What do we talk about when we talk about liberalism? For some, the word connotes an Enlightenment-era Anglo-American tradition going back to John Locke; for others, the roots go deeper, or lead elsewhere. Today “liberalism” is for some political actors a pejorative term; for others, a rallying cry. But there seems no consistent consensus about what it means.
In her new book The Lost History of Liberalism, historian Helena Rosenblatt traces the history of liberalism as a word and an idea. She argues against a narrowly Anglo-American interpretation of the concept, showing that its origins go as far back as ancient Rome and that the French and Germans made decisive contributions. And she shows why liberalism, throughout all its long history, has always been a term of contention.