Book: Liberalism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

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Ideologies are precarious and volatile things. They may burst out of their reasonable confines. They may fall into the wrong political hands and be abused. They may suffer from hubris and become an embarrassment to many of their adherents. They may lose touch with political reality. Or they may pull a metaphorical rabbit out of a hat and deliver far more than was expected of them. Liberalism ticks every one of those boxes.

In the debate over the question ‘is liberalism the winning ideology?’ one major issue is obscured. The rhetorical use of the word ‘liberalism’ is common in some circles that are not obviously liberal; all too often, they employ liberalism in a lax, restricted, and particularly tendentious fashion that serves their own ideological purposes. One intention may be to take cover under the umbrella of liberalism in order to sweeten some unpleasant pills those non-liberals are keen for people to swallow. Many right-wing and populist parties have gone down that route in recent years. Another intention may be to create a hostile caricature of liberalism—a foil against which it is easier to argue contrary positions. That route is often taken by Marxists or by postmodern thinkers.

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Next: The neoliberal offensive