Liberalism

Topics: Liberalism, Conservatism, French Revolution Pages: 18 (6189 words) Published: October 13, 2014
Liberalism and Its History
Author(s): Eric Voegelin, Mary Algozin and Keith Algozin
Source: The Review of Politics, Vol. 36, No. 4 (Oct., 1974), pp. 504-520 Published by: Cambridge University Press for the University of Notre Dame du lac on behalf of Review of Politics

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Liberalism and Its History*
Erie Voegelin
Translated from the German by Mary
and Keith Algozin
The taskofsketching history liberalism,
of
the
is
though
modest,
formethodological
reasons
For
the
difficult. we standbefore questionofwhether
is
there evensucha thing liberalism a clearly
as
as

definablesubject and whetherthissubject,should it not be clearly definable, can have a history. We touch here upon a general
methodologicalproblem. Toynbee, for example, opens his great workwiththe questionwhether
he
England has a history; concludes
that the English nation as a society is so closely related to the society of Western civilizationthat one cannot write an English withoutgoing into the entirehistory Westerncivilization.
of
history
It is in thissensethattherearisethe questionsof how liberalism to is
be delimitedand whetherit has a history. And they arise more acutely because the case of liberalismis much more complicated than that of England. For even if some phases of English history, for example the Reformation,

can be dealt with only in relationto
the generalEuropean history the Reformation
of
and Counter-Refstillthereare long periodsof isolated,specifically ormation,
English
history. In the case of liberalism,a narrowingof the subject to national societies- German, French, English or American - is are only
hardlyjustifiable.For all the regionalphases of liberalism
this
movement;and furthermore, movepartsof a commonWestern
ment can only with difficulty isolated from other movements
be

whichrunparallel
with in time.
it
I

The methodologicalquestions must be raised, because in the
course of the past 30 years the image of what liberalismis has changed completely.If you look at an older standardworksuch as Guido de Ruggiero'sworkof the 1920's, you will findthat at that *
This essay is adapted by the editorsfroma lecturedeliveredto the BavarianCatholicAcademy,
and published it (Wiirzburg,
by
1960).

504

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LIBERALISM AND ITS HISTORY

505

time,at the close of the liberal era, liberalismstill appeared to be an easilydefinable
phenomenon. But if you look at the more recent
will findthat the prototype Ruggiero'swork has
of
literature,
you
just about disappeared-ttodaythe questionsof liberalismare posed in broader contexts. Let me characterize
threeof the more
briefly
recentworksto see in whichdirection investigation
the
movestoday.
Considerfirst workof Franz Schnabel,the Munich historian,
the
which appeared in 1934.
Deutsche Geschichteim 19. Jahrhundert,
The second volume containsa thorough,penetrating
treatment
of
liberalism. Here, while thereis...
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