenblatt argues that liberalism emerged from the French Revolution and that it was only in the twentieth century, particularly during the Cold War, that an Anglo-centric “classical liberalism” was retrospectively created. She shows that liberalism has survived thanks to its appeal as a moral ideal, a vision of a political community that is based not just on interests but also on values: respect, tolerance, and justice.

Professor Klein argues that the original political meaning of ‘liberal’ comes in the 1770s and is represented by Adam Smith. The liberty principle emerged as humanitarian boon but also as a frightful engine of rapid change and turmoil. The rising collectivist reaction from 1880 may have been, in part, something to fill spiritual voids— Klein thinks liberalism itself gave little spiritual comfort. He regards liberalism’s commentary on life as rather stoical, informing us where not to look for meaning and fulfillment, and advising us to tamp down our primeval instincts for encompassing meaning and belonging.

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