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Settling Accounts with Liberalism: On the Work of Domenico Losurdo

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image of Historical Materialism

Liberalism is currently the hegemonic world-view, capable of dictating its terms even to the very movements that antagonise it. But does the history of liberalism really coincide with that of modern democracy? In two of his recent works, Liberalism: A Counter-History and The Language of Empire, Domenico Losurdo demonstrates that this is not the case. At its origin, liberalism was not a universalistic defence of the individual’s freedom. On the contrary, it represented a demand for wresting complete self-government of civil society from the monarch. However, given that each society is traversed by deep differences and bitter conflicts, the emancipation from absolute power turned into the possibility for the strongest individuals and social forces to exercise an unprecedented absolute power over subaltern classes and ‘inferior races’. It was only after the confrontation and clash with the demands of radicalism and socialism and two world-wars that liberal thought was forced to make peace with the principles of democracy. However, contemporary liberalism seems to have forgotten its own most-recent achievements and to have returned to its eighteenth-century form: will modern democracy survive this involution?

Affiliations: 1: University of Urbino, Email:


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