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Liberalism: a Tradition-Building History

This ongoing research project, which is article-based, revisits the history of liberalism as a transnational effort, on the part of liberals, at canonizing earlier liberal champions and reinventing the liberal tradition.

A pilot article for this project, “What is French Liberalism? (out in Political Studies), reveals that the idea of a French liberal tradition (Montesquieu, Constant, and Tocqueville) was first invented during the French Second Empire, when liberals were reduced to extra-parliamentary opposition and felt the need to invoke great liberal heroes to promote their political agenda.

A second article, currently in progress and titled “Liberalism: A Tradition-Building History,” is more focused on methodology. It argues that the history of liberalism can be understood as an ongoing endeavour to redefine the themes and figures of the liberal tradition to support shifting conceptions of liberalism as a political doctrine.


A third article, “How Liberalism Travels: from France to America,” also currently in progress, recounts the second life the French liberal tradition had in America in the late 1970s and 1980s. At that juncture, to counter American critics of liberalism, American liberals turned to Constant and Tocqueville, branding them as offering a French alternative to a better known yet less robust Anglo-American liberal tradition popularized by Louis Hartz and, in some accounts, continued by Rawls.  

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