Recently, I started to read up on the idea of liberalism in Western society. Much has been written lately by journalists, commentators, bloggers and political parties themselves. Two notable and recent books in particular stood out that perfectly debate the traditions, successes, predicaments and prospects of liberalism. Although both books are written primarily from the American point of view, their arguments apply to the liberal tradition throughout the western democracies.
Alan Wolfe’s The Future of Liberalism and Chris Hedges’ Death of the Liberal Class. Wolfe’s book outlines the tradition and idealism of the liberal tradition. At the core of this tradition is the attempt to strike a balance between the extreme absolute positions of socialism/communism and that of the market fundamentalist. At its best liberalism is a theory and principle continuously grounded in the real world that people are living in. The goal then is to create the conditions for people to realize their full potential, whether that includes government intervention or not, the principle lies in its flexibility and not in the way human goals are accomplished.
That flexibility in many ways provides the basis of Hedges’ criticism of the current liberal tradition. The liberal tradition in his view represents the many segments of society’s elites that have been made comfortable, smug and resistant to change and progress. It includes a very wide tent: universities, unions, the media, churches, etc. representing a modern version of the ancien regime, a ruling group that has had its own way for so long they are somehow surprised when the democratic mass rejects their authority.
How this concludes is a very open question, but a good list of titles that take on this issue include:
- George Lakoff, The Political Mind
- John Skorupski, Why Read Mill Today?
- Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man: a Biography
- Isaiah Berlin, Liberty: Incorporating Four Essays on Liberty
- Gerald Cohen, If you’re an egalitarian, how come you’re so rich?
- Roger D. Hodge, The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism
- Hilton Framer and Roger Kimball, The Betrayal of Liberalism: How the disciples of freedom and equality helped foster the illiberal politics of coercion and control
What title would you add to the list?