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The future of liberalism /
Alan Wolfe.
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2009.
335 p.
030726677X, 9780307266774
More Details
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2009.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter
Chapter 1

The Most Appropriate Political Philosophy for Our Times

At the Ending

“In the beginning,” wrote John Locke in hisSecond Treatise on Government, “all the world was America.”

Locke, the late-seventeenth-century English philosopher as well known for his explanation of how our ideas are formed as for his insistence that government be based on the consent of the governed, viewed America, at least before the white man arrived, as a land in which, because “no such thing as money was any where known,” conflicts over that particular root of all evil would not be necessary. From that seemingly simple idea sprung a political philosophy thoroughly alien to the absolutist monarchies of Europe. Because everyone possesses the capacity to work, all have a right to the property created when their labor is mixed with the blessings offered by the land. It follows that societies are best organized by freedom (no one can legitimately take away what naturally belongs to you), as well as equality (nor can they take it away from anyone else). To say that in the beginning all the world was America is to claim that freedom and equality would become forces too powerful to resist. That, in turn, became the single most influential component of liberalism: the dominant, if not always appreciated, political philosophy of modern times. Three centuries after Locke wrote his masterpiece, liberalism offers the best guide not only to our own times, but to the future as well. It will be my task in this book to show why.

Liberalism is a way of thinking and acting so easily taken for granted that one can easily forget how it struggled to come into existence; solved many of the problems it was asked to address; spread its influence around the world, not through coercion, but because of its universal appeal; and remains to this day far more attractive than its leading alternatives. As important as liberalism has been to the development of modern citizens and the societies they inhabit, it suffers today from a crisis of confidence. To flourish, liberalism needs to be recovered, and the stakes in its recovery are much greater than which party wins a forthcoming election, proposes the latest social reform, or even launches the next war. Modern citizens all too often forget that the liberal way of life is a good way of life, indeed, under the political conditions in which they live, the best way of life. It is liberalism’s underlying philosophy—its understanding of human nature, its respect for both individualism and equality, its discovery of the social, its passion for justice, its preference for experience over theory, its intellectual openness, its commitment to fairness—that offers us the surest path toward both individual freedom and a collective sense of purpose. We need liberalism if we are to respect the integrity of human beings, design institutions that serve their needs, and enable them to shape their destinies. John Locke pointed the way, and we remain indebted to him every time we insist that we be recognized for our own accomplishments or demand that nobody be treated as inherently more superior (or inferior) than anyone else.

There was a time when Americans appreciated the importance of the political philosophy that John Locke did so much to bring into being. “Locke’s little book on government is perfect as far as it goes,” Thomas Jefferson wrote to Thomas Mann Randolph, his brand-new son-in-law, exactly one hundred years after the publication ofThe Second Treatise. Jefferson was hardly revealing state secrets; the whole literate world knew the extent to which he had relied on Locke when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. So closely connected were Lockean ideas with the development of the United States that one of the classics of modern political thought, the Harvard political scientist Louis Hartz’sLibe

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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2008-10-13:
With one eye toward the Enlightenment and another toward contemporary politics, Wolfe (Does American Democracy Still Work?) mounts a passionate defense of why liberalism--broadly defined--continues to be relevant and essential in this thorough, scholarly text. The author refers to liberalism both in its classical and modern sense, emphasizing its commitment, from its emergence to the present, to the two goals of liberty and equality. Despite the title, the book takes a primarily historical approach, surveying a multitude of liberal thinkers from John Locke to John Rawls--drawing especially heavily on the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill--applying their theories to both historical and contemporary political issues. The author uses the frame of liberalism to examine terrorism, globalization and the politics of religion. Wolfe ruminates on conservatism's hand in the Hurricane Katrina debacle and, in his musings on globalization, focuses on how liberalism prescribes a philosophical commitment to global welfare rather than parochial concerns or national protectionism. More a work of political theory than a policy text, this book will strongly appeal to readers interested in the tradition of Western liberal thought. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2009-02-15:
Wolfe (political science, Boston Univ.; The Transformation of American Religion), a political sociologist of great distinction, clarity, and prolificacy, continues his powerful contributions to the understanding of contemporary conundrums with this stock taking of the state of the "L-word." Written before Barack Obama's win in the general election, free of campaign cant, this is a serious book for serious readers. Wolfe writes-usually accessibly, always penetratingly-as an intellectual committed to a set of ideas and social mores that have been tested and reformulated since the Enlightenment. In Wolfe's account, liberalism is informed by, but in permanent tension with, nationalism and romanticism. He is respectful of the conservative tradition, if not of specific right-wing pundits, and points out current inconsistencies he sees in liberal orthodoxy. He also takes exception to extreme claims made on behalf of sociobiology and against religion. Wolfe suggests the two greatest threats to the core liberal value of human freedom are untrammeled globalization and violent jihadism-threats, he argues, only liberalism can reform or tame. Recommended for academic and pubic libraries.-Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Publishers Weekly, October 2008
Booklist, February 2009
Library Journal, February 2009
Boston Globe, March 2009
New York Times Book Review, March 2009
San Francisco Chronicle, March 2009
Washington Post, March 2009
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Table of Contents
The Most Appropriate Political Philosophy for Our Timesp. 3
In Praise of Artificep. 30
Equality's Inevitabilityp. 62
Why Good Poetry Makes Bad Politicsp. 93
Mr. Schmitt Goes to Washingtonp. 126
How Liberals Should Think About Religionp. 157
The Open Society and Its Friendsp. 187
Why Conservatives Can't Governp. 217
Liberalism's Promisep. 250
Acknowledgmentsp. 289
Notesp. 291
Indexp. 319
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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