Blog post

On liberalism and property rights: a review of Losurdo's Counter-History

Leo Goretti11 October 2011

In a post entitled 'Liberals and Reactionaries,' Lenin's Tomb reviews Domenico Losurdo's acclaimed Liberalism: A Counter-History. Richard Seymour, author of The Liberal Defence of Murder, focusses on the relationship between property rights and liberal ideology. Seymour emphasises that, whereas Marxist thinkers generally see private property as the mainstay of liberal ideology, Losurdo seems rather to point to "the logic of exclusion"—that is to say, to those subjects who did not benefit from liberal rights and freedoms.

According to Seymour, Losurdo's approach does not question the revolutionary essence of liberalism itself—it rather underlines the distance between its ideals and practice. The socialist blogger instead stresses the interrelation between capitalism and liberalism:

Property rights have always been structured in such a way as to allow white Europeans to expropriate non-white non-Europeans, from Locke to Vattel onward. After Katrina, the property rights of working class Americans, especially African Americans, were cancelled by fiat—but this didn't disturb the basic politico-legal order of property rights. In fact, I would bet on the idea that the state authorities and companies who carried out this expropriation worked very hard on devising a legal justification for this theft. Moreover, it is the nature of capitalist property relations, to which liberalism is committed, that builds exclusions into liberalism.

In Seymour's view, another aspect that would deserve more investigation is the definition of radicals and conservatives as opposed to liberals. Losurdo's descriptions of American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison as a radical rather than a liberal, and of US pro-slavery Vice-President John Calhoun as a liberal rather than a conservative, are arguable, Seymour writes. In fact, one of the problems here is that "conservatism in its modern sense takes its cue from liberalism:" Locke and Smith are hugely popular among yesterday's and today's conservatives.

Seymour also underlines how Losurdo's Counter-History cannot be regarded just as an anti-liberal rant. Instead,

Losurdo's book is more appreciative of liberalism's merits than might appear to be the case from some of the tendentious readings —which, in a counter-history, has some validity. His conclusions are not indiscriminately hostile.

Visit the Lenin's Tomb to read the review in full.

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