The Rise of European Liberalism is a historical survey of the development of liberal thought, from its earliest whispers in early Protestantism to its significance in the "Red Decade" of the 1930s. Laski argues that liberalism as a philosophy came into existence with the rise of capitalism and thus functions primarily as an ideological defense of private property in a business civilization. Hence, liberalism's progressive side is doomed to defeat because, throughout its history, the bourgeois nature of the ideology has always prevailed.
In the new introduction, John Stanley traces the history and influences of Laski's thought and provides a detailed analysis of Laski's work. The essay provides a coherent study in itself of why Laski is better remembered than widely read. The Rise of European Liberalism is a classic text that deserves rediscovery for historians, philosophers, sociologists, and political scientists of the present day.
"This book is especially valuable because it warns us not to exaggerate the importance of law... If the individuals in the legislatures and the departments of justice and on the bench do not stand for the best things men stand for, men begin to wonder whether, after all, that government ought to endure. (...) So, in order to make people loyal to the state, you must make the state the kind of institution that they want to be loyal to. Such is the lesson of this very able book." --Zechariah Chafee, Jr. Harvard Law Review 32:979-983.
Harold J. Laski [1893-1950] was a teacher, political scientist, and leader of the Labour Party. His ideas influenced the work of Felix Frankfurter and Oliver Wendell Holmes, who were two of his closest friends. His work also influenced Jawaharlal Nehru who would go on to become India's first prime minister."
Studies in Law of Politics was published at a crucial juncture in Laski's ideological metamorphosis. During this period he had become increasingly worried that socialists might not be able to achieve the growth of working-class power. Although the essays contained in the volume cover a wide range of topics, and a wide span of time since the mid-1920s, he brought them into unity by a common approach. Though he does not make his unifying premise immediately evident to his readers, he clearly meant to chart the growth of power of those who had previously been without influence. His goal also was to identify the problems facing growth in a highly modernized society.
Studies in Law and Politics reveals Laski's growing realization that the road to socialism might be more difficult than what he had believed when he wrote his pluralist works. The book reflects the mind of a thinker who was not content to write exclusively as an academic or a political activist. His view was that, while progressive reforms have been achieved in the past, they are not easily accomplished, and obstacles to further reforms should not be underestimated. This sober work offers much insight into Laski's intellectual development, as well as the times about which he wrote.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, even on the hard left, few people thought of Marxism, at least in its classical formulation by Laski in the 1930s, as a political alternative. Much of the interest in Laski seeks to separate the early Laski of pluralist parliamentary arguments from the later Laski of Marxism. Laski's appeal rests on subtle aspects of his science of politics that require a detailed examination before their full significance can be understood. The state is a work that operates at several layers of assumptions and implications.
The significance of Laski starts with the observation that among many intellectuals on the left, the political critique of liberal democracy remains as influential after the collapse of the Soviet Union as it was when Laski wrote. The leftist critique of classical liberalism is one of the touchstones of modern political thought and Laski remains part of that tradition. Laski is one of the links between what might be called the "old left" of the pre-World War II era and the "new left" of the 1960's and later.
Harold J. Laski (1893-1950) was an esteemed British political scientist, economist, author, and lecturer. He taught at McGill University and Harvard. From 1926 until his death he was professor of political science at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His works include Karl Marx, Democracy in Crisis, The American Presidency, and The Rise of European Liberalism.
Sidney A. Pearson, Jr. is visiting professor of political science at Virginia Tech and professor emeritus of political science at Radford University. He is the series editor of Transaction's Library of Liberal Thought. He has written many new introductions for books including Presidential Leadership, Party Government, and The New Democracy.