1st Edition

The Political Theory of Liberal Socialism

By Matthew McManus Copyright 2025
    288 Pages
    by Routledge

    288 Pages
    by Routledge

    McManus presents a comprehensive guide to the liberal socialist tradition, stretching from Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine through John Stuart Mill to Irving Howe, John Rawls and Charles Mills.

    Providing a comprehensive critical genealogy of liberal socialism from a sympathetic but critical standpoint, McManus traces its core to the Revolutionary period that catalysed major divisions in liberal political theory to the French Revolution that saw the emergence of writers like Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine who argued that liberal principles could only be inadequately instantiated in a society with high levels of material and social inequality to John Stuart Mill, the first major thinker who declared himself a liberal and a socialist and who made major contributions to both traditions through his efforts to synthesize and conciliate them. McManus argues for liberal socialism as a political theory which could truly secure equality and liberty for all.

    An essential book on the tradition of liberal socialism for students, researchers and scholars of political science and humanities.

    Introduction: Retrieving Liberal Socialism 1. What is Liberal Socialism? Part I: The Origins of Liberal Socialism  2. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity  3. Thomas Paine’s Denaturalization of Inequality  4. Mary Wollstonecraft and the Egalitarian Rights of Man and Woman  Part II: The Maturation of Liberal Socialism  5. John Stuart Mill-The First Liberal Socialist  6. Karl Marx’s Critique of Liberalism 7. Ethical Socialism and Social Democratic Reformism  8. C.B Macpherson’s Critique of “Possessive Individualism”  9. John Rawls’ Just Society 10. On Racial and Black Radical Liberalism  Part III: The Future of Liberal Socialism 11. Chantal Mouffe, Norberto Bobbio, and Axel Honneth-Agonistic Liberal Socialism and the Dialectics of Recognition 12. A Future For Liberal Socialism?


    Matthew McManus is a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Michigan, USA. He is the author of The Political Right and Equality (Routledge) and A Critical Legal Examination of Liberalism and Liberal Rights amongst other books.

    Matt McManus has been an intellectual leader in the revival of liberal socialism, and in this absorbing survey he shows how strong a basis there is for that position in the past, without disguising how much work it will take to redeem and reinvent it for our future. Indispensable and magisterial.

    Samuel Moyn, author of Liberalism against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times

    Liberal socialism? That’s an oxymoron! Absolutely not, says Matt McManus in his brilliant new book. His inspiring and positive vision is exactly what we liberals need to get our mojo back.  

    Alexandre Lefebvre, Professor of Politics and Philosophy, The University of Sydney, Australia

    Matt McManus is a penetrating thinker who recognizes that many of the things our culture war insists are “opposites” are, in fact, nothing of the kind. In an era in which millions have dubbed both liberalism and socialism dead, The Political Theory of Liberal Socialism, offers a retrieval of both traditions. Ranging over canonical liberal and socialist thinkers with ease—from Thomas Paine and John Rawls to Karl Marx and many others—McManus shows how in order to return from their current crises of credibility each ideological tradition must learn from the other. The entire book is an effort at fusing horizons and opening ideological possibilities that have been forgotten. Where the political imagination in North Atlantic societies has grown brittle, narrow, and simplistic, McManus seeks to break it wide open once more.

    Jason Blakely, author of Lost in Ideology and We Built Reality

    The Political Theory of Liberal Socialism traces the intellectual roots of a distinct political theory, highlighting its advantages for modern liberals as an ideology for the future (as well as the challenges it may face in theory and in practice). Matt McManus provides a fascinating survey, retrieving the history of this often-overlooked philosophical stance, establishing it as a genuine position (though diverse and sometimes disparate), and critically exploring its positives and possibilities. A must-read for all left-leaning liberals and/or socialists committed to individual flourishing who are looking for an intellectual tradition, providing a stimulating resource for recasting contemporary debates and forming radical policy proposals for the future.

    Helen McCabe, Associate Professor in Political Theory, University of Nottingham, UK

    So many important works of political theory feel so distant from our moment, but this essential text from Matthew McManus is a welcomed exception. American leftism needs its footing in the scrambled ideological landscape of the 21st century and McManus offers an intellectual bridge between two traditions that are often set in opposition to each other. A must-read for anyone concerned with building a just and compassionate world in the ashes of neoliberalism.

    Sean Illing, host of The Gray Area

    In mining a rich and often underappreciated vein of political theory, this book offers a critical and engaging survey of the various ways an important progressive philosophical tradition has sought to reconcile abiding questions of class, community, freedom, and democracy. Part intellectual history, part exercise in retrieval, it will be of interest to anyone keen to explore the points of contact — both potential and established — between a humanistic liberalism and an egalitarian socialism. 

    Luke Savage, Author of The Dead Center and Columnist at Jacobin Magazine

    Liberalism and socialism are often held to be in opposition. And yet, as Matt McManus shows in this timely and important book, there is a rich line of thinkers who have sought to - and succeeded in - reconciling these two traditions. In bringing the best of these ideas together for the first time, he has not only done a great service to intellectual history, but assembled a powerful resource for developing the truly emancipatory politics that we so urgently need.

    Daniel Chandler, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK