BOOK REVIEW – Tirso Virgos
“Liberalism in Dark Times” by Joshua Cherniss, 2021
On the first page of Liberalism in Dark Times, the latest book of Joshua Cherniss, we find a quote from Isaiah Berlin. This is unsurprising because it is one of the most widely cited liberal thinkers of the 20th century. However, the second quote belongs to Indalecio Prieto, one of the most famous members of the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) during the Second Republic and the Civil War. It is an appeal to the soldiers and militias of the Republican side of the war during the first weeks of combat: “Do not imitate them! Do not imitate them! Surpass them in moral conduct; surpass them by being generous. I do not ask you, however, that you should lose either strength in battle or zeal in the fight. I ask for brave, hard, and steely breasts for the combat… but with sensitive hearts, capable of shaking when faced with human sorrow and being able to harbour mercy and tender feelings, without which the most essential part of human greatness is lost.”
It is, Cherniss argues, as he quotes Prieto at the end of the book again, a very liberal speech because this book is an attempt to define a “tempered liberalism” that is not focused on high principles and institutions, such as the one preached by, for instance, John Rawls. Instead, it places emphasis on a liberal disposition, a liberal ethos that aims to combat cruelty, ruthlessness, and all of the common vices of humankind. For this reason, Prieto, a socialist, can also be a tempered liberal, such as Albert Camus, Raymond Aron, or Max Weber. The book focuses on certain key thinkers and their ideological evolution and actions to provide a solid description of the nature of tempered liberalism.