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From Plato to the credit crunch

Alan Ryan’s new history of political thought sticks too closely to the traditional liberal script

By Mark Mazower   December 2012

Left, JS Mill is one of Alan Ryan’s favourite thinkers, right, President Woodrow Wilson promised a world made safe for democracy, but fell far short (photos: Getty Images; Culver Pictures, Inc/Superstock)

About a century ago, leading Anglo-American universities transformed their teaching. Their new role, as they saw it, was to act as nurseries of a democratic citizenry, and of its elite in particular. What most of these institutions thought they needed was not more scientific and technical specialisation—this horribly Teutonic approach, they felt, ended up breeding smart cannon fodder for…

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