Liberalism: Introduction to the History of a Political Concept

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
Course Description: 

The aim of the course is to shed-light on the complex and multifaceted history of liberalism as one of the fundamental political concepts of the modern age, along with the diverse range of historical phenomena with which it has been associated. It aspires to explore the multiplicity of meanings associated with the terms “liberalism” and “liberal” through unfolding and distinguishing between some basic perspectives or levels from which these may be contemplated and approached. The three basic perspectives for approaching liberalism, underpinning the course structure and differing primarily in their degrees of (a-)historicity, generality and abstraction, are the philosophical one, the one of world views and ideologies, and the one of political movements. They roughly correspond to approaches to liberalism by various scholarly disciplines - respectively political philosophy, historical study of ideologies and political history. The goal of the course is to explore some of the crucial topics connected to the history of liberalism, simultaneously reflecting on various perspectives and their intertwinements, and accounting for the corresponding methodological approaches. Practical examples of liberal movements, particularly the Central European ones, will thereby provide an insight into the potential extents of liberalism’s semantical broadness and the range of possible applications of the liberal political label.

Learning Outcomes: 

The course will offer the students a broad overview of history of liberalism and an insight into its inner diversity. The ambition thereby is not merely to acquaint students with selected topics and events from the history of liberalism, but above all to draw their attention to the multilayeredness of this concept, various meanings associated with it and the need for critical reflection in applying political terms such as liberalism, conservatism, socialism, etc. in writing history.

Learning about different approaches to studying liberalism through studying relevant literature from the fields of political philosophy, historical study of ideologies, conceptual history and political and social history, the students will be able to reflect on the methodological variety in understanding and employing the concept of liberalism.

By getting introduced to the diversity of historical, regional and national incarnations of liberalism and the latter’s diverging developmental patterns, the students will also gain an insight into some of the causes underlying the sometimes antithetical meanings associated with liberalism in the historical and contemporary political languages.


Class Participation                                            30%

Class Presentation                                             20%

Term Paper OR Two Short Reflection Papers  50%


All students are expected to regularly attend classes (max 2 absences without a verified reason beyond the student’s control)and actively participate in the discussions, based on weekly readings. Each student has to present (in 15 minutes) either a text or a problem, relevant to the weekly course topics, also using relevant secondary literature. The term paper (approximately 3000 words) can be based on the presentation topic and should present a more detailed treatment of a subject suggested by the student and accepted by the instructor. The deadline for submission is at the end of the term. Alternately, students may choose to submit two shorter pieces (1000-1500 words) as immediate reflections on the problems, discussed in the class. These are to be submitted by the next class.