Introduction to Liberalism: Freedom, Politics, and the Individual
What are we talking about when we talk about liberalism? Ubiquitous in political discourse, liberalism is nevertheless difficult to straightforwardly define—not least because it seems to mean different things to different people in different places. Is liberalism a doctrine of private property? Of social contract? Of market economies? Of individualism, self-determination, popular sovereignty, or equality? What, if anything, unites so-called classical liberalism with the liberalism avowed, or derided, by people and politicians in the United States? And, how might liberalism differ from “neoliberalism? What does it mean to be, or not be, a liberal?
In this course, we will consider the basic character of liberalism, as a coherent (or not) body of thought, by examining core works in political thought and political economy from the 17th century to the present day. We shall examine differing conceptions of freedom and liberty, of the relation of citizens to government, and of market economies to political institutions—and seek to locate, throughout, a possibly binding thread. What connects John Locke to John Rawls? How do they differ? Is socialism a species of liberalism? Does liberalism entail democracy, and if not, what does it mean to be “illberal”? How has liberalism changed, and what is its future? Course readings will include texts from John Locke, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Rawls, and Robert Nozick.