Bleak is rarely an adjective of approbation. But I think Amanda Anderson intends it so in her new book Bleak Liberalism. Only “I think” because the book's odd diffidence makes it difficult at times to discern where Anderson's sympathies lie.

What Anderson is writing against is clear enough: the reflexive condemnation of “liberalism” by the literary left. “It is well known that liberalism serves negatively to define many theoretical positions in the humanities, not only because it is associated with two faulty ideals—the autonomous individual and the free market—but also because it is seen as a particularly pernicious and efficacious ideology, one that disavows its own interests and violence and perpetuates forms of subjectivity and thought that entrench established interests and mask operations of power” (19). Thus by a perverse logic by now familiar, a liberalism that conservatives hate because it is...

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