Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Liberalism: A Counter-History” as Want to Read:
Liberalism: A Counter-History
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Liberalism: A Counter-History

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  240 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
In this definitive historical investigation, Italian author and philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues that from the outset liberalism, as a philosophical position and ideology, has been bound up with the most illiberal of policies: slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism and snobbery.

Narrating an intellectual history running from the eighteenth through to the twentieth centur
Paperback, 384 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Verso (first published 2005)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Liberalism, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Liberalism

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Gabriel Azevedo
holy shit wow. this book took me about two months to finish and when i finally reached the last sentence i sighed a very heavy sigh of relief. this is a rather dense, difficult book so i will try to sum up my feelings as succinctly as possible:

fuck de toucquville

but in case you wanted something more in depth, heres the longer version:

liberalism is full of contradictions and it has historically been able to correct these contradictions, which is partly why it is such a difficult concept to define
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i try to fish out immediate political lessons from philosophy books if i can. the precise position of one of the many dozens of thinkers losurdo mentions in the book doesn't interest me as much, and i can barely keep track of books like this unless i'm taking detailed notes. which i didn't in this case. i'm too busy and tired. just reading this goddamn book took me six months.

losurdo's chronicle of liberalism's contradictions (the 'racial/spatial delimitation of the community of the free') and
tom bomp
Great book. Not always a coherent narrative but goes through a lot of key points relating to liberalism' s consistent racism and authoritarianism outside the self declared freemen. Shows how the most murderous episodes in colonialism were justified and applauded by key liberal figures. Has problems defining liberalism exactly, but as he says this is down to its incredible flexibility and the conflict between the space of freemen where liberal ideals hold and the space outside where freemen are j ...more
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, politics
Liberalism was arguably born when the Netherlands gained freedom from Philip II of Spain and its wealthy commercial class took political control. While the Dutch celebrated their liberation from the shackles and restraints of the ancien regime and its mediaeval values, what they prized in particular was their freedom to engage without restraint in the creation of wealth through their own colonies and their hold over the slave trade of that time. The liberty they idealized and proclaimed was thus ...more
Apr 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Losurdo seeks to answer the question of why believers in Liberalism oversaw the racialization of slavery and the destruction of worker’s autonomy in industrialization. Liberalism therefore granted utter tyranny and began to dismantle protections granted to slaves, servants, and workers. Losurdo argues that it began in Holland as the Dutch wanted freedom of trade. It transferred to slaveowners believing themselves to be the natural holders of liberal ideals, since the wealth and leisure of people ...more
Sara Salem
Definitely interesting because it details how liberalism emerged and how the main liberal intellectuals for the most part supported slavery and colonialism. However it goes beyond this fact by showing how and why they did so and what kinds of intellectual assumptions were embedded in liberalism that allowed these contradictions to emerge (if they are even contradictions). I enjoyed it but for some reason it didn't flow very well and was a bit repetitive. But definitely worth reading.
John Victor
Jan 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
really good debunking of liberal pretensions, although its focused on race relations, which is definitely an area that needs to be examined but takes away from the broader scope this book could have otherwise i think
Jan 09, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I am very torn about giving this a 3 or a 4. I think 3.5 would have been ideal. In terms of importance and my desire to have lots of people read it(especially useless bien pensant types in America, Britain, France, and those wahhabi-humanist nations I like to jokingly conflate and call 'Nethersweden') I would rank it a 5.

The good:

Myth busting on an epic scope. Explodes most of a public school education in the anglosphere.

Denies from liberalism is sanctimonious privilege of claiming to have been
Anndra Dunn
Nov 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A comprehensive and convincing argument against conventional perspectives on liberalism and particularly its relationship with slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. It shows how these things had a 'twin birth' in the early modern period and were entangled with it right up to the modern era, and even presaged the horrors of fascism which Losurdo links to parts of the liberal tradition (similarly to Ishay Landa's argument in The Apprentice's Sorceror). Losurdo's primary method of showing all this ...more
Jun 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An exhaustive study of the really obvious, though clearly not obvious enough to a lot of people. And when I say exhaustive I really mean it, incredibly impressive amounts of research and just appalling quotations from the kinds of people (Locke, Adam Smith, Bentham, all of the Founding Fathers) who get name dropped on a constant basis are stacked against the inhumane shit they pulled. Would highly recommend to anyone who still has faith in the "principles" that continue to dominate western thoug ...more
Mar 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fantastic. I haven't enjoyed seeing classical liberals getting annihilated by a well-read Marxist this much since Capital Vol. 1.
May 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best read in tandem with Ferrara's Liberty: the god that failed, Losurdo's Liberalism provides a needed alternative to the hagiographies all too common in histories of America and the liberal West at large.
Losurdo handily demonstrates how ill the West was after being poisoned by liberal ideology. Liberalism did not unite civilized peoples but divided them by nationalism and enforced it's freedoms with the soldier's bayonet and slaver's whip.
Who among us, having realized what a rotten deal libe
Otto Lehto
Jun 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is important and well-researched (with one important caveat that will be handled in a moment), but riddled with enough problems to seriously mar its standing as a definitive "counter-history" to liberalism's self-serving golden fairy-tale. (It barely deserves four stars, so this might as well be a three-star review. Consider it thus.)

The book makes the case that liberalism, far from being the counterforce to oppression, tyranny, slavery and war, has (almost) always, in fact, defended a
Liberalism: A Counter History, by Domenico Losurdo is a fascinating look at the beginnings of Liberalism and its relation to slavery. Losurdo spares no detail on each of histories most well known political philosophers, including Burke, Locke, Mill and more, and how each of these individuals thought about slavery. It would seem that slavery and Liberalism would be opposing ideals, one promoting the complete loss of personal freedom and the other supporting greater political and social freedoms. ...more
Jon Morgan
Mar 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
This was disappointing. The author's critique of liberalism as founded in racial and class exclusion is thoroughly documented in the writings of Locke, de Tocqueville, Mill, and many other exponents of liberalism. That said, I feel that this critique has been made elsewhere already, and the organization of this text does not so much present a history - a detailed explication of liberalism over time - as it does a litany, a rehashing and restating of the same exclusionary biases of liberalism fou ...more
Sep 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An exhaustive analysis of the il-liberalness (unliberalness? a-liberalness?) at the heart of foundational liberal thinkers, primarily through their handling of slavery but also indentured servitude, workers' rights, and the extension of suffrage to the "wrong" people. Anyone who's read these thinkers extensively won't be surprised by the larger argument, but Losurdo has done the reader a favor in the great deal of work spent cataloging and contextualizing a vast number of examples where liberal ...more
Aniruddh Mohan
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Scholarly, empirical and exacting in his approach, Losurdo has brilliantly traced the evolution of liberal thought and its enduring flexibility to react to the political-economy of the time. He illustrates how the same thought system responsible for limiting political power and extending freedom was also comfortable in justifying slavery, genocide, class repression and racial supremacy. A must read if you want to understand liberal thought and the dichotomies that it painfully repressed.
Alyssa Mcgrow
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: political
Do you consider yourself on the left politically? Read this and purge your liberal tendencies and ascend towards true radical thinking.

Or don't whatever I don't care about you or this.
Davide Clementi
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Losurdo è abile nell'incastrare fra di loro i pensieri e gli scritti dei pensatori più disparati per analizzare e cogliere sfumature e contraddizioni nella storia e nel pensiero filosofico.
'Controstoria del liberalismo' è, in buona sostanza, un'opera dialettica sulle aporie che il liberalismo si trascina da ormai tre secoli. Facendo leva sugli scritti di alcuni fari del pensiero liberale - da Locke a Thomas Jefferson, da Alexis de Tocqueville a Benjamin Disraeli, Losurdo mette sotto processo un
Sami Eerola
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like the implementation of communism in the Soviet union, liberal state was build with the blood of workers and slaves.
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A barnstorming evisceration of liberalism.
From the blurb: "Domenico Losurdo argues that from the outset liberalism, as a philosophical position and ideology, has been bound up with the most illiberal of policies: slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism and snobbery", and the book delivers on that promise. I highly recommend it, especially if you are, or are becoming disenchanted with the political centre (I was a teenage liberal). I don't know if it's a good introduction however, as he talks abo
Vishal Misra
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Losurdo starts his investigation of liberalism with the question "what is liberalism". With clarity and incisive analysis he shows that liberalism, as defined by its pioneers, Locke, Bentham, Tocqueville, Constant, Calhoun, Washington et al is the ideology of slavery, war, the racial State and colonialism.

Historically, calls for individual freedom have been bound up in the assertion of individual property rights. This structure allowed Calhoun to declare slavery a "positive good". From this bac
Jacques le fataliste et son maître
È agghiacciante il panorama presentato in questo libro: le più lucide teorizzazioni e le più ispirate proclamazioni della libertà si sono quasi sempre accompagnate a una chiusura mentale impensabile di fronte alla percezione di sé, alla percezione del soggetto libero e alla definizione del suo “limite” – in una parola: di fronte a coloro che restavano esclusi dalla libertà (di volta in volta i popoli di colore schiavizzati, i nativi americani sterminati, i bianchi poveri sfruttati, le donne cui ...more
Nov 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It's fitting to read this book the day after the most neoliberal congress in the nation's history has only become more neoliberal. Suddenly The Washington Consensus seems a bit of an understatement in regard to labels. In this country free market economics (which has never realized it's rather dubious promise of 'a rising tide...' by the way), is more an essential organ. Even those ostensibly on the left in this country are quick, oh so quick, to leave the economic mantra undisturbed. 'It works! ...more
Micheal Gumbert
Apr 25, 2014 rated it did not like it
This was a horrible book. For one thing he talks about basically only one thing slavery and I understand slavery is one of the worst parts of American history. But for the love of God every decision the US made was not made around it and he decries the system America created while never acknowledging that it's been around longer than any democratic system in the history of the world. Plus he basically just cherry picks the worse parts of an ideology and basically says people were this or that Je ...more
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-politics
And here we are, praising Locke, John Stuart Mill and the founding fathers of the U.S. Liberty doesn't mean what you think it means. As a side note, the faulty logic by which slavery was defended, as supposedly abolishing it would violate property rights is still widely used and is based on the same inherent misunderstanding of what 'liberty' and 'rights' mean. A very revealing book.
Luke Echo
I think "Slavery and Liberalism" might be a more accurate title in some respects. Because that really is the focus: the tension between liberal thought and slavery in the last few centuries.

It was interesting but didn't really come together for me until the last 2-3 chapters.

Benjamin Eskola
Basically a history of liberal philosophy and its contradictions with regard to colonialism, slavery, the working class, etc. Interesting in places but kind of dry, especially in the last couple of chapters (which are more theoretical).
Pierre Gilly
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin
  • The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation
  • The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View
  • The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution
  • Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat
  • A Companion to Marx's Capital
  • Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire
  • Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village
  • Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism
  • The Liberal Defence of Murder
  • Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression
  • Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation
  • The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire
  • Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics
  • How to Change the World: Marx and Marxism 1840-2011
  • The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy Of American Empire
  • The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century
  • Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence
“[t]he freedom of the free was the cause of the great oppression of the slaves …” 0 likes
More quotes…