19 January 2019   Leave a comment

Daniel Dell has written a very insightful book review of three books on “The Many Lives of Liberalism” for the New York Review of Books. Bell’s review examines the history of the idea of liberalism and many of the misconceptions associated with the ideology. Bell addresses one of the great mysteries of 20th century liberalism: its transformation into an ideology emphasizing individual freedom in market capitalism to a degree that diminished its original objective of the idea of freedom serving the public good. Bell writes “All three authors clearly believe that this narrower tradition has concerned itself too heavily with individual rights—above all, economic rights—as opposed to the common good. It has not paid enough attention to moral values and moral education, and it has not done enough to encourage broad democratic participation.” This perspective underpins the dominance of the “neoliberal” perspective that defends slashing any government programs that attempt to alleviate the suffering of the poor. Bell’s explanation for this “narrower” perspective is compelling:

“If this is the true (“lost”) history of liberalism, then where did the idea of liberalism as an individualistic ideology tied to laissez-faire capitalism come from? In a fascinating epilogue, Rosenblatt argues that historians only established this misleading intellectual genealogy very late, in the mid-twentieth century. Critics had long tried to discredit liberalism by associating it with narrow material self-interest, but after World War II liberals themselves, seeking to distinguish their beliefs as sharply as possible from Communist totalitarianism, came close to agreeing with their detractors. Only a strong emphasis on individual rights, argued political philosophers like Isaiah Berlin, could save liberal states from sliding into totalitarian extremism. For the same reason these thinkers downplayed the contributions of French and German liberals, who had shown such a distressing inability to halt extremism in their own countries. Soon, “genealogies based on a canon of great thinkers were constructed and anthologies published. Founding fathers of liberalism were discovered.” And the true, complex history was forgotten.”

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent rethinking of socialist economics in China and other countries may allow the reassertion of the idea of freedom serving the public good and not narrow self-interest without the fear of compromising democratic ideals. Bell’s review is not easy reading, but it is well worth the effort.

Emil Avdaliani has written an essay on the common foreign policy interests of Russia and Iran that extend beyond their alliance of convenience in Syria. Russian-Iranian cooperation is difficult since the two states once shared a long common border (which changed dramatically after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991) that engendered a great deal of suspicion as well as a history of intrigue and duplicity. But the two states share a desire to shape a world order that rests far less on American power, an outcome that seems to be well within their reach in Syria. It would be premature to think that Russia and Iran will be long-term allies, but their interests seem to mesh well with the objectives of other states in central, south, and east Asia.


Extremists in northern Nigeria have attacked a town populated by thousands of displaced persons and forced them to flee to neighboring Cameroon. The attacks were mounted by a group calling itself the Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), a group that split off from, but is still loosely allied to, Boko Haram, an Islamic group that has pledged loyalty to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These extremists have waged an intense guerrilla war in northern Nigeria for many years and the Nigerian government has yet to wrest back control of the territory. The crisis is becoming quite serious because Cameroon is refusing to accept more refugees and is forcing many back into Nigeria.


Posted January 19, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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