As liberals grapple with rising populism and authoritarianism, Traub turns to history and theory to reclaim liberalism’s principles. His book mounts one of the best efforts of this kind yet, tracing liberalism’s core ideas from the age of democratic revolutions to the grand ideological struggles of the twentieth century to the convulsions of the current vexed moment. Traub shows that liberalism is an amalgam of often conflicting ideas: classical republican principles, Lockean individualism, the commitment to popular sovereignty, and evolving notions of rights and progressive social ideals.
Donald Trump’s presidency has spawned a cottage industry in liberalism-is-dying books ... Traub’s is the most muscular of these books in tracing liberalism’s evolution from a check mainly on government power (Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill) to a check mainly on the power of big business (Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt) to a belief system that championed civil rights, the environment and social welfare ... The most richly reported part of Traub’s book documents the harrowing rise of 'illiberal and increasingly authoritarian leaders' in Hungary, Poland and Italy, which predates Trump’s election, and recent worrisome trends in countries like the Netherlands, Austria and the United Kingdom ... Traub’s victim-blaming analysis...is simply wrong. Obama enraging anti-liberals isn’t evidence that he failed. He enraged them because he succeeded ... In American democracy, any successful exercise of political power will invite backlash. Why rebel against failure?
A once glorious, now besieged creed gets a searching critique in this shrewd political history ... The result is a clear-eyed, timely discussion that illuminates both liberalism’s humanity and its hubris.