Examining how insurance has been imagined and practiced in various historical configurations of liberal governance, this chapter explores the diverse ways in which security, uncertainty, and freedom change their meanings quite radically. Nineteenth century liberalism emphasized individual foresight as a technique for governing uncertainties (such as the free market) that were imagined to be essential to freedom. Around the turn of the 20th century, the institutions of insurance became perhaps the fundamental site in which state policy repositioned and sought to reduce uncertainty in the name of a new “modern” configuration of freedom and security. By the late 20th century, however, yet another reconfiguration was underway. It is common to view this latter, “neoliberal,” turn in terms of winding back “the state,” deregulation, and promotion of individual responsibility. Yet these developments, arguably, are more about increasing uncertainty and decreasing the calculability of the future than they are about “states” or “individuals” as such. In this light, liberalism appears historically engaged with the question of how much uncertainty, and of what kind, is essential to freedom.
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