Liberalism in Dark Times: The Liberal Ethos in the Twentieth Century
JMC fellow Joshua Cherniss’ book, Liberalism in Dark Times: The Liberal Ethos in the Twentieth Century, defends liberalism and draws vital lessons from its greatest mid-century proponents:
Today, liberalism faces threats from across the political spectrum. While right-wing populists and leftist purists righteously violate liberal norms, theorists of liberalism seem to have little to say. In Liberalism in Dark Times, Joshua Cherniss issues a rousing defense of the liberal tradition, drawing on a neglected strand of liberal thought.
Assaults on liberalism—a political order characterized by limits on political power and respect for individual rights—are nothing new. Early in the twentieth century, democracy was under attack around the world, with one country after another succumbing to dictatorship. While many intellectuals dismissed liberalism as outdated, unrealistic, or unworthy, a handful of writers defended and reinvigorated the liberal ideal, including Max Weber, Raymond Aron, Albert Camus, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Isaiah Berlin—each of whom is given a compelling new assessment here.
Building on the work of these thinkers, Cherniss urges us to imagine liberalism not as a set of policies but as a temperament or disposition—one marked by openness to complexity, willingness to acknowledge uncertainty, tolerance for difference, and resistance to ruthlessness. In the face of rising political fanaticism, he persuasively argues for the continuing importance of this liberal ethos.
Joshua Cherniss is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Georgetown University whose research interests range over the history of political ideas. His work has mostly focused on European and American political thought in the twentieth century, and gravitates to the interplay between political ethics, philosophies of history, and liberal thought. His teaching reflects these interests, and also draws on his belief that political theory can be best pursued and communicated by drawing on the study of literature, political history, and moral psychology.
Aside from, Liberalism in Dark Times: The Liberal Ethos in the Twentieth Century Professor Cherniss is also the author of A Mind and its Time: The Development of Isaiah Berlin’s Political Thought (Oxford University Press, 2013), and of several articles and book chapters on Berlin, Weber, Niebuhr, and other figures in twentieth-century political thought; and the co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Isaiah Berlin (2018).
Professor Cherniss is a JMC fellow.
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