Modern liberalism


What is the nature of Constant’s distinction between ancient and modern liberty and how does this distinction inform the constitutional recommendations Constant makes in his Principles of Politics? How important do you think Constant’s arguments are?

In our final lecture and seminar I want us to look briefly at a group of thinkers who sought to define liberalism in the postwar era: these are Karl Popper, Raymond Aron, Isaiah Berlin, and Judith Shklar. Each of them was responding not only to the cataclysm of the Second World War but also to the rise of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. It is not my intention to speak about more modern authors such as John Rawls and Robert Nozick as these covered on other modules taught in the Department.

Seminars questions

Who are the enemies of the open society? How can they be defeated?
What is the liberalism of fear?
What are the possibilities for human liberty in modern society? How can liberty be defined in such a context?

The key texts are:
Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies
Raymond Aron, Politics and History (especially the essay ‘The Liberal definition of freedom’ and The Dawn of Universal History)
Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty (this can be found in a variety of edited collections)
Judith Shklar, ‘The Liberalism of fear’, in Shaun P. Young (ed), Political Liberalism: Variations on a Theme and Shklar, Ordinary Vices.