Reading: 'The Future of Liberalism'

I started reading Alan Wolfe's The Future of Liberalism yesterday. Can't say I'm in love with all of it, but there are some pretty powerful points it makes about the liberal foundations of this country, and the inherent liberalism of egalitarian concepts like freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness.
A few excerpts I particularly enjoyed:

Liberals no longer write path-breaking books because the most important paths have already been broken. Modern people do not need to know why liberty, or society, or rights, or peace, or even equality are good things; the cases for them have already been made, and even if they had not been, citizens of liberal democracy have grown quite used to living with them. (255)

Because liberalism is at one and the same time procedural, temperamental, and substantive, it will always be open to challenge: it's commitment to proceduralism presupposes a clash of ideas; its temperamental openness welcomes dissents to its own ways of htinking; and its substantive ideals are intended to be partisan and therefore subject to debate. As much as liberals ought to want to see their ideas win over their opponents, they should not seek unconditional surrender. A world in which the only ideas were liberal ideas would not be a liberal world. (286)

No contemporary liberal can look back on the eloquence of a Louis D. Brandeis, the more sensible reforms of the Progressive Era, the massive public works projects of the New Deal, the willingness to stand up first to Nazism and then to communism, and the accomplishments of the Great Society without feeling that it has all been downhill since. Put that record against high protective tariffs, Social Darwinism, rigid adherence to the gold standard, isolationism, McCarthyite witch hunts, and today's Christian right, and liberalism's record out to speak for itself. That a political outlook which has accomplished so much can lose elections so frequently to one that has accomplished so little is bound to be a source of constant frustration. (288)

And it certainly is! A good read - very provocative.

Thoughts?

3 comments:

A. D. Hunt said...

Don't buy into the Modernist, secular political lies Peter ;) "Liberalism" did not invent "equality" (uhh, pretty sure Paul said some things about that), and the enlightened "liberal" societies and governments free of the "church" has done more killing than all of previous human history combined. Certainly millions more than the Crusades.

We just buy into it because of our affluence. Don't ever forget Peter, that you and I are in the top 1% of the world's rich and more often than not our "freedoms" and choices are paid for on the back of moderate to real slave labor. If our "liberal" democracies cared so much about progressive morality then I wonder why we don't forgive 3rd world debt, stop pre-emptive wars, et. al.

The hope of the world is Christ in the Church, not in democracy.

Peter said...

Mmmm, that's a great final line Tony:

"The hope of the world is Christ in the Church, not in democracy."

I'll second that! Though I've found far more to hope for in Christ outside the church, than inside.

I think Wolfe would contend that the injustices you cite are not the results of true liberalism, but of fascism, totalitarianism, sectarianism, and paranoia infecting supposedly liberal ideologies.

Howard Pepper said...

I haven't read the book, or even reviews besides the one above. But in general, it's pretty tough to discuss any "ism" unless one ties it to a particular expression, as in a subset of a political party at a particular time, etc. And maybe that's what the author does. At the same time, there are related threads of concepts with definite continuity that I find fascinating to study historically. Thomas Kuhn and many since him on "paradigms" have important contributions as to how that process tends to work institutionally.

In fact, as it's just been raised in terms of hope, the concept of Christ is a major one of those. Much of our current liberalism grew out of certain understandings of Christ, though many of those are exclusive of other views held by more "conservative" people. But what is now taken via long tradition, as "conservative" on Christ, was once the radical, cutting edge of views propounded by Paul and the author of Luke/Acts... views that a close, careful reading of the NT and its surrounding literature indicates departed from Jesus' self-concept and teachings quite dramatically. And Paul's faction only gradually overshadowed the James et al faction of Jesus followers interested in remaining Jewish. (And there were quickly, even in the first century, way more than 2 factions, even shown in the NT itself.)

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