Summary of Why Liberalism Failed

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  • Controversial
  • Analytical
  • Bold


Is the American sociopolitical system at endgame? Incisive and bleak, Patrick J. Deneen’s scholarly analysis provides an important look at liberalism’s evolution and contradictions. According to Deneen, though liberalism has spread throughout the globe, this political ideology’s success is also the cause of its demise. Though proponents tout liberalism as a means of enhancing equality, pluralism and liberty, in truth, Deneen argues, liberalism fosters inequality and uniformity, while undermining freedom. This book, which draws on centuries of philosophical and political thought, was completed in 2016, weeks before the United States elected President Trump – arguably, making its content all the more timely. Unfortunately, the book’s often unnecessarily complex language and structure may undermine its appeal for some readers. Those looking for clear explanations and definitions of concepts need to be patient; much is reserved for the final chapter and the conclusion. Moreover, as the book progresses, some of Deneen’s critiques of progressives make the book feel less measured. Still, Deneen’s ​​​​​thesis is thought-provoking and his practical examples of political theory in-action are illustrative.

About the Author

Patrick J. Deneen is the author of Democratic Faith and The Odyssey of Political Theory. He is an associate professor at the University of Notre Dame, where he teaches political science.



What is Liberalism?

Liberalism is a political ideology conceived and established as a means of supporting equity, embracing pluralism of beliefs and cultures, broadening liberty, and protecting individual dignity. Constitutionalism, federalism, limits on government, the separations of powers and of church and state, and other aspects of contemporary government are the result of centuries of development and refinement of liberal concepts. These concepts, in turn, derived from Christian and classical philosophies. In the United States, liberalism brought about the so-called “constitutional experiment” nearly 250 years ago. The nation’s government, its society and its citizens are all shaped by liberal ideology.

Unlike communism or fascism, liberalism claims neutrality, denying that it aims to influence those living under its sway. Distinctive elements of liberalism include “liberal voluntarism,” or the ability of individuals to make autonomous and unrestricted choices, and the separation from and opposition to nature. Limits on government and freedom from arbitrary interference by political...

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