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Liberal Beginnings
Making a Republic for the Moderns

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  • Date Published: June 2008
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521728287

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About the Authors
  • The book examines the origins and development of the modern liberal tradition and explores the relationship between republicanism and liberalism between 1750 and 1830. The authors consider the diverse settings of Scotland, the American colonies, the new United States, and France and examine the writings of six leading thinkers of this period: Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, Germaine de Staël, and Benjamin Constant. The book traces the process by which these thinkers transformed and advanced the republican project, both from within and by introducing new elements from without. Without compromising civic principles or abandoning republican language, they came to see that unrevised, the republican tradition could not grapple successfully with the political problems of their time. By investing new meanings, arguments, and justifications into existing republican ideas and political forms, these innovators fashioned a doctrine for a modern republic, the core of which was surprisingly liberal.

    • Considers the works of six important authors
    • Compares four areas between 1750–1830
    • Argues that modern republicanism is more liberal than generally believed
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    • Winner of the Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2009

    Reviews & endorsements

    “This is a terrific book. It offers a persuasive reconstruction of liberalism as a complex tradition of political thought, and underscores the importance of such historical understanding to the revitalization of contemporary political theory and contemporary political science."
    -Jeffrey C. Isaac, Indiana University, Bloomington

    “The book offers an exceptionally stimulating contribution to the present state of theoretical questions in several fields and to current disputes in the historiography of political thought, as well a subtle contribution to some current political issues. Republicanism is about rhetoric as a resource for knowledge, among other things; and the book by Kalyvas and Katznelson stands out for what it does as well as what it says. It should be heard and answered."
    -David Kettler, Bard College

    “Are the civic republican and liberal traditions at odds? Did the rise of the latter mean the regrettable death of the former? Kalyvas and Katznelson firmly and persuasively rebut these suggestions, arguing that republicanism became liberal. Challenging an influential body of scholarly opinion, they make their argument by re-examining the work of six of liberalism’s founding political thinkers. A first-rate and long-needed book that should transform the current debate.”
    -Steven Lukes, New York University

    “Liberal Beginnings proves the fruitfulness of political theory founded on a living history of ideas: a history understood not as a conflict between pre-constituted doctrines, but rather as the product of confronting and resolving intellectual and political problems. This approach leads the authors to reformulate in a new way the question of the relationship between ‘liberalism’ and ‘republicanism’. At the same time, this book offers a stimulating rereading that encompasses the founding fathers of our modernity, and provides a veritable lesson in method.”
    -Pierre Rosanvallon, Collège de France

    “Liberal Beginnings is one of those rare books that have the great merit of correcting serious historical and conceptual mistakes, in this case the idea, that has become almost a commonplace within the international intellectual community, that republicanism and liberalism have emerged form separated well-springs, each isolated and insulated from the other. The truth is that liberalism ‘was born from the spirit of republicanism’, as Andreas Kalyvas and Ira Katznelson brilliantly explain on the basis of a superb work of historical investigation that casts a fresh light on important and hitherto neglected texts.”
    -Maurizio Viroli, Princeton University

    “Ever-sharper contrasts drawn by political philosophers between the civic strengths of a lost classical republican tradition and the impoverishment of contemporary liberalism, shorn of all but a preoccupation with negative liberty and the furtherance of the self, have produced an apparent historical conundrum. Why did this republican tradition come to an end? When and how was it so easily displaced by liberalism? And why did so few apparently notice this momentous change? Liberal Beginnings argued that this conundrum is false. Republicanism and liberalism were not two distinct bodies of thought. Rather, the one was a development of the other. ‘Liberalism’ began not as a distinct creed, but as the sum of converging attempts to think out the problems confronting a modern republic. The crucial period in which these attempts were made was that of the era of late eighteenth century revolutions; and Liberal Beginnings supports its important argument by demonstrating the presence of both republican and liberal themes in the writings of six crucial political thinkers during the 1750-1830 period.”
    -Gareth Stedman-Jones, King's College, University of Cambridge

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2008
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521728287
    • length: 200 pages
    • dimensions: 216 x 138 x 11 mm
    • weight: 0.24kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Beginnings
    2. The rhetoric of the market: Adam Smith on recognition, speech, and exchange
    3. Adam Ferguson's agonistic liberalism: modern commercial society and the limits of classical republicanism
    4. After the king: Thomas Paine's and James Madison's institutional liberalism
    5. Embracing liberalism: Germaine de Stael's farewell to republicanism
    6. On the liberty of the moderns: Benjamin Constant and the discovery of an immanent liberalism
    7. After republicanism: a coda.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Introduction to Political Thought
    • The American Government
  • Authors

    Andreas Kalyvas, New School for Social Research, New York
    Ira Katznelson is Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University. His most recent books are When Affirmative Action Was White (2005) and Desolation and Enlightenment: Political Knowledge After Total War, Totalitarianism, and the Holocaust (2003), which received the David and Helene Spitz Prize and the David Easton Award.

    Ira Katznelson, Columbia University, New York
    Andreas Kalyvas is Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at The New School for Social Research and the Eugene Lang College for Liberal Arts. He is the recipient of the 2002 Leo Strauss Award for the best doctoral dissertation in the field of political philosophy and the author of Democracy and the Politics of the Extraordinary: Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, Hannah Arendt (2008).


    • Winner of the Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2009

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