Washington History Seminar | Liberalism Against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times

Event Details

End: April 8, 2024

By the middle of the twentieth century, many liberals looked glumly at the world modernity had brought about, with its devastating wars, rising totalitarianism, and permanent nuclear terror. They concluded that, far from offering a solution to these problems, the ideals of the Enlightenment, including emancipation and equality, had instead created them. The historian of political thought Samuel Moyn argues that the liberal intellectuals of the Cold War era—among them Isaiah Berlin, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Karl Popper, Judith Shklar, and Lionel Trilling—transformed liberalism but left a disastrous legacy for our time. Moyn outlines how Cold War liberals redefined the ideals of their movement and renounced the moral core of the Enlightenment for a more dangerous philosophy: preserving individual liberty at all costs. In denouncing this stance, as well as the recent nostalgia for Cold War liberalism as a means to counter illiberal values, Moyn presents a timely call for a new emancipatory and egalitarian liberal philosophy—a path to undoing the damage of the Cold War and to ensuring the survival of liberalism.

Register here


Samuel Moyn is Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and History at Yale University and author of many books on the history of ideas and politics in the twentieth century, such as “The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History” (2010) and “Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War” (2021). He lives in New Haven, CT.

Michael Kimmage is a professor of history at the Catholic University of America and a senior non-resident associate at CSIS. He holds BA's in history from Oberlin College and the University of Oxford, and a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of "How Russia Globalized the War" and he is the author of a forthcoming book, March '24, on the war in Ukraine.

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen is the Merle Curti and Vilas-Borghesi Distinguished Achievement Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she specializes in U.S. intellectual and cultural history. Her research and teaching interests include the history of philosophy, political and social theory, religion, literature, and the visual arts; the transatlantic flow of intellectual and cultural movements; print culture; and cultural studies.