What Was Liberalism?: The Past, Present, and Promise of a Noble Idea (book cover)


SCIENCE SALON # 91

Michael Shermer with James Traub — What Was Liberalism? The Past, Present, and Promise of a Noble Idea

In this wide-ranging conversation James Traub and Michael Shermer discuss:

  • the changing meaning of “liberalism” over the centuries and decades
  • why the first liberals were deeply skeptical of majority rule
  • how, by the second half of the 20th century, liberalism become the national creed of the most powerful country in the world
  • why this consensus did not last
  • the giants of liberalism: James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, Isiah Berlin
  • Karl Popper, the Open Society, and the paradox of tolerance (that tolerating intolerance is self-defeating)
  • Donald Trump as the first American president to regard liberal values with open contempt
  • illiberalism in the UK, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Germany
  • why liberalism lost the support it once enjoyed
  • the intolerance of the illiberal left, identity politics, and political correctness
  • what a potential future for liberalism would look like.

James Traub has spent the last forty years as a journalist for American’s leading publications, including the New Yorker and the New York Times magazine. He now teaches foreign policy and intellectual history at New York University and at NYU Abu Dhabi, and is a columnist and contributor at Foreign Policy. He is the author of six previous books on foreign and domestic affairs. His most recent work is John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit. He lives in New York City.

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