Cold War Liberalism: An Interview with Samuel Moyn

Samuel McIlhagga

Samuel Moyn is the Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and History at Yale University, editor of the journal Humanity, and a frequent contributor to The Nation and The New Republic. He has written several prominent books on international relations, human rights and intellectual history—including 2012’s The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, which argued for caution over the universalization and technocratic implementation of human rights law in the 1960s, especially considering international humanitarianism’s replacement of more demotic expressions of politics, such as reform, protest, trade unionism, associational life, revolt, and revolution. 

His latest book is derived from his prestigious nomination to the Carlyle Lectures at Oxford in 2022. At Oxford, he attempted to construct and then deconstruct a “canon” of specifically “Cold War” liberal thinkers. Whereas the Carlyle lectures he delivered were focused on his construction of a canon of Cold War liberal thinkers—and also their own particular canons of 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th-century historical thinkers that were elevated in reaction to the USSR, Moyn’s new book makes a distinct new argument, with contemporary relevance.

Liberalism Against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times argues that a set of liberal thinkers in the West, in response to the USSR and China, fatally undermined the confidence, utopianism, and historicism of 19th and early 20th-century traditions of liberalism. These thinkers are Judith Shklar, Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Hannah Arendt, and Lionel Trilling. They wrote in the aftermath of Nazi tyranny and the threat from Soviet Communism, consequently seeking to eradicate the meliorist, utopian, and radical mass-democratic strains from Anglo-American and European liberalism. Instead, liberalism was the superior ideology of the Cold War because of its empiricism, particularism, institutionalism, gradualism, and legalism.

The gap between this conception and the liberal energies of 1776, 1789 and 1848 is, to Moyn, profound. What was once the missionary ideology of the 18th and 19th-century Enlightenment, under Cold War conditions, became a defensive set of ideas geared towards survival—and eventually, dominance. Indeed, Moyn argues that the neoconservatism of American foreign policy and the neoliberalism of American economic policy should both be characterized as post-Cold War liberal ideologies—with little in common regarding 18th and 19th-century American notions of liberalism.

In fact, earlier notions of liberalism, with their emphasis on perfectibility and progress, shared much more with the often-demonized theories of Hegel and Marx. Moyn makes the argument that Cold War liberalism sought to strip itself of Romanticism and revolutionary fervor because these were aspects too strongly associated with the insurgent left, both democratic and totalitarian. The continuum from liberal revolutionary to socialist fundamentally terrified the guardians of the Cold War West. 

Furthermore, Moyn makes the argument that, as the contours of a second Cold War emerge in the 21st century, the elder generations of Europe and America are reaching for 20th-century Cold War analogies. Moyn points to the renewed importance of philosophers like Mark Lilla, Michael Ignatieff, and the historian Timothy Snyder, who embrace narrow, defensive conceptions of liberalism—definitions of liberalism that overwhelmingly cite the very real threat of China and Russia to American dominance as evidence for their positions.

However, in Liberalism Against Itself, Moyn argues that this defensive Cold War liberalism ultimately undermines the attractive qualities of the Enlightenment and liberal governance. This, in turn, clears the way for competing models like developmental nationalism (China), revanchist conservatism (Russia), plutocratic monarchism (the Gulf) and the continuance of technocratic neoliberalism by other means (the United States).

Moyn’s book is a warning: as geopolitical tensions heat up, we should not look back to Arendt, Berlin, or other Cold War liberals. Cold War liberalism didn’t make sense at the time, and it doesn’t make sense now. Berlin and Arendt were liberal thinkers at the end of an age of mass democracy and the corollary dangers of mass politics. Moyn’s intervention is essential in highlighting that our politics now operate in a very different and much more atomized world—where the dangers of fragmentation and alienation, at least for the moment, overshadow those of totalitarianism.

[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]


Samuel McIlhagga: At the core of Cold War liberalism, there was a principled objection to Stalinism in the Soviet Union. But at the same time, there seemed to be a conceptual slippery slope, whereby any kind of historicism or determinism, often associated with Marxism, was rejected as innately dangerous and innately tyrannical. Why did that process play out in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s? Was it inevitable?

Samuel Moyn: I don’t think it was inevitable. I think there were other forms of liberalism that did, or could have, survived. There was no need for Cold War liberalism to degrade into neoliberalism and neoconservatism. I think my point is just the distance between Cold War liberalism and what had come before, and the proximity of Cold War liberalism to its successor theories. I just want to illustrate proximity. Furthermore, I follow the Cold War liberals in rejecting teleological beliefs, as if there was something inevitable about the movement from one thing to another. However, proximity already establishes a possibility. It’s much stronger than the prior distance between older liberalism and the results in our time.

McIlhagga: There is an element of conflation whereby elements of earlier 19th-century ideologies, including liberalism, are brought closer together. Not just teleology, but idealism, human perfection, universalism, an idea of emancipation and meliorism become centrifugal orbiters around this core idea of economic necessity and historical teleology. Why was it that these figures in the 1940s and 1950s—Hannah Arendt, Gertrude Himmelflarb, Judith Shklar, Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, Lionel Trilling—looked back at the history of the 19th century and the 18th century and saw these elements as clustering?

Moyn: If one wants to be empathetic about it—I think one can say that these figures saw that others couldn’t discriminate between late forms of 19th-century liberalism and the communist appropriation of those premises: claims on the Enlightenment, belief in the highest public good, a commitment to historical evolution. I think they wanted to inoculate liberalism against the risks they saw in others that they would embrace communism out of their liberal aspiration. The clearest example, in my book, of that tendency, is the critic Lionel Trilling. Trilling has in mind a certain naïveté in earlier liberalism that he thinks led innocent people to play into the hands of evil. You could think of it as a prophylactic move: the Cold War liberals, in the name of protecting what they cared about, needed to sever it from the elements of liberalism that they thought made the tradition risky in their time. That was my attempt at being empathetic. They didn’t countenance the risks that went along with that move. These are the risks, not of a slippery slope into neoliberalism or neoconservatism, but the risk that Cold War liberals made neoliberalism more credible. They overlapped with them, they led into them. The preservative act, in a sense, failed on its own terms.

McIlhagga: The title of the book is Liberalism Against Itself. There is a self-undermining dialectic within the book, whereby the very virtues that someone like Berlin or Arendt care about come to be undermined by an overly defensive or overly anxious pose.

Moyn: My critique is partly internal, in that they fail to achieve their own ends. But I also have an external critique that they abandon better ends—however risky.

McIlhagga: And what would those better ends be? I’ve mentioned a few abstract phrases like historicism, idealism, and meliorism. But in terms of specific thinkers or specific 19th-century concepts, what are the ideas that have been abandoned?

Moyn: I structure the book through liberalism’s canon, its understanding of its own past. There’s a chapter on claims on the Enlightenment which liberals relinquish. I associate the Enlightenment, following other folks discussed in the book, with the intentional attempt to liberate human agency. Additionally, there was the more Romantic idea that liberalism is devoted to the “highest good”—it’s not principally a tolerationist attempt to achieve social peace with competing fanatics getting along. Instead, it introduces its own controversial ideal of the good life, which is “free self-creation,” both individually and collectively.

Then there’s historicism, which the philosopher Karl Popper made famous, although it predates him in a different meaning. There the commitment was to the acquisition of universal freedom and equality in historical time—a mission or opportunity, not an inevitability. Those ideas did sponsor a much more meliorist liberal creed. But new sources were taken on board by liberals. These were instead of earlier inspirations from the Enlightenment like John-Jacques Rousseau, the French Revolution, German idealism, G.W.F. Hegel, and even Karl Marx, who was during his time a liberal teacher for several decades. Although he’s now seen as anathema. 

McIlhaggaThere’s this string of historical events and figures going from Rousseau to the French Revolution, to the Jacobins, to The Terror to, in some cases, Napoleon at Jena, to Hegel, and then to Marx. That was a kind of liberal narrative, which was then turned into a liberal counter-narrative by figures like Shklar and Popper. It’s still a narrative that’s claimed by “the left”—including a kind of anti-democratic, anti-liberal left found in China, where the CCP still recognizes itself as coming out of that heritage and tradition.

But in the West, organizations like the DSA, the U.K. Labour Party, and left-populist parties in continental Europe would also recognize that narrative.  They all claim the enlightenment for themselves, but were cast out of a narrower enlightenment canon by Cold War liberalism—a “cordon sanitaire” was built around both the authoritarian and progressive left. You make an argument in the book that contemporary liberalism would benefit from reappropriating this narrative, heritage, and genealogy. Would the left, from both the democratic to the authoritarian, benefit from a reintegration back into liberalism and the Enlightenment? Or is it justified to say: “We’ve already been taken out of this arena. We’ve built other things. We’re fine.”

Moyn: In a certain way, the liberal abandonment of its own emancipatory origins gave an opportunity to the left. After Stalinism, it’s not as if the left couldn’t claim, in some new form, to stand for emancipation. I think, in some ways, those who claim this legacy matter less. I do want to say that liberals once did, and that anyone who claims it is in communion with early liberalism. Consequently, if you claim this legacy, then you’re in breach of later liberalism that arose in the middle of the 20th century. I don’t have a stake in whether liberals abandon their term and join this creed, or the left takes it over. What matters is the content. It’s something to which we ought to return—a kind of left-Hegelian emancipatory politics. What it’s called, and who’s against it, matters less than whether anyone’s for it.

McIlhagga: We seem to be entering a new Cold War era, although that’s up for debate. Is abandoning 20th-century Cold War liberalism an actual possibility if we’re entering a new Cold War? Or will Cold War liberalism be reinforced in America, in the U.K. and Europe, as great-power conflict heats up?

Moyn: I’m pessimistic because a lot of people like the security blanket of Cold War liberalism, and any attempt they see to reinstate it—they will take it. It’s happened so many times in my life. It’s happening again, both, in the otherwise justified, Ukraine war rhetoric and more broadly.

McIlhagga: In terms of the premier Cold War liberal voices we have, that are distinctly not left or conservative, we can look to Mark Lilla, Timothy Snyder, Michael Ignatieff…

Moyn: Timothy Garton Ash and Anne Applebaum as well—they’re going back towards Cold War liberalism. It doesn’t mean they’re going to win. I don’t regard it as an inevitability that they will win. The future of liberalism is up for grabs right now. Whether the left outpaces liberalism and what it has to offer is also an open question! My book is an intervention in that debate about why those people ought not to be followed for the nth time.

McIlhagga: I think your book has found resonance with younger scholars and younger readers in their 20s and 30s. The reason is that the historical analogy reached for by what you might call the grandchildren of Cold War liberals—Anne Applebaum, and Timothy Garton Ash—is always the Second World War and the European 1930s.

These were periods of strong state capacity, large mass mobilization of populations, and dense ideological commitments. I think it seems obvious to anyone who is at the start or even middle of their lives, that those analogies of WWII and the 1930s ring false—there’s a hole in them. This defensive Cold War liberalism, based on certain historical experiences, justifies a bunch of maladaptations.

Moyn: I mean, it has for decades, but clearly, it was credible in generational terms.

McIlhagga: What do those maladaptations look like to you currently, in 2023?

Moyn: Maybe one place to begin would be with the restoration of Cold War liberalism after the Cold War ended. There was an opportunity then to reassert liberalism, as an emancipatory creed, with no other competitor. A liberalism that would learn the lessons that liberals learnt in the 19th century of avoiding the dalliance with laissez-faire. Of course, this could have been on a global scale. Instead, the Cold War liberals were effectively defending American power, militarism in particular, and economic neoliberal forces.  The Cold War liberals were very badly tarnished in the eyes of younger generations. Both the Cold War reinstatement of foreign policy postures and the economic plans went badly awry—because they were maladapted to the moment.

Yet, other events happened, most notably the Ukraine war, which allowed for a pulling-back of this era and its thought from the brink of obsolescence—and consequently indulging the pretense that Cold War liberalism was still a credible option. I think that young people have not been fooled at any point, at least since 2008. But they’re not in charge yet.

McIlhagga: Setting aside any of the material, strategic and geopolitical concerns—which can, and should, justify pragmatic pro-Ukrainian policies—on the meta-level, it does seem like the war has been used as a disciplining function on a broader American and European democratic upsurge since 2008.

Moyn: From the first, it was [a disciplining motion]. It was remarkable that it wasn’t just the above-mentioned intellectuals, but also Western politicians, who were gleeful with the haste with which they insisted that they could resume their old posture. They attacked critics of endless war and those who focused on global distributional issues—that they had been in the wrong because there was an evil illiberal force out there to face down and to avoid appeasing.  

It was a kind of providential event. I agree with you that there’s a very strong case for backing Ukraine: geopolitically, militarily, etc. But, ideologically, we can’t deny that it had this catalytic effect in almost raising a zombie from the dead.

McIlhagga: I find your term Cold War liberalism useful in that I can see, on a geopolitical and material level, the case for the U.S. and E.U. backing and sending weapons to Ukraine. But the metadiscourse or moral narrative reaching back to the Second World War is inappropriate.

It’s interesting that so many, rather than reaching back to notions of 19th-century realpolitik, Congress of Vienna-style ideas of balance of power, the Crimean War, or examples of the Anglo-Russian Great Game, have returned to Hitler and Stalin. That these prior historical examples were not even in the language shows how Cold War liberalism still has a grip on the foreign policy and domestic elite in our country.

Moyn: That’s a very profound insight, especially given that neither Russia nor China really offers a global ideological alternative as the Soviet Union did. There were attempts by my Yale colleague Timothy Snyder and many others to build up Putinism as if it were a global phenomenon. 

McIlhagga: Yes, the sudden circulation of ideas like “Ruscism” and “Duginism” in the New York Times—which were always marginal to Putin’s authoritarian national conservatism.

Moyn: “Eurasianism,” etc. In China, it was “Xi Jinping Thought.” The most you could say about this ideology is that it’s a boring, autocratic phenomenon. No one was making claims that neo-Confucian Communism was going to be a world ideal. That is not credible.

McIlhagga: We have this imbalance whereby the rhetoric of “the West”—the U.K., Western Europe, America, although not Emmanuel Macron (who has always thought in strategic multipolar terms) is still stuck in this Cold War logic. Whereas Russia and China, right or wrong, are very much thinking about a world of multipolarity and geopolitical territorial specificity.

Moyn: I think this goes beyond the U.K. and the U.S. For France, Ukraine presented a Neo-Gaullist opportunity for Macron. Then you look to Germany or the Nordic countries—and all of them, nations that had been neutralist, embraced the new Cold War with alacrity.

McIlhagga: All the figures that you cover—Hannah Arendt, Lionel Trilling, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Karl Popper, Isaiah Berlin, Judith Shklar. They all have different approaches to teleology. But they all basically come down to two assertions: one, progress is unfounded and based on pseudoscience, and two, it’s morally dangerous.

Yet, at the same time, though they ditch a Whig history or even a Hegelian version of progress. They don’t give up teleology altogether and become a nihilist or pagan approach to history as a cyclical and meaningless thing. Instead, they embrace a form of fatalism or counter-progress, whereby, for some, it’s Christian innate sin or Freudian bestiality and death drive, but essentially, any utopian project, planning, or even enthusiastic reformism is bound to lead to tyranny, if not, at a minimum, dysfunction.

There’s this rhetoric, abandoning utopia and linear history. But basically, they just reverse it and produce a negative linearity.

Moyn: I think it’s largely true. Of course, some Marxists do the same. I mentioned in the book, Theodor W. Adorno, the Frankfurt School figure.

McIlhagga: This was one of my questions. Actually, at the same time, on the right and the left, you have Leo Strauss attempting a perennial, idealistic approach to human transhistorical questions, and then you have Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) essentially saying that rationality and the Enlightenment led to total war and the Holocaust. Could you actually expand the category to a Cold War left and a Cold War right?

Moyn: Absolutely. I think that it makes more sense to me to see aspects of the Frankfurt School as a kind of Marxist version of Cold War liberalism. Maybe someone should write a book about Cold War Marxism. But the question of the right is fascinating, because, as Shklar comments, a lot of the right was already fatalistic, especially the religious or Augustinian right. Those forces, which had been more peripheral earlier, got either embedded in liberalism or reasserted more powerfully. You’re of course right, that if we take the pretty eccentric case of Leo Strauss. He does adopt a kind of vision of humanity as fallen based on his understanding of pre-modern philosophy and what its alleged commitments were and are.

That fits in an interesting way, but I don’t think he has a comparable kind of reverse teleology as someone like Adorno, who says: “There’s no path from savagery to humanitarianism, only one from the slingshot to the megaton bomb.”

McIlhagga: Someone like Gary Gerstel, who’s a historian of American history, would say that the era that is currently ending, which most people term “neoliberalism,” was a fusion of the New Left, which moved away from economism towards a kind of self-actualization and the New Right’s economics. We’re living in a synthesis of those two strains of thought. I’d argue that Cold War liberalism could be the third strain in that synthesis. If we are entering a new Cold War, would all of those mid-20th century tendencies be reified? Are we going to cling to those traditions as they become more and more hollow and irrational?

Or is a new multipolarity going to allow us to untie those formerly predominant ideas? It seems like the next generation on the left and the right are doing this—there’s a rejection of fusionism on the right and on the left there’s a return to an economism of the earlier 20th century. But I don’t see these transformations happening in liberalism.

Moyn: I think part of the answer has to presuppose some sense of how we think change in history happens. We’ve been talking about how obsolete ideologies can be given new life outside their formative settings. At a certain point, that has to be more and more difficult. Factual circumstances and the passing of generations, for whom these ideas are intelligible, make it harder to reassert the thing. We know that the generation of Timothy Garton Ash and Tony Judt have succeeded in finding disciples within the next generation—such as Yascha Mounk and many others.

But will they have great-grandchildren who understand these ideas, especially if the historical setting for Cold War liberalism is just not propitious because the “new” left has already made inroads in prior liberal thought? If we look at the ideological landscape, notwithstanding the Ukraine dynamic that we’ve discussed, the institutions of Cold War liberalism, like The New Republic, are completely lost to the Cold War liberals. Although they have other outposts, like The Atlantic.

The New Republic was a millennial leftist magazine for a while—which was a total mutation of what it had been. The New Republic had been the central outlet of Cold War liberalism in the 1990s. The center will continue to exhibit some continuity, and Cold War liberalism will then be reasserted. However, I think Cold War liberalism will be less and less plausible.

McIlhagga: Especially when you have institutional counterweights.

Moyn: My book is taking advantage of a moment where there are already counterweights. There’s already skepticism about Cold War liberalism. This book couldn’t have been written, I believe, in the 1990s, when Cold War liberalism was hegemonic.

McIlhagga: Above Cold War liberalism, one has this idea of a Cold War paradigm, stretching across the left and the right. Within this paradigm, therefore, it became almost unintelligible, or impossible to launch critiques from the outside. But now, if you look at Jacobin on the left or American Affairs on the right, there is an established capacity to launch coherent national and international critiques of neoliberalism and neoconservatism.

Moyn: For sure, that’s a pretty big difference from 30 years ago. I mean, a major difference.

McIlhaggaAnd yet, if one thinks about climate catastrophe, growing inequality, zoonotic pandemics, nuclear escalation and the heightened complexity of interlinked technological systems, where is the agentic counterweight? The economic historian Adam Tooze uses the term polycrisis to describe this. How can we, in good faith, abandon the fatalism of the Cold War paradigm and embrace the humanism of planning, utopianism, meliorism, and emancipation?

Standing from where I am, the world is becoming more complex, and our ability as humans to effect agency in the world is smaller and smaller. In this way, the Cold War paradigm, although outdated, feels like it has some relevance.

Moyn: I think one could even try to build a left politics out of these perceptions. For example, if one cares about environmental degradation, one can say that it’s a source of considerable fear for a lot of people, including those who are relatively privileged in global terms. One could then try to take advantage of the legacies of Cold War liberalism to play on anxiety and fear for new causes. We shouldn’t forget that Cold War liberals, even though they didn’t really defend this move, did commit to a new welfare state that was erected principally on grounds of competitive fear, given the attractions of Soviet communism to many in the working class.

That’s a strategy that has legs, but also has limits, because it works as long as the fear lasts. That was, in part, the reason the welfare state entered decline. I think it has limits, even to the extent it works, because you’re suggesting that human agency is dangerous. This is even when you’re trying to find things to guard against. It could be a recipe for limited action, rather than more intense radical action. I think liberals should be a lot more forward-looking, and the left should talk about its utopias much more openly and floridly.

Because, to me, these are better sources of motivation, and they seem to have fewer built-in limits than the other strategy you outlined.

McIlhagga: Across the political spectrum, there seems to be this deep sense of fatalism which had, I think, a radical sheen to it. Especially, when people were confronting a very complacent elite: the ability to go—“No, everything is broken. We’re not going down a good path.” There was a kind of powerful frisson to that posture. Are you saying that this apocalyptic pose can actually play into older ways of thinking?

Moyn: There’s something very productive about a sense of total failure because it leaves the legitimacy of the present order in tatters. It can portend some alternative to the present order, which could be a big alternative. But to me, it also comes close to resignation.

You mentioned young people, but I think even younger people tend to have an attitude that: “Well, the world is lost,” so why should they do anything other than enjoy the dying of the light and in whatever personal terms they can? You can’t turn the Titanic around at this late date. Why not party on the decks?

I think it’s a strategy that I think worked really well to open a new era of contestation. But if we just stick with the notion that there’s no hope in some kind of political response, then it’s really a form of passivity, not a real alternative.

McIlhagga: On this topic. We’re in a political phase that the scholar Anton Jäger has called “hyperpolitics,” whereby everything is ephemeral and fleeting, yet momentarily intense. The actual ability to change policy or material reality through politics seems to be curtailed. We seem to have a very short political memory. People have put this down to the destruction of associational life and the inability to conceive of mass politics.  These are aspects of 20th-century society that thinkers like Arendt would see as dangerously tyrannical—promoting the idea of the mass crowd as being a source of political psychosis. But now, 50 years later, many look at the lack of mass politics, the lack of associational life, and the lack of frequent political engagement, as a hard constraint on having a political response to the crises of contemporaneous society.

How does one get to a place where people can have political responses that aren’t washed away in a year?

Moyn: I think the traditional answer is that of a movement party. We haven’t seen those emerge again. I would hate to say that this can’t happen again—that the circumstances of politics in the 21st century now forbid the old way of proceeding. This was to forge a culture within a movement that could make itself more self-sustaining. This is especially the case if it has the charismatic leadership that can give the movement an almost, generational identity. But I don’t see big alternatives. Maybe you say that the very source of the atomism and transience that Anton is describing, like the internet, could be a source of new collective agency—but I’m not seeing that. I personally hope for the renaissance of movement parties.

McIlhagga: Where would you place the causation for the gap between earlier liberalism and Cold War liberalism? Does the causation just suddenly come out of the harsh logic of the Cold War, or are there genealogies for Cold War liberalism reaching back into the early 20th century?

Moyn: We have to look at the trajectory of the individuals involved. There’s a difference of opinion about how early Himmelfarb and Irving Kristol, for example, embraced their mature neoconservatism. I would say that we ought to look at the 1960s and get into the effect of the Great Society on American liberalism and the practical world they were living through as generational change left them as older people in the midst of generational revolt that they had missed by living through their youth in a Cold War climate.

The great historian of neoconservatism, Melinda Cooper, could have gone to town with Himmelfarb, but doesn’t mention her. But the interesting fusion of economic neoliberalism and Victorian moralizing familialism fits Himmelfarb’s mature historiography perfectly.

McIlhagga: It’s an appealing time to focus on Himmelfarb because we’re at a point where the political right, or aspects of it, are trying to undo those two elements. Figures like the Harvard legal scholar and “integralist” Adrian Vermule see conservative moralism and neoliberalism as mutually incompatible.

Moyn: It’s absolutely hilarious that the new-right intellectuals think that they’re on a mission to save Christianity from neoliberalism—without conceding how far Christianity served the hegemony of neoliberalism. Himmelfarb is a wonderful example: ironically, since she was a Jewish intellectual.

McIlhagga: Progressive thinkers from the 19th and early 20th centuries often had profound metaphysical or theoretical backing to their practical political efforts, from radical reformist Christianity to Marxism. If one wants to reconstruct a kind of politics that embraces the attributes you value—emancipation, perfectionism, universalism, meliorism, utopianism, whether it’s left, right, conservative, or liberal—how can that be done without metaphysics? How does one go about building a metaphysical system to justify these values?

Moyn: I personally think it’s been done — it’s Hegelianism. One of the central ideas of the book is that, while Hegel may not have been a liberal, liberals became Hegelians in a series of ways. The importance of Hegelianism to me is that it really wasn’t Christian. We can debate if it was the product of Christianity, or its last stage, or in some supersessionism with religion. But it was intended to be credible on secular philosophical terms. I think that over time left-Hegelians in the West learned so much from Marxism that there was no need exactly to choose between Hegelianism and Marxism. It’s true that certain Marxists, past and present, especially more scientistic Marxists, insisted that they had a totally independent view. You can believe in a Hegelian metaphysical perspective that takes on board a great deal of Marxist quote-unquote materialism.

Realistically, we’re looking for a renaissance of the liberal/socialist ideal that we can associate with Corbyn and Sanders. We should think about the practical mistakes that have been made in their old age—and who will correct them. ♦

Samuel McIlhagga is a freelance journalist, book reviewer, and writer based in the U.K.

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