Wednesday, November 06, 2019

The Democratic Virtues of Liberalism: a note for Leftists

Citizenship schools 2
Robert Kuttner, “Blaming Liberalism,” a review of Patrick J. Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press, 2018; paperback edition, with new preface, 2019), The New York Review of Books, November 21, 2019 (Vol. LXVI, No. 18) 

This, in my judgment, is essential reading for avowed Leftists if only because intellectually feeble, philosophically obtuse, and politically perilous jeremiads against “Liberalism” will not cure what environmentally, socially and economically ails us (one reason I agree with the bulk of this review essay by Kuttner of Patrick J. Deenen’s book). If socialists fail to sufficiently parse the history of Liberalism so as to identify its intrinsic virtues for democratic theory and praxis, we will be left with the post-harvest husk of democracy. There is, no doubt, this and that to criticize in the Liberal tradition (for instance, when its erstwhile defenders stray far from its political soil into the murky waters of metaphysics, culture and messianism) in the works of individual Liberal philosophers from Locke to Rawls, but the core of this tradition is the lifeblood of democracy in our world and, as such, is absolutely essential to any future socialist ordering of states and societies. Several archetypal Liberal philosophers remind us of this fact: John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, and John Rawls. In this respect, they stand apart from the rest of their brothers and sisters in the Liberal tradition; although they hardly exhaust the possible meanings of Liberal Democratic Socialism or Liberal Socialist Democracy, especially to the extent that this has been geopolitically constrained if not determined. In short, they serve as a compelling reminder—for many of us, it appears, are in dire need of reminding—that the historical and contingent ties between capitalism and Liberalism are just that, and thus not necessary (authoritarian capitalist societies are stark and frightening examples of this fact), and so it behooves us not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.


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