Domenico Losurdo's Liberalism: A Counter-History is a thorn in the side of twenty-first century liberals. Losurdo's mordant exposition of the racist, classist ideas put forward by giants of liberalism, such as John Locke, Jeremy Bentham or Alexis De Tocqueville, calls into question the liberal nature itself of their thought. In a long review for the Times Literary Supplement, Jennifer Pitts, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Chicago University, takes Losurdo's counter-history as a starting point to reflect on: "how, and why ... should we tell the history of liberalism today?"
According to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen issued at the onset of the French Revolution, men were said to be "born and remain free and equal in rights" — as long as they were white, male, and possibly upper-class. The "unfolding dialectic of freedom and un-freedom" that has been inherent from the very beginning in liberalism, is one of the main foci of Losurdo's Liberalism: A Counter-History, Tom Whittaker points out in a review for Counterfire.
In his piece, Whittaker stresses the coexistence of groups of free and excluded individuals that has been characteristic of liberal societies: Losurdo's account shows how the "boundaries" between them historically "ran as much along class as along racial or national lines." It is true that, in the West, political and social rights were progressively extended to the working-class —"but only after further and more intense social struggles on behalf of the excluded." Globally, however, colonial oppression and imperialism were the dark side of the liberal myth:
Ultimately, Losurdo deems the most important reason for rejecting this myth to be the tangle of emancipation and dis-emancipation, meaning that the extension of the suffrage in Europe, was accompanied with simultaneous colonial expansion and the subjugation of peoples and races deemed inferior. Above all, liberalism sacrificed democracy on the altar of colonialism, slavery and empire.
Read an excerpt from Verso author Domenico Losurdo's book Democracy or Bonapartism, which touches on the urban revolts currently sweeping through England, and, as he suggests, soon to ignite the rest of Europe. Translation kindly provided by Gregory Elliott
The 1992 Los Angeles uprising was the flip side of rejection of the principle of proportional representation and of the political decapitation of the subaltern classes. Still subject to a significant degree of racial discrimination; following the victory of the minimalist definition of democracy reduced to a market; no longer regarded as the possessors of social and economic rights; lacking any party organization they could count on; without the possibility of access to the means of information and hampered in their access to the ballot box by voter registration laws; unable, ultimately, to make their voices heard at a properly political level, blacks could protest only by resorting to a kind of urban jacquerie—a furious, destructive rebellion that in no way alters the existing state of affairs.