Michael J. Douma is an assistant research professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, where he is also the director of the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics. He is a coauthor of What Is Classical Liberal History? (Lexington Books, 2017) and the author of Creative Historical Thinking (Routledge, 2018).
What do we mean by liberalism or liberal history? It seems that every scholar in the social sciences would like to define liberalism in their own way. Certainly, there is plenty of room for differences of opinion on this matter. But defining any “-ism” requires circumscribing a set of beliefs, or drawing lines in such a way as to connect ideas which we believe form a coherent tradition.
Liberal history is primarily concerned with ideas and with the reasons why individuals acted as they did in the past. Liberal historians prefer to study themes of power and liberty, particularly as they relate to the rise and fall of political systems that protect liberties and individual rights. As the selections in this reader show, the liberal approach to the past is generally skeptical of laws of history and suggestions of historical determinism.