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It all comes down to the individual, as my dad would say. I wanted to gain some clarity about liberalism in light of the recent election, so I picked up this book.Bobbios Liberalism and Democracy is an insightful overview of the anglo-european liberal tradition and the basic contours of its thought. It locates liberalisms origin in a need for the radical aristocracy and the rising capitalist class to intellectually frame their opposition to feudalism and the monarchy. How do you out-king a king? By inventing self evident Natural rights of the individual (at least, certain KINDS of individuals). Bobbio then uses conceptions of liberalism and democracy to trace a major schism in liberal thought in light of its new experiences in power. Throughout, Bobbio dialectically relates liberalism to its central contradiction: individual liberty lends itself to democratic impulses. In the hands of a mass, these democratic interests challenge private liberties, like those associated with private property, and gradually undermine the entire liberal project. Bobbio concedes that revolutionary socialism may be the historic solution of this dilemma.It is outside the purview of Bobbios dense short chapters, however it is clarifying to view todays conservative wing of US politics as classical liberals in that they see a minimum role for the state outside of securing the interests of private property (a gigantic task on its own, e.g. the military, police, prisons, etc). This relates to a view of social reality where society, as Margaret Thatcher infamously claimed, does not exist. There are merely individuals, families, & nations at liberty is reflected in the free market, thus identifying democracy with capitalism. Such liberty is protected by limiting the states role in the face of actual democratic pressure. Hence, neoliberalism. It is worth noting that the minority who push this approach usually have shitloads of money to protect from a majority vested in far more radical forms of liberty.Those referred to in the US today as liberals also proceed from a view of individuals as the basic political unit. However, this wing acknowledges the reality of a social whole and the necessity, even desirability, for individuals to regulate that overall association for the common good of the individuals concerned. This is a democratic liberalism with egalitarian concerns for at least formal political equality. Economic relations can be considered, although separately & governed by this political premise. Hence the mantra for merely equality of opportunity and not equality in fact. This wing of liberalism is only relevent in the face of such tension. This is why the Democrats are US Capitals Team B: they can digest progressive social movements handily while keeping the overall system going. It is also why they flip-flop, alienate their base, and get thrown out again.Interestingly, anarchism also emerges from this tradition as an artisan/peasant response to pressures of the rising bourgeois order. It has its conservative reflection in what the US calls libertarianism. The progressive anarchist wing is a radical form of social liberalism that stresses the sovereignty of the individual & a minimalist state (i.e. none) with collective struggle. It is a dead end, however, even in its most revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist form. Its anti-authoritarianism has no material basis -no scientific justification- to privilege individual liberty over democratic collectivity. Anarchism seems to stand on the same imagined self evident Natural Laws that informed liberalisms revolutionary period. If youre atomized, this will make perfect sense. However, consistently employing an anarchist approach will not be able to decisively transform the social conditions of individual atomization. One shortcoming of Liberalism and Democracy is that it traces an ideological history without much material account to back it up. It doesnt suffer from this as, knowing some history, i believe his main arguments are correct. But a reader without historical context could easily imbibe an idealist (in the philosophical sense) account of historical change. I dont know of a work that has traced the development of liberalism in a historical materialist manner. One of the questions that remains for me is how applicable is this analysis when applied outside of europe & the US? What does liberalism mean in Africa, for example? Is the tension Bobbio describes why so many liberals i meet seem politically neurotic? Is this why i suck at guitar hero?I guess it all depends on the individual.

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