Why Liberalism Failed (Politics and Culture)
a book by Patrick J. Deneen
(our site's book review)
The Amazon blurb says that Has liberalism failed because it has succeeded?
Of the three dominant ideologies of the twentieth century—fascism, communism, and liberalism—only the last remains [not true]. This has created a peculiar situation in which liberalism’s proponents tend to forget that it is an ideology and not the natural end-state of human political evolution. As Patrick Deneen argues in this provocative book, liberalism is built on a foundation of contradictions: it trumpets equal rights while fostering incomparable material inequality; its legitimacy rests on consent, yet it discourages civic commitments in favor of privatism; and in its pursuit of individual autonomy, it has given rise to the most far-reaching, comprehensive state system in human history. Here, Deneen offers an astringent warning that the centripetal forces now at work on our political culture are not superficial flaws but inherent features of a system whose success is generating its own failure.
Deneen (of the University of Notre Dame: Associate Professor and David A. Potenziani Memorial Chair in Constitutional Studies) says that "The problem is not that liberalism has been hijacked but that its elevation of individual autonomy was wrong from the start, and the passage of decades has only made its error more evident." Deneen is a Catholic writer.
He goes on: "Today, some 70 percent of Americans believe that their country is moving in the wrong direction, and half the country thinks its best days are behind it. Most believe that their children will be less prosperous and have fewer opportunities than previous generations. Every institution of government shows declining levels of public trust by the citizenry, and deep cynicism toward politics is reflected in an uprising on all sides of the political spectrum against political and economic elites. Elections, once regarded as well-orchestrated performances meant to convey legitimacy to liberal democracy, are increasingly regarded as evidence of an impregnably rigged and corrupt system. It is evident to all that the political system is broken and social fabric is fraying, particularly as a growing gap increases between wealthy haves and left-behind have-nots . . .
It is evident to all that the political system is broken and social fabric is fraying, particularly as a growing gap increases between wealthy haves and left-behind have-nots
"Nearly every one of the promises that were made by the architects and creators of liberalism has been shattered. The liberal state expands to control nearly every aspect of life while citizens regard government as a distant and uncontrollable power . . . A political philosophy that was launched to foster greater equity, defend a pluralist tapestry of different cultures and beliefs, protect human dignity, and, of course, expand liberty, in practice generates titanic inequality, enforces uniformity and homogeneity, fosters material and spiritual degradation, and undermines freedom. . . . Deneen’s is a radical critique, arguing that liberalism needs not reform but retirement."
"To make this argument work, Deneen lumps together all the various ideas and movements that have been associated with the term “liberalism”, whether they are compatible or not – from classical 'check-and-balances' liberalism to New Deal progressivism, from neo-liberal economics to liberal identity politics. What ultimately unites all these strands, in Deneen’s eyes, is rampant individualism, which has been a bugbear for conservatives dating back to the French revolution. Instead of individualism, Deneen says the future lies with radically decentralised, local communities where the true meaning of culture might be found again. By culture, he means 'a set of generational customs, practices, and rituals that are grounded in local and particular settings.'" (Source: The anti-democratic thinker inspiring America's Conservative elites, Hugo Drochon, the Guardian)
Washington stinks—it is hopelessly corrupted by money and greed; if anyone will be 'fixing' anything it won't be them—it will be US or no one
Deneen needs to read more Fromm and Maslow. Opting for a prescription of religious community instead of individualism is a very unbalanced—and naive—perspective. As either Erich Fromm or Abraham Maslow would teach Deneen, we need both community and individualism and we need the two of them to be in balance. We don't need check or balances, we need both. We don't need health or happiness, we need both. Spock of Star Trek didn't say "live long or prosper," he said "live long and prosper." A more knowledgeable person would prescribe community balanced with individualism. Also see The Responsive Communitarian Platform which shows how community balanced with individualism may be accomplished in a win-win manner. Deneen's book could have been so much more if it explored how community and individualism need rebalancing.
Deneen advocates religious community instead of individualism—is he working for the Vatican?
Religious perspectives are often more (unnecessarily) win-lose: "In one sense, to speak of autonomy for the Christian is somewhat of an oxymoron, since the Christian lives all of life under God's sovereign direction. The Christian is constrained by the moral parameters of God's word and the activity of the Holy Spirit in guidance and direction. Though the Reformers liberated human beings from a static view of the world that characterized the Middle Ages, they were very clear about the believer's place under the sovereignty of God. From the perspective of Scripture, believers do not own themselves, but belong to God, having been purchased by the death of Christ (I Cor. 6:19-20). As a result, the believer is free not to do whatever he or she pleases, but rather, is free to do what is right. The New Testament is filled with admonitions to temper one's Christian freedom with love and responsibility to others and the community." (Source: Autonomy and Community in Biblical Perspective, Scott B. Rae, The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity)
Deneen, as a Catholic writer, is more of a win-lose guy on the matter (like Rae), believing liberalism's belief in individual autonomy was wrong from the start (since it is not in accord with his religious beliefs). For those of us who actually understand individual autonomy, we know that the viability of liberalism without it would have been impossible. Herbert I. London says that modern liberalism emphasizes the ideal of individual autonomy, which is the belief that individuals are free to do as they choose as long as their actions do not harm others. Overemphasizing the rights context, the socialization context to promote the common good is often overlooked. Rights and responsibilities go together—they are opposite sides of the same coin. See The American Dilemma: Personal Autonomy and The Common Good and Individualism Reconsidered.
Rights and responsibilities go together—they are opposite sides of the same coin
"Mere tinkering won’t alleviate the deep rot in the liberal project, Deneen insists. He says we need to envision a future after liberalism, where local, preferably religious [—preferably Catholic—] communities tend to the land and look after their own. These groups would cultivate 'cultures of community, care, self-sacrifice and small-scale democracy.' . . . Deneen is so determined to depict liberalism as a wholly bankrupt ideology that he gives exceedingly short shrift to what might have made it appealing — and therefore powerful — in the first place. With all its abiding flaws, liberalism offered a way out for those who didn’t conform to the demands of the clan. Besides, nobody is truly stopping Deneen from doing what he prescribes: finding a community of like-minded folk, taking to the land, growing his own food, pulling his children out of public school. His problem is that he apparently wants everyone to do these things — which suggests he may have more in common with his caricature of a bullying liberal than he cares to admit." (Source: If Liberalism Is Dead, What Comes Next?, Jennifer Szalai, NY Times)
Deneen's prescription for everyone: find a community of like-minded folk, take to the land, grow your own food, pull your children out of public school and homeschool them
We agree with Ms. Szalai that we're all fine with Deneen starting a community (preferably religious—preferably Catholic) growing his own food, and homeschooling kids. Is this a Catholic commune, is it a monastery? He may find it is harder than he thinks to find a community of like-minded folk who will uproot and go somewhere. Finding like-minded folk on Facebook or Twitter is trivial, but folks to physically join a community is light years harder. Growing your own food isn't a snap either—he'd better make sure one or more experienced small farmers is in his community. The same goes for homeschooling kids. It takes time and he needs to at minimum talk to people who have successfully done it. If Deneen truly wants everyone to go Catholic hippy, he should know that the U.S. economy would grind to a halt, wrecking the world's economy. We'd then become easy targets for invasion and takeover by Russia and/or China, and radical sects in the country would start warring with one another in warlord-led gangs—we are an extremely polarized country. It would get really ugly really fast—especially since our nation is awash in weapons. So it only makes sense for a minority of people to go hippy.
Thousands of Catholic communities (sects would inevitably start warring with one another) would get really ugly really fast—especially since our nation is awash in weapons
If we were Russia, we'd have paid off Deneen to write this book (we are NOT saying such a thing actually occurred), since their oligarchs' fondest desire is to see both American liberalism and American democracy fail, making Russia and China the biggest badasses on the block. This would be a blessed relief after all these years of putting up with U.S. aggression and warmongering all over the world. But would Russian and/or Chinese aggression and warmongering all over the world be even worse? Our Deneen-communities would find out the hard way.
Libralism has become concentrated on ending all oppression. But this suggests the question how will this be achieved? Classical liberalism envisioned a world run by markets where our only limitations were of our own making. Progressive liberals saw a powerful but benevolent state that was ready to cripple any oppressors and deliver everybody to themselves. Family, propriety, dignity, anatomy, environment, and faith were simply tools of oppression to be overcome by the means of market or state; or so Deneen’s tells us.
Deneen tells us we should wonder whether America is not in the early days of its eternal life of liberal bliss but rather approaching the end of the natural cycle of corruption, degeneration and decay that limits the lifespan of all human creations. He tells us that liberalism is the first of the modern world’s political ideologies, and with the demise of fascism and communism, it is the only ideology still with a claim to viability. And yet the various authoritarian regimes popping up around the world (e.g., former USSR members) reflect various aspects of fascism and communism as well as liberalism's democracy, although the latter is in name only since the word is still popular with the citizens although the reality is not popular with strongman authoritarian leaders, since it gets in the way of the leaders' greedy, kleptocratic impulses more than do fascism and communism.
The Founders warned us against the greedy elites that would attempt to exploit the vulnerabilities of democracy
The Founders warned us against the greedy elites that would attempt to exploit the vulnerabilities of democracy. They also worried about the tyranny of the majority, like the sheep voting to shear the wolf because they were envious of their wealth. And you cannot blame these guys for wanting to protect their wealth from majorities seeing rich elites as fruit ripe for the picking.
The Founding Fathers had wanted to put "enlightened gentlemen" in control so that they would protect everyone from the tyranny of the majority, but instead, said Madison, "what we've got is gangsters in control using state power for their own benefit." A couple of centuries later, the not-so-"enlightened gentlemen" have morphed into the Shadow Government, as greedy and exploitative and in control as ever. As Noam Chomsky tells it, the principle of the people who own the country ought to govern it unfortunately continues to be the dominant feature of American politics. It's been the prevailing guiding principle from the start, in spite of what you might find in a high school Civics book. It is an acknowledgement of this covert but obviously functioning principle that led the recent high court ruling in the Citizens United case.
The not-so-enlightened gentlemen (Founding Fathers) who acted like gangsters around 1800 have—centuries later—morphed into today's Shadow Government, as greedy and exploitative and in control as ever
Thomas Jefferson warned that if power shifted into the clutches of what he called "banking institutions and moneyed incorporations," then the democratic experiment would be done. We'd have a form of tyranny worse than the British Empire's aristocracy which the colonists had struggled against. We have allowed just this type of nightmare scenario to evolve, but with the extra curse of Big Brother 24/7 surveillance as well. And we compounded the error by giving these corporations human status—they have all the rights that we do, and because of slick lawyers that have inserted insidious loopholes into legislation, they actually have more rights than we do. See Supercapitalism.
Thomas Jefferson warned that if power shifted into the clutches of what he called "banking institutions and moneyed incorporations," then the democratic experiment would be done
So Deneen's idea that liberalism is done was already partially true a couple of centuries ago. You can make sophisticated Constitutions full of elegant prose and flowery phrases, but it won't change human nature. People are greedy and will exploit vulnerable situations and people. Fast forward to 2019 and we see that nothing has changed except that democracy is beginning to fail all over the world, including in the good old USA, and liberalism with it. See Democracy—an American Delusion.
Many PC-fanatics want to flush our Founders down the toilet, since their 1776 standards fail to conform to the 2019 PC standards!
Control by threats, intimidation, and oppression, including using violent Antifa thugs as muscle to do their dirty work—this is the dumbest thing liberals ever came up with
When the truth is not politically correct, it is excised, as everyone MUST toe the PC party line
However, a new type of liberalism—political correctness—has caught hold in the U.S., and even though no conservatives and only some liberals support it, it is the worst type of social engineering (80% of U.S. citizens have big problems with it). Control by threats, intimidation, and oppression, including using violent Antifa thugs as muscle to do their dirty work—this is the dumbest thing liberals ever came up with. Some of these PC police are even removing or defacing our historical statues to erase history so it is free of the blight of evil white males who spent all their time picking on the poor black folks (or so these idiots believe). Many PC-fanatics want to flush our Founders down the toilet, since their 1776 standards fail to conform to the 2019 PC standards. See Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment.
Some of these PC police are even removing or defacing our historical statues to erase history so it is free of the blight of evil white males
Today's students confront an Orwellian nightmare of political reeducation, sensitivity training, speech codes, and groupthink, and intimidation is laid on not just students but professors as well
James Madison, after seeing the ideals of the Constitution crash into the realities of human nature, realized that greed would always rule the day
If the Founders could see the mess we've made of things, they'd be turning over in their graves
Such realities as these show that ideologies based upon falsehoods about human nature can’t help but fail. Our Constitution is an idealistic document doing its best to deal with realistic facts as well, but that's a tall order. It turned out that greed of the minority of the opulent, not the tyranny of the majority, was the biggest weakness of the document, as James Madison realized. And he's the guy who, at the Constitutional Convention, said that "to protect the minority of the opulent from the majority — that’s the primary purpose of government." See That Dangerous Radical Aristotle.
In politics and government, economics, education, and science and technology, elite greed has led to disenchantment and unhappiness. Politics is just liars pretending to represent citizens but really representing corporations. The economy is run by the rich for the rich, with citizens being used as mere cash cows for the corporatocracy to milk. Education is a way for kids to have free babysitters, then they go off to college and spend the rest of their lives paying off student loans—once more cash cows for the elites to milk. Science is apparently just a matter of opinions generated by corporations who pay off researchers to get a certain result. Where is objectivity and the scientific method? Follow the money and find out how the world REALLY works! Technology is merely an opportunity for monopolies to kill or swallow smaller companies. Deneen's idea that liberalism is done for rubs salt in democracy's wounds. Ouch!
The economy is run by the rich for the rich, with citizens being used as mere cash cows for the corporatocracy to milk
“The people who own the country ought to govern it” continues to be the dominant feature of American politics. John Jay, the head of the Constitutional Convention and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the fellow who said this first. These fellows were supposed to be designing a government for the people, by the people, and of the people. And yet these framers of the Constitution were sounding a bit too much like King George III of the United Kingdom, whose tyranny they were fleeing.
Madison moaned that "we thought we were going to create a system which would protect everyone from the tyranny of the majority, but instead what we’ve got is gangsters in control using state power for their own benefit." Sound familiar? (Source: One Basis for TOSCA, Richard Martin Oxman and The Collective, oxtogrind)
Unless American citizens start defecating money, the debt caused by elites' empire building has put us all in deep doo-doo
Why Liberalism Failed (Politics and Culture) is an interesting book that seems mostly to be a frustrated person thinking out loud about his inability to reconcile his Catholic religious beliefs with his misunderstandings about individual autonomy. The two entities had a wrestling match in his head, and individual autonomy lost. Hence the book. The book makes good points about all the ways liberalism failed. But it was not because of its support for individual autonomy—far from it. It was because of the greed and corruption of some of the elites that motivated them to push the country into empire building we couldn't afford and that only benefitted the very rich, and also pushed them to exploit this country as well as others so they could win the contest with other elites about who had the most yachts and zeros on their bank accounts. See the best book of the 21st century: Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.
Liberalism's failure traces back to greed and corruption of some of the elites that motivated them to push the country into empire building we couldn't afford and that only benefitted the very rich, sabotaging the American Dream for the rest of us