U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Liberalism: A Bibliography (Guest Post by Patrick S. O’Donnell)

[Note to readers: the following is a guest post by Patrick S. O’Donnell. Patrick is an adjunct instructor in the Philosophy Department at Santa Barbara City College, where he teaches a course on “comparative world religions” (his formal training is in Religious Studies). Most of his published work (articles, encyclopedia entries, book reviews) is in the field of Islamic Studies (CV here). He became a part-time academic in his mid-40s, the story told in his inaugural post for the Ratio Juris blog in 2008.]

Toward an Understanding of Liberalism: A Basic Bibliography

by Patrick S. O’Donnell


This compilation deals largely with “secondary literature,” at least with regard to Classical Liberalism. As the focus is on Liberal socio-economic and especially political philosophy, both classical and contemporary, the titles here evidence varying degrees of philosophical sophistication, although some, indeed probably most of them, should be accessible to readers without any formal training in philosophy. No doubt the list is idiosyncratic, as it reflects the (eclectic and perchance inconsistent) interests of someone “on the Left” (Red-Green Marxist, with anarchist sympathies) who is nonetheless deeply appreciative—historically and generally—of Liberal ideas, principles, values, and institutions, particularly insofar as they have served—and continue to serve—as loci for the basic modes and means of democratic praxis.

I’m of the belief that the Left cannot transcend (in the Hegelian sense of Aufhebung) either capitalism or Liberalism until it has fully grasped the respective strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices of each, until it understands the regnant economic system and Liberal socio-economic and political thought of capitalist democracies (or liberal, corporatist, and social-democratic welfare states) as well as if not better than capitalists and Liberals themselves. I am not concerned here with works on “Neoliberalism,” although the list should—indirectly—help one see precisely how radical, pejoratively speaking, this “neo-“ offshoot of Liberalism in fact is, much like contemporary libertarianism remains but a shriveled if not desiccated branch of that tradition, as Ian Shapiro made plain in The Evolution of Rights in Liberal Theory (if I’m not mistaken, this was based on his Ph.D. dissertation for which he won the American Political Science Association’s Leo Strauss Prize) and others have made clear in critiques of Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Blackwell, 1974) (I’m rather a fan, however, of the Nozick of Philosophical Explanations).

One of the books below, The Anatomy of Antiliberalism by Stephen Holmes, is of course not about Liberalism as such, but I thought it valuable insofar it enables us to better appreciate what is historically and philosophically distinctive, unique or progressive about Liberalism, not to mention the slivers of truth or half-truths about Liberalism contained in the writings, say, of a Carl Schmitt or Alasdair MacIntyre. While Hobbes is not usually classified as a Liberal political theorist (Rawls provocatively wonders if Hobbes may have been ‘the first political liberal’), his writings are indispensable for much of what follows in the Liberal tradition, hence the two remarkable volumes included here by S.A. Lloyd (rightly I think, she states that Hobbes ‘was not enough a liberal’). Lloyd deftly argues that a few of those who have fancied themselves 20th century Liberal heirs to Hobbesian insights or, put somewhat differently, “finding in Hobbes the seed of their views provides a resource for situating, clarifying, and in some cases further motivating their views,” such as David Gauthier and John Rawls, are mistaken: in the concluding words of Lloyd’s incisive comparative analysis, “the real Hobbes cannot be used to support the admittedly philosophically interesting projects of Gauthier or Rawls.”

This bibliography has the following constraints: books only, in English, and limited to 30 titles. That number is fairly arbitrary but I thought it would compel me to think hard about the crème de la crème among the many available titles on the subject. No doubt there are equally worthy books left out owing to that constraint (e.g., Gerald Dworkin’s The Theory and Practice of Autonomy, Jürgen Habermas’ Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, and Cass R. Sunstein’s Free Markets and Social Justice!). Two Cornell University Law School professors, Steven Shiffrin and Robert Hockett, whose opinions and judgments I frequently find worthy of deference, suggested on Facebook (in response to an earlier and much shorter list of titles) that I include Nancy L. Rosenbum’s Another Liberalism: Romanticism and the Reconstruction of Liberal Thought (1987). But as I have yet to read it, I could not (although you, dear reader, are now suitably informed). I have a much longer and thus more comprehensive compilation on “democratic theory” and yet another on “constitutionalism” that partially overlap with this bibliography available at my academia.edu page.

  • Alexander, Larry, ed. Constitutionalism: Philosophical Foundations. Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Allan, T.R.S. Constitutional Justice: A Liberal Theory of the Rule of Law. Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony. The Ethics of Identity. Princeton University Press, 2005.
  • Atiyah, P.S. and R.S. Summers. Form and Substance in Anglo-American Law: A Comparative Study in Legal Reasoning, Legal Theory and Legal Institutions. Clarendon Press, 1987.
  • Benn, Stanley I. A Theory of Freedom. Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  • Brudner, Alan. Constitutional Goods. Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Carens, Joseph H. The Ethics of Immigration. Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Coleman, Jules. Markets, Morals, and the Law. Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Dworkin, Ronald. Sovereign Virtue. Harvard University Press, 2000.
  • Gaus, Gerald F. Contemporary Theories of Liberalism: Public Reason as a Post-Enlightenment Project. Sage Publications, 2003.
  • Goodin, Robert E. Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Holmes, Stephen. The Anatomy of Antiliberalism. Harvard University Press, 1993.
  • Holmes, Stephen. Passions & Constraint: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy. University of Chicago Press, 1995.
  • Kateb, George. Human Dignity. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.
  • Lloyd, S.A. Ideals as Interests in Hobbes’s Leviathan: The Power of Mind over Matter. Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Lloyd, S.A. Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes: Cases in the Law of Nature. Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Loughlin, Martin and Neil Walker, eds. The Paradox of Constitutionalism: Constituent Power and Constitutional Form. Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Manent, Pierre (Rebecca Balinski, tr.) An Intellectual History of Liberalism. Princeton University Press, 1995.
  • Rawls, John. Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
  • Rawls, John (Samuel Freeman, ed.) Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Raz, Joseph. The Morality of Freedom. Oxford University Press, 1986.
  • Rosen, Michael. Dignity: Its History and Meaning. Harvard University Press, 2012.
  • Ryan, Alan. The Making of Modern Liberalism. Princeton University Press, 2012.
  • Shapiro, Ian. The Evolution of Rights in Liberal Theory. Cambridge University Press, 1986.
  • Tamir, Yael. Liberal Nationalism. Princeton University Press, 1993.
  • Waldron, Jeremy. Liberal Rights: Collected Papers, 1981-1991. Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Waldron, Jeremy. The Dignity of Legislation. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Waldron, Jeremy. Law and Disagreement. Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Waldron, Jeremy. God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations in Locke’s Political Thought. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • White, Morton. Philosophy, The Federalist, and the Constitution. Oxford University Press, 1987.

4 Thoughts on this Post

  1. This is a great list and introduction. I am impressed you included the recent Human Dignity by George Kateb which has gotten too little recognition, maybe in part because of the almost unclassifiable nature of Kateb as a thinker and writer.

    • Thank you for the kind assessment. I read a handful of books on dignity around the same time and came to the conclusion that two of the best were by Rosen and Kateb (I prefer their approaches over that taken, for example, by Jeremy Waldron in his Berkeley Tanner Lectures). It is with the topic of “dignity” that Liberal (moral, political, and legal) philosophy must perforce treat metaphysical and/or existential questions in a manner that need not be either “religious” or “naturalist” (as these terms are typically understood). In other words, and with Raymond Tallis, I think it is often fallaciously assumed that these exhaust our options: thus, for instance, there can be something on the order of what the neurosurgeon and philosopher Grant Gillett calls “transcendental naturalism,” and some of the contemporary discussions of human dignity well illustrate that possibility (as do some accounts of consciousness; the nature of ‘first-person being,’ as in the existential intuition, ‘[That] I am this [x];’ as well as the notion of human subjectivity being genetically constituted, in part, by or through the ‘space of reasons,’ that is, as a ‘logical/metaphysical/phenomenological subject’ who is at the same time ‘being-in-the-world-with-others’).

      • Thanks for that response! I’ll have to investigate the Grant Gillet work since I too have been frustrated with the usual debates over the natural, the scientific, and the religious as these are usually understood.

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