Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Why Liberalism Failed - A Book Review

Mark Richardson over at Oz Conservative gave me a copy of this book, Why Liberalism Failed and I'm very glad that he did. As I was reading it I joked to him that some of this was like reading his blog!

Professor Patrick Deneen is the author, he is a Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame in the United States. But don't let the fact that he is a Professor put you off, most of the book is simply common sense opinion. His argument is quite simple, that Liberalism is failing because it has been too successful.

Each chapter deals with a separate issue concerning Liberalism, for example chapter two is entitled "Uniting Liberalism and Statism", in which he argues that the Autonomous Individual needs big government. Here are two quotes from the book.

"Hobbes and Locke both - for all their differences - begin by conceiving natural humans not as parts of wholes but as wholes apart. We are by nature 'free and independent,' naturally ungoverned and even nonrelational. As Bertrand de Jouvenel quipped about social contractarianism, it was a philosophy conceived by 'childless men who must have forgotten their own childhood.'" (page 48)

I think Liberalism is only possible by forgetting your own lived experience, so I must say that jumped right out at me.

"If the expansion of freedom is secured by law, then the opposite also holds true in practice: increasing freedom requires the expansion of law." (page 49)

As he makes clear throughout the chapter Liberal freedom requires more government, including more laws. Both a paradox and common sense, which Professor Deneen often notices.

The book does not need to be read from cover to cover as each chapter is an essay dealing with a different problem of Liberalism. I particularly liked the Introduction and the Conclusion, which might seem strange. What I liked is he is putting forward more of his opinion, where as in each chapter he is building an argument. I have only quoted two brief sections, but there is so much really good stuff here. I must say that it is encouraging to read a book on politics in which I agreed with so much.

Professor Deneen is someone who people on our side of the fence should be paying attention to. One final point that is also encouraging is that the book is published by Yale University Press.

So should you read this book? Yes you should if your a Conservative, Traditionalist or someone interested in why the Liberal world that we live in is as it is. I'd give this book an A, enjoy!

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  1. The quote you took from p.48 is very good. I particularly hope Deneen's book emboldens traditionalists to criticise what Deneen calls "liberal anthropology".

  2. "social contractarianism, [is] philosophy conceived by 'childless men who must have forgotten their own childhood.'" (page 48)

    It has been noted that among the leaders of the six [?] most populace European nations not one has a child.