The Anti-Liberal

Last spring, in The New Statesman, Samuel Moyn reviewed Revolutionary Spring, Christopher Clark’s massive new history of the revolutions of 1848. Like most everything Moyn writes, the review was witty, insightful, and provocative — another illustration of why Moyn has become one of the most important left intellectuals in the United States today. One thing about it, though, puzzled me. In the Carlyle lectures that he delivered at Oxford the year before, now published as Liberalism Against Itself, Moyn argued that liberalism was, before the Cold War, “emancipatory and futuristic.” The Cold War, however, “left the liberal tradition unrecognizable and in ruins.” But in the New Statesman review, Moyn claimed that liberals had already lost their way a century long before the Cold War. “One lesson of Christopher Clark’s magnificent new narrative of 1848,” he wrote, “is a reminder of just how quickly liberals switched sides…. Because of how they lived through 1848, liberals betrayed their erstwhile radical allies to join the counter-revolutionary forces once again — which is more or less where they remain today.” Perhaps the contradiction is not so puzzling. Much like an older generation of historians who seemed to glimpse the “rise of the middle classes” in every century from the thirteenth to the twentieth, Samuel Moyn today seems to find liberals betraying their own traditions wherever he looks. Indeed, this supposed betrayal now forms the leitmotif of his influential writing. This was not always the case. The work that first made Moyn’s reputation as a public intellectual, The Last Utopia, in 2010, included many suggestive criticisms of liberalism, but was a subtle and impressive study that started many more conversations than it closed off. Yet in a subsequent series of books, from Christian Human Rights (2015), through Not Enough (2018) and Humane (2021), and most

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