Chapter

A Cautious Embrace: Reflections on (Left) Liberalism and Utopia

David Leopold

in Liberalism as Ideology

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199600670
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191738203 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199600670.003.0002
A Cautious Embrace: Reflections on (Left) Liberalism and Utopia

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The writings of Michael Freeden contain a sustained engagement with the history of twentieth-century liberalism. John Atkinson Hobson (1858–1940) emerges from Freeden’s narrative as an early (and unsung) hero, whilst John Rawls (1921–2002) is portrayed as a late (and overpraised) villain. This chapter reassesses that stark contrast in the context of the discussion of utopia to be found in the writings of these two thinkers. There are undoubtedly some significant differences between Hobson and Rawls (not all of which redound to the advantage of the former), but they share a willingness to engage in ideal description provided it is suitably tempered by ‘realism’. This shared reaction might be said to exemplify the position of left liberals, who lack the outright hostility towards utopianism found in some other strands of liberalism (such as the ‘cold-war liberalism’ of Isaiah Berlin and others).

Keywords: liberalism; left liberalism; J. A. Hobson; John Rawls; Isaiah Berlin; realism; utopianism

Chapter.  11828 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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