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Why Liberalism Failed (Politics and Culture…
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Why Liberalism Failed (Politics and Culture Series) (original 2018; edição 2018)

por Patrick J. Deneen (Autor)

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"One of the most important political books of 2018."--Rod Dreher, American Conservative Of the three dominant ideologies of the twentieth century--fascism, communism, and liberalism--only the last remains. 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.… (mais)
Membro:johnwgillis
Título:Why Liberalism Failed (Politics and Culture Series)
Autores:Patrick J. Deneen (Autor)
Informação:Yale University Press (2018), 224 pages
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Why Liberalism Failed por Patrick J. Deneen (2018)

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From what is a pure opinion piece I expect some thought provoking insights. It's mostly a repetitive list of complaints against modern society. Not saying I disagree with anything here, just that none of it is revealing or explanatory. ( )
  TeaTimeCoder | Dec 23, 2020 |
Patrick Deneen, who teaches in the Political Science department at Notre Dame, has written a powerful critique of the political philosophy of Liberalism that was rooted in the thought of Thomas Hobbes but reached full flower in the Second Treatise on Government by John Locke which was the inspiration for the American Declaration of Independence.

Before engaging with the text one of the things that jumped out at me was the identity of the people who provided an enthusiastic blurb for the book. It's not often that you will see Barack Obama and Cornel West praising a book along with reviewers from National Review, Chronicles, The American Conservative and the Wall St. Journal. One favorable reviewer that I would have expected to see was Ross Douthat whose book The Decadent Society considers some of the same themes treated by Deneen.

One reason why so many writers across the political spectrum were able to wax so enthusiastic is likely due to two factors. First, the criticism of Liberalism is aimed at both the classical liberal position, the liberalism of the American founding, that is generally associated with what we call conservatism in this country. However, it is also equally directed at the progressivism that is the predominant strain of what we think of when we talk about liberalism from Woodrow Wilson's time down to the present moment.

The second reason for the breadth of the positive reviews has to do with the relatively modest proposals for a way forward. Deneen argues that there is no going back but when he talks about beginnings of away out of our dilemma he talks about the need to recover ways of thinking and doing that occur is small communities either outside of politics or at the lowest level of political organization possible. He doesn't characterize this as "going back" but it does recall the sociology of Tocqueville's Democracy in America wherein he praised the American manners and mores for the prevalence of voluntary associations, those intermediating institutions that people leverage to solve problems that are beyond the competence of individuals and families, but don't require recourse to a powerful central government to provide for every citizen's needs and desires. So both conservatives and progressives can agree with large parts of Deneen's diagnosis, but neither wing of liberalism is turned off by a comprehensive solution.

Liberalism is characterized by two fundamental attitudes - voluntarism in politics as exemplified in the doctrine of the state of nature as propounded in Hobbes and Locke and the resulting versions of the contract theory of government. The second characteristic is the attitude toward nature. In the context of the natural world this results in a denigration of the idea that nature is a given whose constraints man needs to accommodate himself to and work within, In the modern (liberal) view nature is an environment that needs to be conquered and exploited to provide for mankind's comfortable self-preservation. In the words of Hobbes' employer Francis Bacon the aim is to provide for the "relief of man's estate." In a way Liberalism is the philosophical basis for the collective STEM projects that have produced modernity with all of its attendant blessings however mixed.

Whether prompted by the rejection of the Biblical account of the origin of man in the Book of Genesis, or to provide a corrective to the origins of politics in wars of conquest, the Liberal project's anthropology is based on a state of nature in which the natural condition of human beings is one of radical aloneness, Deneen quotes Bertrand de Jouvenel's criticism of this account of man's original condition as invented by "childless men who must have forgotten their own childhood." In order to escape the dangerous situation which life in the state nature presents ("solitary, poore, nasty brutish and short") men contract with each other and enter a political society for the purpose of the mutual defense of the their fundamental rights to life, liberty and property. The defense of these natural rights is is the only legitimate basis for a political regime. Echoes of this in the American founding are of course located in the Declaration of Independence and Federalist 10 in which Madison argues that the protection of the unequal faculties for the acquisition of property is the "first object of government".

Deneen's thesis is that this contract theory government based on a mythical state of nature and its coeval theory of natural rights and the related project to conquer an adversary nature meant that Liberalism got it wrong from the start. The success of liberal politics has to a large extent been dependent on the character of its citizens which had been formed by institutions, cultures and traditions that preceded liberalism. But over time liberalism acts as a solvent upon these supports for character formation that a successful republican politics is dependent on. Liberalism consumes but does not and cannot replenish this social capital. As the role of religion declines in private and public life, as the definition of the family and its unique role in the raising of citizens gets eroded and as the retreat of citizens into themselves causes the eclipse of those intermediating associations that provided "support and sustenance" apart from the actions of the state, so there emerges the Leviathan so feared by conservatives to address all of the never ending wants and needs of free, authentic but weak, atomized individuals especially those who come up on the short end of the competition among unequal faculties for the acquisition of property. Thus the individualism that derives from the natural rights theory that emerges from the logic of the contract theory of government espoused by conservatives leads to the statism favored by progressives. Deneen cites Tocqueville,

"He is full of confidence and pride in his independence among his equals, but from time to time his weakness makes him feel the need for some outside help. which he cannot expect from any of his fellows, for they are both impotent and cold. In this extremity he naturally turns his eyes towards that huge entity (the tutelary state) which alone stands out among the universal level of abasement. His needs, and even more his longings, continually put him in mind of that entity, and he ends by regarding it as the sole and necessary support of his individual weakness."

To coin a phrase when evaluating the end results of the 400 hundred year old liberal project, "nothing fails like success". That is, the complete triumph of Liberalism, as suggested by Frank Fukuyama's "The End of History" is per Deneen the why and how of its failure. Current wisdom believes in nothing if not "mulitculuralism" and "diversity", but there is no actual "multi-culture". There are only existing cultures that define what separates broad swathes of humanity and are rooted as the word culture suggests in particular places, times and peoples. As for diversity there has never been a time of more suffocating conformity in all areas of life. The universalizing tendencies of liberalism are not just corrosive of culture according to Deneen but constitute an "anti-culture".

The explosion (or invasion) of technology into all facets of our existence has resulted in everyone's increased isolation as a result of our being completely connected. Technology has allowed us to become more consumed with trivial pursuits in our private lives, substituting real human relationships with Facebook friends and looking for love and every other of our expanding desires on line. In the meantime more and more we are liberated from unpleasant physical work, but we are increasingly "liberated" from ways of earning a living by technology and its accomplice globalization.

Deneen also accuses Liberalism of devaluing and destroying the liberal arts not only through the emphasis on STEM disciplines but because of an incompatibility of Liberalism with the classical and Christian antecedents that gave birth to the humanities and the creation of universities. Of course it should be pointed out that the price tag associated with the modern undergraduate degree has certainly pushed more students in the direction of disciplines that promise a return on investment. It is also the case that the post-modern, post-liberal university is in the process of committing suicide via critical theory that fundamentally calls into question why anyone should waste time pretending that there are any permanent questions, let alone answers if there is only the "text" that functions as an instrument of will to power.

Finally, in the full flush of liberalism, we have evolved into a society that echoing Federalist 10, has divided us via the meritocracy into life's winners and losers and threatens to create a permanent class based on the recognition of unequal talents belonging to a self-perpetuating elite.

There is much to agree with in Deneen's jeremiad. But if there is no going back it might be the case that the way forward can be discerned by looking back at the alternatives suggested by classical and Christian philosophy as well as a thoughtful study of the American founding and sympathetic critiques by thinkers like Tocqueville. ( )
  citizencane | Sep 18, 2020 |
Aquest és un llibre estrany per a un lector europeu. L’autor és el nord americà Patrick Deneen i les seves idees polítiques de base no són les de la revolució francesa, sinó les de l’americana, i en bastants aspectes encara es troba a finals del segle XVIII. Fa servir l'accepció americana de liberalisme, i que a la resta del món occidental s'identifica amb el progressisme. L'autor pensa que si bé la cultura actual fomenta que l’individu pugui desenvolupar les seves potencialitats sense que la societat l’imposi limitacions, ell és partidari de que la persona faci seves les limitacions (tradicions, diu ell) socials "clàssiques" i aprengui a viure amb elles; acceptar amb qui es pot viure i amb qui no (no li agrada l’homosexualitat), on pot treballar i on no (no li agrada que els més espavilats del poble emigrin a les grans ciutats), quins serveis públics pot oferir l’administració i quins no (detesta una administració pública gran).

No li acaba de fer gràcia que la universitat potenciï la creació de nou coneixement (entenc que en l'àmbit de les idees; no crec que estigui en contra d'ampliar els coneixements en medicina, per exemple); ell està a favor que s’hauria de prioritzar la transmissió del coneixement que ja existeix i que ha conformat el mon occidental.. pocs autors dels últims 225 anys pertanyen a la categoria de pensadors que pagui la pena estudiar. A partir d'aquí, des de Ted Cruz (ala dreta republicana) fins a Barak Obama (per suposat) reben de valent i d'una forma injusta. Per a ell, tots representen més o menys el mateix pensament lliberal. Ell veu que la societat actual és un desgavell, però que aquest és una conseqüència de l'evolució natural del liberalisme.

És partidari dels governs petits en comunitats petites, del consum moderat , de l’estudi dels autors clàssics, de no posar límits a la desigualtat en tant que els pobres no estiguin massa malament (però sense concretar quin és el llindar mínim), de viure amb una major harmonia amb la natura.. valora que les persones puguin arreglar per si mateixos electrodomèstics i aixetes gotejants, i la banca d’inversió l’horroritza. Potser un poble Amish encaixa bé en aquest patró; però cal ser concient que els Amish han renunciat voluntàriament a molts àmbits de la seva llibertat personal en favor d'un determinat estil de vida comunitari. No sé imaginar quina mena de fenòmens o cataclismes espitjarien a la humanitat a evolucionar en aquest sentit. Patrick Deneen tampoc els concreta.

Aquest home viu en un tems que ja ha passat. El consens social que necessitaria una societat com la que exposa és inexistent, més propi de petites comunitats agràries amb poca mobilitat social que del mon d’avui. És una mica una mostra del desconcert de les societats actuals, especialment l’occidental i encara més l’americana, que veu que els estàndards de vida de la majoria no pugen però que les tensions socials si que ho fan.

El diagnòstic que fa de la societat actual es ben negatiu, però es queda en el terreny de les opinions. Tampoc aporta cap dada que suporti que les seves propostes vagin a tenir una adopció significativa per part de la societat. I tampoc fa cap esforç per descriure els efectes sobre la societat en general si una porció significativa -però no majoritària- adopta l'estil de vida proposat. En aquest sentit, haqués pogut fer el llibre una mica més llarg.

El llibre repeteix de forma més o menys constant les mateixes idees. En aquest sentit, el podria haver fet més curt. ( )
  JordiGavalda | Apr 23, 2020 |
One of the most important political books of 2018. -Rod Dreher, American Conservative Of the three dominant ideologies of the twentieth century-fascism, communism, and liberalism-only the last remains. 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.
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Why Liberalism Failed offers cogent insights into the loss of meaning and community that many in the West feel, issues that liberal democracies ignore at their own peril. -President Barack Obama Deneen's book is valuable because it focuses on today's central issue. The important debates now are not about policy. They are about the basic values and structures of our social order. -David Brooks, New York Times Bracing. . . . Deneen comes as a Jeremiah to announce that Tocqueville's fear that liberalism would eventually dissolve all [its] inheritances . . . may now be fully upon us. -Ross Douthat, New York Times Mr. Deneen has written a serious book offering a radical critique of modernity, and he has taken the trouble to do so both concisely and engagingly. His insights as well as his crotchets in pursuit of his argument are often arresting. He writes compellingly on the growth of government in tandem with the spread of liberal market principles, for example, noting that a supposed preference for 'limited government' has been no match for the demand for expanding government enforcement of individual rights. -Tod Lindberg, Wall Street Journal One of the most talked-about books of the moment. -Scott Reyburn, The New York Times [Deneen's] exhortations to embrace the local over the global and the cultural over the political are sound and well expressed. -Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal, Books on Politics: Best of 2018 Few books challenge the core assumptions of modern liberalism as unapologetically as the suggestively titled Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen. -Shadi Hamid, TheAtlantic.com Finalist for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's 2018 Conservative Book of the Year prize, the Paolucci Book Award. Liberalism is clearly in everybody's sights, and Why Liberalism Failed will be an important contributor to the conversation, suggesting that we cannot work within the existing paradigm anymore. The philosophers will not solve our problems; working with our neighbors will. -Joshua Mitchell, Professor of Political Theory, Georgetown University Deneen writes with clarity, candor and superior scholarship to create one of the most absorbing political philosophy books of the past decade. No one who reads it, no one who considers its substance, will be able to think about the dynamics and the consequences of the American democratic experiment in quite the same way. -Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, author of Author of Strangers in a Strange Land This courageous and timely book is a major contribution to understanding the rude awakening in the Trump moment. It shows that we must transcend the death grip of the two oscillating poles of classical liberalism (of Republican and Democratic parties) and examine the deep assumptions that hold us captive. It also reveals that if we remain tied to liberalism's failure, more inequality, repression, and spiritual emptiness await us. -Cornel West, Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, Harvard Patrick Deneen is a probing and gifted cultural critic, afire with controlled moral passion. Why Liberalism Failed provides a bracing antidote to the pieties of left and right by showing how an impoverished, bipartisan conception of liberty has imprisoned the public life it claims to have set free. One could not ask for a timelier or more necessary enrichment of our depleted political discourse. -Jackson Lears, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History, Rutgers University A path-breaking book, boldly argued and expressed in terms that might justifiably be called prophetic in character. -Wilfred M. McClay, G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, University of Oklahoma ( )
  aitastaes | Jan 16, 2020 |
I don't know if I have it in me to turn this into a proper review, so for now I'll just leave the notes I made at various points along the way.

About a quarter of the way through:

- so far quite general, vague, repetitive -- I keep hoping these are just the preliminaries, a high-level overview to signpost where we're headed, but so far it has stayed at the political philosophy 101 level, with more assertion than argument.

- the point so far: in modern America (and similar countries), both left and right are really two sides of the same 'liberal' coin -- one more progressive, the other more classically liberal, but both operating on the same individualist, 'statist' foundations.

-- Deneen wants us to see these foundations as contingent, changable, rather than blindly taking them for granted. Individualism and statism have worked together to undermine the true foundations of social and political harmony and stability -- our traditional norms, customs and relationships, and the institutions and groupings in which they are embedded and by which they are perpetuated, from the family to civil society.

-- he believes that liberal man has been created by liberal politics -- the liberal conception of human nature (the rational, isolated self-maximiser) is not actually an accurate description of man in the state of nature or in his traditional civilised state, but becomes true when the liberal state & liberal philosophy tear him away from his community and his context.

-- he thinks we've exhausted the stock of social/political capital bequeathed to us by the pre-liberal world, and our options are either a gradual collapse into tyranny and chaos, or a voluntary move toward local, smaller-scale systems of social order? I guess the best label for his position might be 'communitarian', but it's not clear what he wants or expects at any fine level of detail.


Update, nearing the end of chapter 6:

I think I'm committed to slogging my way through, but I'm finding this a pretty frustrating book. There's (potentially) a really important case to be made here, but Deneen is not doing a good job of making it. And I know this is uncharitable, but I often feel like there is an undercurrent of 'for God's sake, let's come to our senses and go back to forcing gays into the closet and women into inescapable marriages, etc.' just below the surface.

Aside from being annoying I think this hurts the quality of the book, because if the author didn't find the old ways so emotionally/aesthetically/morally compelling for their own sakes, I think he might have done a better job of making the case that the liberal consensus is *instrumentally* bad. Which is the argument you need to make as compellingly as possible, if you want to convince people (like me) who are instinctively pretty okay with 'deracinated individualism' and 'statism', and pretty glad to be rid of many aspects of traditional morality and free from the stifling embrace of the traditional social order.

Instead, it sometimes seems like Deneen thinks he can win over his readers by repeating his basic thesis & key buzzwords 1000000000 times, and throwing in a lot of quasi-objective (but obviously intended to provoke a disgusted shake of the head) descriptions of the progressive/secular turn in public morality. In place of this, I would have much preferred a more detailed explanation of how and why liberalism is dooming our societies *in ways that some plausible alternative(s) could prevent*. So far there's been no serious attempt to outline the alternative, let alone respond to some of the obvious criticisms and doubts that it might provoke.


Update, an excerpt from chapter 6:

"Society today has been organized around the Millian principle that “everything is allowed,” at least so long as it does not result in measurable (mainly physical) harm. It is a society organized for the benefit of the strong, as Mill recognized. By contrast, a Burkean society is organized for the benefit of the ordinary—the majority who benefit from societal norms that the strong and the ordinary alike are expected to follow. A society can be shaped for the benefit of most people by emphasizing mainly informal norms and customs that secure the path to flourishing for most human beings; or it can be shaped for the benefit of the extraordinary and powerful by liberating all from the constraint of custom. Our society was once shaped on the basis of the benefit for the many ordinary; today it is shaped largely for the benefit of the few strong."

This needs support and discussion and expansion! I can see the outline of a case that could be made, but also many flaws and counterarguments that would need to be addressed. (Most obviously, what about the decidedly vulnerable and powerless people who were shackled and hurt, and absolutely prevented from flourishing, by those norms and customs? What about the cruel inequalities and injustices and harsh conditions they were used to justify? (It's one thing to point out the failings and hypocricies of the current system, another to ignore those of the past.) You don't have to accept these as fatal flaws, but you do have to acknowledge them and explain in some detail why they are a price worth paying.)


On finishing:

Deneen eventually gestures toward addressing some of my misgivings, but this doesn't amount to much. His criticisms and predictions remain rather vague, and he explicitly disclaims the role of positive theoretician offering a meaningful alternative -- though he can't help dropping some hints. This is his grand plan, as best I can piece it together:

- Form 'intentional communities' in which we foster the virtues of self-governance (in both the personal and political senses), develop good old-fashioned social bonds, and create vegetable gardens, small-scale workshops and compost heaps in order free ourselves from the dehumanising anonymity of the global marketplace.
- Indoctrinate our children into a moral code befitting our prejudices. (Probably dressed up in the authority of the Great Books of antiquity and pre-liberal Christianity.)
- Wait for the inevitable collapse of the liberal mainstream under the weight of its own contradictions.
- ??????
- Profit. ( )
  matt_ar | Dec 6, 2019 |
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"One of the most important political books of 2018."--Rod Dreher, American Conservative Of the three dominant ideologies of the twentieth century--fascism, communism, and liberalism--only the last remains. 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.

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