Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
Member of the Alliance for Liberal Learning

Friday, January 1, 2016

Bland Fanatics

Pankaj Mishra reviewed
  • On Politics: A History of Political Thought from Herodotus to the Present, by Alan Ryan
  • Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, by Larry Siedentop
  • Liberalism: The Life of an Idea ,by Edmund Fawcett
  • An Imperial Path to Modernity: Yoshino Sakuzō and a New Liberal Order in East Asia 1905-37, by Jung-Sun Ni Han
at the London Review of Books (subscriber's only), and here included a bit of snark.
"Convinced that 'moral beliefs' have given a clear overall 'direction' to Western history, Siedentop mentions capitalism only once in Inventing the Individual, while critics of the liberal tradition in the West – including Marx, Burckhardt, Nietzsche and Carl Schmitt – are almost completely ignored. Ryan and Fawcett offer a more capacious account of liberalism, but are just as indifferent to mankind's many other conversations with itself, especially those held outside the West. 'Political thought as we understand it began in Athens,' Ryan asserts in the serenely pedagogical 'Great Books' style of the early 20th century; the hundreds of pages of lucid exposition that follow show no awareness of Chanakya, Mencius, Ashoka, al-Ghazali or of traditions of political thought older than Greece's. Ryan mentions Islamic philosophy only to traduce it by dwelling on such fundamentalist agitators as Sayyid Qutb, whose shrill anti-Westernism became, after 9/11, the lens through which self-styled defenders of the liberal-democratic West like Martin Amis chose to view Islam. In this version of Western liberalism, it seems enough to posit the defence of individual liberty as the highest task of politics, and then dismiss all other political traditions as illiberal, or even fanatical."

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