You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in through your institution.

Liberal Languages

Liberal Languages: Ideological Imaginations and Twentieth-Century Progressive Thought

Michael Freeden
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 280
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Liberal Languages
    Book Description:

    Liberal Languagesreinterprets twentieth-century liberalism as a complex set of discourses relating not only to liberty but also to welfare and community. Written by one of the world's leading experts on liberalism and ideological theory, it uses new methods of analyzing ideologies, as well as historical case studies, to present liberalism as a flexible and rich tradition whose influence has extended beyond its conventional boundaries.

    Michael Freeden argues that liberalism's collectivist and holistic aspirations, and its sense of change, its self-defined mission as an agent of developing civilization--and not only its deep appreciation of liberty--are central to understanding its arguments. He examines the profound political impact liberalism has made on welfare theory, on conceptions of poverty, on standards of legitimacy, and on democratic practices in the twentieth century. Through a combination of essays, historical case studies, and more theoretical chapters, Freeden investigates the transformations of liberal thought as well as the ideological boundaries they have traversed.

    He employs the complex theory of ideological analysis that he developed in previous works to explore in considerable detail the experimental interfaces created between liberalism and neighboring ideologies on the left and the right. The nature of liberal thought allows us to gain a better perspective on the ways ideologies present themselves, Freeden argues, not necessarily as dogmatic and alienated structures, but as that which emanates from the continuous creativity that open societies display.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2635-3
    Subjects: Political Science
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. ix-x)
    • INTRODUCTION (pp. 3-18)

      The term “liberalism” has always enjoyed a separate existence away from the constricting, formal, and austere world of political concepts and theories. To be liberal evokes generosity, tolerance, compassion, being fired up with the promise of open, unbounded spaces within which the free play of personality can be aired. Yet the clues to liberalism’s political nature are not hard to detect. Generosity suggests the dispensing of bounties beyond the call of duty—to prioritise justice as the first liberal virtue is unnecessarily reductionist. Tolerance suggests a flexibility, a movement, a diversity—of ideas, of language, and of conceptual content—that...

    • CHAPTER ONE Twentieth-Century Liberal Thought: Development or Transformation? (pp. 19-37)

      In this chapter I seek to investigate how liberalism was portrayed throughout the twentieth century in dedicated liberal literature, that is, works primarily devoted to an exposition of the basic tenets of liberalism. On the surface many, though not all, of these works present themselves as “second-order” overviews of liberal theory and ideology. Sometimes, as with the Rawlsian family of arguments, they intend both to offer a novel interpretation of liberal principles and, in parallel, reflect given cultural understandings unconsciously and unintentionally. On the whole, though, writers about liberalism have tended to elucidate a tradition rather than depart from it....

    • CHAPTER TWO Liberal Community: An Essay in Retrieval (pp. 38-59)

      The liberal/communitarian debate, that intellectual companion and topological vade mecum of Anglo-American political philosophers in the 1980s and early 1990s, has left a residue that is still difficult to expunge. At its worst, it has created a new generation of students unable to think about liberalism in a manner that escapes the contrast in which the terms are presented, and a contingent of politicians who have eagerly assimilated communitarianism or anticommunitarianism to their shortlist of sound bites. At best, it has encouraged professional philosophers to reengage with issues of social responsibility, respect for individuals, and the quasianthropology of human nature....

    • CHAPTER THREE The Concept of Poverty and Progressive Liberalism (pp. 60-77)

      Though this sweeping opinion, expressed in a book on poverty in Britain published in 1930, has not proved correct in the longer run, there was nevertheless more than a grain of truth in it.¹ The reasons for the elevation of poverty to a central concern of state and society lie in social and economic developments that began almost a century before 1918. But they were reinforced and further precipitated by new theoretical and ideological insights, especially in the generation before the First World War.

      This chapter investigates the idea of poverty as developed by progressive liberals in Britain at the...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Layers of Legitimacy: Consent, Dissent, and Power in Left-Liberal Languages (pp. 78-93)

      The concept of legitimacy is part of the belief system of a political entity. There are no empirical indicators for when a state of legitimacy has been reached; nor are there practices that, when observed or described, lead us to assert unequivocally: this is legitimate. There is nothing in a street demonstration against cutbacks in state pensions that, had I just parachuted onto this planet, will signal to me whether marching down a road, waving banners, and shouting aggressive slogans is a legitimate act, unless I am pre-equipped with a map instructing me on whether populist and chaotic expressions of...

    • CHAPTER FIVE J. A. Hobson as a Political Theorist (pp. 94-108)

      J. A. Hobson was one of the half-dozen most influential political thinkers in late-nineteenth—early-twentieth-century Britain, a fact that even the partial revival of his fortunes has infrequently brought to light. The main reason for this oversight has two complementary facets: Hobson’s contribution lay chiefly in his formulation of a liberal version of British welfare thought, an ideological genre that until recently was accorded insufficient recognition; and, conversely, recourse to conventional modes of political theorising, utilising existing traditions, or referring to the constructs of leading individuals, was not paramount in his work. It is symptomatic that in the various reading...

    • CHAPTER SIX Hobson’s Evolving Conceptions of Human Nature (pp. 109-128)

      It is a truism to suggest that every social and political theory is rooted in a conception of human nature. Hobson was no exception to that rule, but his interpretation of human nature was novel and wide-ranging. It did not merely refer to an abstract model, artificially—even cunningly—employed to explain or justify this or that social practice. Rather, it was grounded in concrete, commonsense, empirical observations; it encompassed a broad openness to different aspects of human behaviour; and it attempted to incorporate insights from new developments in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and physiology as well as relate to older...

    • INTERMEZZO (pp. 131-143)

      Ideologies are ubiquitous forms of political thinking. Let’s put this more forcefully: the access we have to the actual political thought of a society is always through its ideologies, that is, through the configurations and clusters of interdependent political concepts and ideas that circulate in that society at different levels of articulation. It is not attained through individual concepts or through individual thinkers, because neither language nor societies host these elements in isolation. The raw material of political thought at the disposal of any society is immense, and the meanings and semantic structures of political language are necessarily indeterminate. That...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Eugenics and Progressive Thought: A Study in Ideological Affinity (pp. 144-172)

      The issues raised by eugenics are of more than passing interest for the student of political thought. In itself a minor offshoot of turn-of-the-century sociobiological thought that never achieved ideological “takeoff” in terms of influence or circulation, there was certainly more in eugenics than nowadays meets the eye. The following pages propose to depart from the oversimplistic identification of eugenics, as political theory, with racism or ultraconservatism and to offer instead two alternative modes of interpretation.¹ On the one hand, eugenics will be portrayed as an exploratory avenue of the social reformist tendencies of early-twentieth-century British political thought. On the...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT True Blood or False Genealogy: New Labour and British Social Democratic Thought (pp. 173-189)

      When tony blair traced some of the ideational roots of New Labour back to early-and mid-twentieth-century liberals, as well as when he put out organisational feelers of cooperation toward the Liberal Democrats, he dared make explicit a central feature of British progressivism. In contrast to the overt politics of confrontation and the tactics of exclusion that have typified the public face of British political culture, with its assumption of a one-to-one association between party and political values, the ideology of social and political reform has cut across party boundaries ever since Labour was formed. Although liberalism and social democracy have...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Ideology of New Labour (pp. 190-203)

      In march 1998 Tony Blair addressed the French parliament in its native language to general applause. But Martine Aubry, the French employment minister, was annoyed by Blair’s speech. As theIndependentreported: “Among other things, he had said ideology was dead; all that counted in government was that policies should work. Ms Aubry told colleagues that she found his address ‘lamentable.’ ”¹

      What is lamentable about Blair’s reported view is not the “fact” that it ostensibly announces but the illusion it promotes. Marx held ideology to be dissimulative, a distortion of the relations of the material world. Now, however, we...

    • CHAPTER TEN Is Nationalism a Distinct Ideology? (pp. 204-224)

      The categorisation of nationalism as an ideology is a matter of some confusion in contemporary political analysis. Textbooks on political ideologies adopt widely different positions. Thus Adams regards nationalism as an ideology, however flawed, observing that “among modern ideologies, nationalism is the simplest, the clearest and the least theoretically sophisticated, but it is also the most widespread and the one with the strongest grip on popular feeling.”¹ On the other hand, Ball and Dagger note that “nationalism and anarchism take so many forms and are so entwined with so many different ideologies that we think it better not to treat...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Political Theory and the Environment: Nurturing a Sustainable Relationship (pp. 225-235)

      Consider sitting on a tree. Every year in Oxford hundreds of human beings sit on trees. Most of them are children, often in their backgardens, scrambling over branches, hiding in their tree houses. Some are adults, out for a walk, looking for a view, or a place to rest for a while when the ground is wet. Sitting on trees is a recreational activity, and has been so since time immemorial. Not long ago, one group of adults chose to sit on trees on the site of the Oxford-Business-School-to-be. Was that a recreational activity? I doubt it. The act was...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Practising Ideology and Ideological Practices (pp. 236-262)

      Although among the categories informing the study of politics there are few as fundamental as those demarcating theory and practice, that distinction is highly problematic when applied to the analysis of ideologies. Many traditional as well as current approaches regard political thought as the area in which issues of moral philosophy pertaining to political entities are aired, with the objective of setting defining ethical and validating criteria that are then to be applied to political practice. A grounding of this view may be found in Kant, for whom individuals were subjected to clear and unequivocal moral duties and weretherefore...

  6. Index (pp. 263-271)