This chapter provides a summary analysis of the concept and history of bleak liberalism, a body of thought informed by distinctive attitudes and styles of political commitment. While the analysis reaches from nineteenth-century British liberalism to present-day theories of liberalism and neoliberalism, special attention is paid to the liberalism in and after the era of the Second World War. The liberalism of this period acutely registers the sociological and political conditions that most seriously challenge liberalism’s ideals and aspirations. It also actively engages debates over politics and art, not only in the context of discussions about realism and modernism, but also in response to debates about the role of art in the face of challenging experiences of political disenchantment. The final section of the chapter assesses the role neoliberalism has played in recent cultural analysis, arguing that critical accounts of neoliberalism share important features of the bleak liberal tradition. Those thinkers discussed in the chapter include John Stuart Mill, L. T. Hobhouse, Lionel Trilling, Isaiah Berlin, Sidney Hook, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Albert Camus, Michel Foucault, David Harvey, Wendy Brown, and William Connolly.
Keywords: liberalism, neoliberalism, realism, modernism, John Stuart Mill, L. T. Hobhouse, Lionel Trilling, Isaiah Berlin, Albert Camus, Michel Foucault