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Liberals and strangers

Liberalism is not 300 years old; it was born 10,000 years ago with the invention of agriculture.

By Paul Seabright   May 2004

How old is political liberalism? Here is a surprising answer: it is not a few hundred years old, but 10,000 years old. And this answer matters because it affects our ability to see liberalism as capable of addressing some of the deepest anxieties of modern society. Can we live together with those of different cultures? Can we argue instead of fight?

Most accounts of liberalism date its origins to between 500 and 300 years ago. Five hundred years ago, Europeans were discovering the new world and Protestantism was being born. Just over 300 years ago, between 1689 and 1692, John…

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