Tellingly, one liberal tradition that Deneen fails to mention is pluralism, which many liberals still recognise themselves in today. Pluralism holds that there are numerous competing and irreducible worldviews, and that the goal of politics is to find a way to make them work together.
It is that pluralist project – building bridges between different communities – that is in most urgent need of rediscovery. What we need now is not a retreat to our own communities, which can only aggravate the polarisation of society, not to say give free rein to those already in power. What we need now is more politics.
Mr Deneen is right to point out that the record of liberalism in recent years has been dismal. He is also right to assert that the world has much to learn from the premodern notions of liberty as self-mastery and self-denial. The biggest enemy of liberalism is not so much atomisation but old-fashioned greed, as members of the Davos elite pile their plates ever higher with perks and share options. But he is wrong to argue that the only way for people to liberate themselves from the contradictions of liberalism is “liberation from liberalism itself”. The best way to read “Why Liberalism Failed” is not as a funeral oration but as a call to action: up your game, or else.
“Why Liberalism Failed” is a book that reads like an attempt to enunciate a primal scream, a deeply exasperating volume that nevertheless articulates something important in this age of disillusionment. (David Brooks and Ross Douthat have both written Op-Ed columns about the book for The Times.) Deneen, a professor of political science at Notre Dame, may not admire President Trump, but he understands his appeal...Readers of all political stripes can probably find something in this book that rings true, even if it’s followed by the rude awakening of a record scratch.