Skip to main content

Realm of Lesser Evil

Realm of Lesser Evil

Jean-Claude Michea

ISBN: 978-0-745-64620-6

Jul 2009, Polity

208 pages

In Stock



Winston Churchill said of democracy that it was ‘the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’ The same could be said of liberalism. While liberalism displays an unfailing optimism with regard to the capacity of human beings to make themselves ‘masters and possessors of nature’, it displays a profound pessimism when it comes to appreciating their moral capacity to build a decent world for themselves.

As Michea shows, the roots of this pessimism lie in the idea – an eminently modern one – that the desire to establish the reign of the Good lies at the origin of all the ills besetting the human race. Liberalism’s critique of the ‘tyranny of the Good’ naturally had its costs. It created a view of modern politics as a purely negative art – that of defining the least bad society possible. It is in this sense that liberalism has to be understood, and understands itself, as the ‘politics of lesser evil’.

And yet while liberalism set out to be a realism without illusions, today liberalism presents itself as something else. With its celebration of the market among other things, contemporary liberalism has taken over some of the features of its oldest enemy. By unravelling the logic that lies at the heart of the liberal project, Michea is able to shed fresh light on one of the key ideas that have shaped the civilization of the West.


Chapter One: The Unity of Liberalism.

Chapter Two: Questions of Method.

Chapter Three: The ‘Open Society’ and the Politics of Necessity.

Chapter Four: Tractatus Juridico-Economicus.

Chapter Five: Egoism and Common Decency.

Chapter Six: The Unconscious of Modern Societies.

Chapter Seven: From the Realm of Lesser Evil to the Best of Worlds.

"In this highly original study of contemporary free-trade liberalism, Jean-Claude Michea develops and brings to a conclusion his decade-long duel with the bankrupt thinking of the institutionalized Left. The originality of Michea's approach consists in his strenuous effort to discover and unravel the original populist themes in Marx's work, themes that return - recycled and somewhat refashioned - in present-day liberal individualism. This allows him to rewrite, in a controversial yet fascinating manner, the history of modernity. The result is a book that should be widely read and discussed and should stir up debate across the social sciences, drowning as they now are in a stale concoction of yesterday's intellectual fashions."
Zygmunt Bauman, Emeritus Professor of the University of Leeds