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Freedom

An Unruly History

Annelien De Dijn

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Harvard Uni.Press Academi
28 August 2020
The invention of modern freedom?the equating of liberty with restraints on state power?was not the natural outcome of such secular Western trends as the growth of religious tolerance or the creation of market societies. Rather, it was propelled by an antidemocratic backlash following the Atlantic Revolutions.

We tend to think of freedom as something that is best protected by carefully circumscribing the boundaries of legitimate state activity. But who came up with this understanding of freedom, and for what purposes? In a masterful and surprising reappraisal of more than two thousand years of thinking about freedom in the West, Annelien de Dijn argues that we owe our view of freedom not to the liberty lovers of the Age of Revolution but to the enemies of democracy.

The conception of freedom most prevalent today?that it depends on the limitation of state power?is a deliberate and dramatic rupture with long-established ways of thinking about liberty. For centuries people in the West identified freedom not with being left alone by the state but with the ability to exercise control over the way in which they were governed. They had what might best be described as a democratic conception of liberty.

Understanding the long history of freedom underscores how recently it has come to be identified with limited government. It also reveals something crucial about the genealogy of current ways of thinking about freedom. The notion that freedom is best preserved by shrinking the sphere of government was not invented by the revolutionaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who created our modern democracies?it was invented by their critics and opponents. Rather than following in the path of the American founders, today's ?big government? antagonists more closely resemble the counterrevolutionaries who tried to undo their work.
By:   Annelien De Dijn
Imprint:   Harvard Uni.Press Academi
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 156mm, 
ISBN:   9780674988330
ISBN 10:   0674988337
Pages:   432
Publication Date:   28 August 2020
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Annelien de Dijn is Professor of Modern Political History at Utrecht University and the author of French Political Thought from Montesquieu to Tocqueville. Her research has been supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, and the Independent Social Research Foundation.

Reviews for Freedom: An Unruly History

Thought-provoking...Helps explain how partisans on both the right and the left can claim to be protectors of liberty, yet hold radically different understandings of its meaning...This deeply informed history of an idea has the potential to combat political polarization. * Publishers Weekly * A wonderful book-extremely well written, engaging, and compelling. De Dijn offers a sweeping history of the notion of freedom across 2,000 years, arguing that identifying liberty with limited government, the way we do today, is a very modern idea. -- Helena Rosenblatt, author of <i>The Lost History of Liberalism</i> This book brings remarkable clarity to a big and messy subject, the definition of freedom in the Western tradition. New insights and hard-hitting conclusions about the resistance to democracy make this essential reading for anyone interested in the roots of our current dilemmas. -- Lynn Hunt, author of <i>History: Why It Matters</i> For two millennia liberty was conceived as popular self-government. But nineteenth-century liberals and conservatives redefined freedom as the guarantee of individual rights against state power, and democratic equality as a threat to liberty. This timely book presents urgent and persuasive arguments to rethink liberty and democracy in an era of fast-increasing inequality. -- Siep Stuurman, author of <i>The Invention of Humanity: Equality and Cultural Difference in World History</i> De Dijn has written a marvelous book on the history and various meanings of freedom. Its scope is enormous, its writing elegant, its insights strikingly original. We will all be reading this book for many years to come. -- Michael P. Zuckert, author of <i>Launching Liberalism</i> With remarkable sweep and erudition, de Dijn recounts the whole history of thinking about freedom in the West. In the process, she also profoundly upends the standard liberal narrative, convincing us that what we understand by freedom today-namely, the opportunity to be left alone to do our own thing-is a recent invention. This is an important book for historians, political theorists, and all readers who like big ideas. -- Sophia Rosenfeld, author of <i>Democracy and Truth: A Short History</i> At once magisterial and finely grained, this is history on the grand scale. De Dijn succeeds in bringing, with clarity and a lightness of touch, the weight of the past to bear on freedom and its fragilities in our own time. -- Darrin M. McMahon, author of <i>Divine Fury: A History of Genius</i> Ambitious and bold, this book will have an enormous impact on how we think about the place of freedom in the Western tradition. -- Samuel Moyn, author of <i>Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World</i>


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