A Conjectural history of Liberalism
Cosmos + Taxis
Burnaby B.C.: Simon Fraser University
2 - 17
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I want to argue that liberalism has an essence. I do not want to do this silently, or by taking it for granted, but by stating it plainly. Liberalism has an essence, even though it emerged contingently and perhaps even unexpectedly out of history: for the reason that once it emerged it was soon understood to be a decisive novelty, not without difficulties and contradictions, but magnificent in the scale of its revision of human possibilities. In particular, I want to assert what is sometimes, though not often, asserted, that liberalism is best understood as—and the crisis of liberalism now best understood as a consequence of—an extension of a pre-political disposition of liberality (liberalitas) into politics, therefore not as a political ideal of liberty or consent. I do this neither by writing pure philosophy nor by writing pure history—since I think the former is a mistake, and the latter is sometimes a bit uncritical—but by writing what historians of eighteenth-century political thought called ‘conjectural history’: a style of imaginative writing which is for a philosophical purpose but which is written as if in historical terms. It is, in fact, a sort of philosophy of history.