From Liberalism to Social Democracy

AndreasIraGeoffrey Kurtz reviews Andreas Kalyvas and Ira Katznelson's Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns, in Dissent:

The central political question at stake in this book is whether the liberal tradition contains sufficient resources for its own renewal. In other words, whether the way of thinking about politics pioneered by Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, Thomas Paine, James Madison, Germaine de Staël, and Benjamin Constant offers the ideas the democratic left needs if it is to rethink its work today. The authors think it does. But in explaining their reasons, they also give us reason to think that it might not.

Kalyvas and Katznelson present a new framework for thinking about the relationship between the liberal and republican traditions in political thought. Debates between liberals and those critics of liberalism who style themselves as “civic republicans” have often been organized around unnecessary dichotomies.

How can we choose between process and substance, the universal and the particular, the individual and the community? We can’t, at least not if we want to think through the demands of a politics that is simultaneously radical and democratic.

Kalyvas and Katznelson’s alternative is to understand the relationship between the two traditions historically. Liberalism, they write, developed from republicanism as a butterfly does from a chrysalis. A cohort of pivotal thinkers between 1750 and 1830 began as republicans and, in trying to construct “a republic for moderns,” ended up inventing modern liberalism and bringing about the end of republicanism as a “freestanding model.”