Liberalism Strikes Back

Rita Koganzon at The Hedgehog Review:

Rosenblatt’s effort to vindicate liberalism by demonstrating that it was never what critics on the right and left said it was in the first place results in a highly readable and engaging history of nineteenth-century French politics, but it’s not entirely convincing. The distinction Rosenblatt relies on between “liberality” as an individual virtue and “liberalism” as a set of government policies is blurred by precisely those seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thinkers most often held up as the first liberals, and whom Rosenblatt is determined to exclude from that category. On Rosenblatt’s own account, Locke understood toleration as a personal virtue, but he also required the state to defend it as a matter of policy. Nineteenth-century French liberalism may well have been a more self-conscious political movement, but, in Rosenblatt’s telling, it was not notably more coherent in its substance than eighteenth-century British Whiggism, and certainly not more politically effective than its nineteenth-century British counterpart, which operated within a stable constitutional order and consequently achieved much more in practice than the French model. French liberalism is undoubtedly philosophically significant and deeply intertwined with other European liberalisms, but Rosenblatt does not definitively show that the precedence we tend to give to the British as progenitors and exemplars of liberalism is misplaced.

more here.