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Freedom: An Unruly History.

Harvard University Press (2020) 

We tend to think of freedom as something that is best protected by carefully circumscribing the boundaries of legitimate state activity. But who came up with this understanding of freedom, and for what purposes? In a masterful and surprising reappraisal of more than two thousand years of thinking about freedom in the West, Annelien de Dijn argues that we owe our view of freedom not to the Reformation or the Enlightenment but to counterrevolutionary thinkers.


“Ambitious and impressive… Explores an alternate history of the concept from the ancient world to the Age of Revolution to the Cold War, charting those moments when new notions of freedom—such as freedom from government supervision or repression—deviated from its more classical and longstanding definition as self-government… At a time when the very survival of both freedom and democracy seems uncertain, books like this are more important than ever, as our societies contemplate both the heritage of the past and the prospects for the future.”
—Tyler Stovall, The Nation.

“A brilliantly crafted, compelling, and deeply relevant history for our times.”
—Kirkus, starred review. 

“Thought-provoking… Helps explain how partisans on both the right and the left can claim to be protectors of liberty, yet hold radically different understandings of its meaning… This deeply informed history of an idea has the potential to combat political polarization.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Ambitious and bold, this book will have an enormous impact on how we think about the place of freedom in the Western tradition.”
—Samuel Moyn, author of Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World.

“This book brings remarkable clarity to a big and messy subject, the definition of freedom in the Western tradition. New insights and hard-hitting conclusions about the resistance to democracy make this essential reading for anyone interested in the roots of our current dilemmas.”
—Lynn Hunt, author of History: Why It Matters

Rethinking Liberty Before Liberalism, edited with Hannah Dawson (Cambridge University Press, 2022)

Cambridge University Press (2022)

Opens up new histories of freedom and republicanism by building on Quentin Skinner’s ground-breaking Liberty before Liberalism nearly twenty five years after its initial publication. Leading historians and philosophers reveal the neo-Roman conception of liberty that Skinner unearthed as a normative and historical hermeneutic tool of enormous, ongoing power. The volume thinks with neo-Romanism to offer reinterpretations of individual thinkers, such as Montaigne, Grotius and Locke. It probes the role of neo-Roman liberty within hierarchies and structures beyond that of citizen and state – namely, gender, slavery, and democracy. Finally, it reassesses the relationships between neo-Romanism and other languages in the history of political thought: liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and the human rights tradition. The volume concludes with a major reappraisal by Skinner himself.


“The stellar new collection surveys recent scholarship and demonstrates republicanism’s enduring power. Democratic socialists looking for inspiration about how to think about freedom beyond liberalism will doubtless find much value in the collection.”
Jacobin (2023)

French Political Thought from Montesquieu to Tocqueville: Liberty in a Levelled Society?

Cambridge University Press (2008)

This study makes a major contribution to our understanding of one of the most important and enduring strands of modern political thought. Annelien de Dijn argues that Montesquieu’s aristocratic liberalism – his conviction that the preservation of freedom in a monarchy required the existence of an aristocratic ‘corps intermédiaire’ – had a continued impact on post-revolutionary France. Revisionist historians from Furet to Rosanvallon have emphasised the impact of revolutionary republicanism on post-revolutionary France, with its monist conception of politics and its focus on popular sovereignty. Dr de Dijn, however, highlights the persistence of a pluralist liberalism that was rooted in the Old Regime, and which saw democracy and equality as inherent threats to liberty. She thus provides an alternative context in which to read the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, who is revealed as the heir not just of Restoration liberals, but also of the Royalists and their hero, Montesquieu.


“Annelien de Dijn’s outstanding book… elegantly reconstructs a tradition of “aristocratic liberalism” that can be traced back to Montesquieu, and which influenced a range of royalist and liberal thinkers alike in France from 1814 to 1875.”
Political Theory (2010)

“[This book] is an invaluable study which has greatly contributed to deepening our knowledge of a rich liberal tradition.”
English Historical Review (2010)

“Annelien de Dijn has written a very stimulating and timely book. Everyone who has embarked on the difficult journey to the roots of European liberalism and its dilemmas will find in French Political Thought from Montesquieu to Tocqueville a very useful road map.”
Perspectives on Political Science (2009)

“French Political Thought from Montesquieu to Tocqueville is an excellent, original and erudite account of a long-forgotten chapter in modern intellectual history that will prove immensely valuable to scholars and students alike.”
—French History, 2008.

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