Because he just couldn’t manage to get on board with Permitted Thought. He couldn’t get the team spirit. He couldn’t put on a short pleated skirt, shake his pom-poms, smile a big toothy lip-glossed smile, and yell about how golly-gee things are!

Reviews and notices are coming in, not in single spies but in battalions, and—here’s the part no one expected—those who agree with Deneen think Why Liberalism Failed is a good book, whereas those who disagree with him think it’s a Bad Book.

And always there are those who take the long view of things—you know, the view that extends over the vast regions of time marked by a single epoch whose shelf-life was stamped on it from the beginning by the physical limits liberalism promised to overcome. Writes one reviewer, for example:

But, one may say, hasn’t liberalism in the classical sense been rather successful? Hasn’t it managed to improve living condition for, well, billions of people—to give them unprecedented say in their government and control over their lives? In fact, hasn’t it achieved a certain global dominance?

(All those who think they have unprecedented say in their government, please stand. All those who think global dominance is a good thing, raise your hands. All those who think they have control over their own lives, give us a bronx cheer, because I’ve got news for you: you don’t have control over your own smart phone.)

Such rhetorical questions seem to have one aim in mind: to deny Nature and Reality a seat at the table. But Nature and Reality are going to step in at some point, and the news they’re going to bring with them won’t have anything to do with improved living conditions or global dominance.

But let us hasten to the obvious conclusion:

Mr. Deneen doesn’t have to propose sailing off to some undiscovered country to pursue his vision. That’s because his community would readily find the security and freedom it requires within liberalism’s horizon.

You grow accustomed to the general failure of imagination that prevails. But this is the very Orthodoxy that card-carrying liberals can’t stand: the faith once and for all delivered.

(I should also mention that when Shakespeare gave us “undiscovered country” he wasn’t talking about another place in the here-and-now.)

Well, do the economy a favor and buy Why Liberalism Failed (which is already an amazon dot hell best-seller in political theory). It will be more money in Deneen’s pocket for buying you a drink the next time you see him. But be sure to read it pat! You’d hate for Oprah to get a hold of it before you do. That would make you look like another follower-of-trends, like people who think everything is just golly-gee!

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Jason Peters
Jason Peters professes English at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, where he teaches courses in Milton, the Catholic novel, Environmental literature, British Romanticism, and American literature prior to 1900.  While in Illinois he pines for the mysterious and musical tea-colored trout streams of his native Michigan, whither he is trying to repatriate full-time in order to raise cattle and chickens, make beer, and scourge the follies of higher ed.  (Read an attempt here.) His work has appeared in such places as the ­Sewanee Review, the South Atlantic Quarterly, English Language Notes, Explicator, American Notes and Queries, Christianity and Literature, Orion, First Principles, University Bookman, and the Journal of Religion and Society. He is also the editor of Wendell Berry: Life and Work (University Press of Kentucky 2007) and Land! The Case for an Agrarian Economy, by John Crowe Ransom (University Press of Notre Dame, 2017). Currently he is building a fly rod and juggling just enough writing projects to prevent his completing any of them: an account of his repatriation efforts (tentatively titled Dispatches from Dumb-Ass Acres, by a Dumb Ass), another book on Wendell Berry, another on food (tentatively titled The Culinary Plagiarist: (Mis)Adventures of a Thieving Gourmand), and yet another on that neglected genius, Owen Barfield. He has tried to break life-long debilitating addictions to basketball and golf but has been woefully unsuccessful. Peters visits Rock Island on school days but otherwise lives in Williamston, Michigan, with his longsuffering wife, their three children, and his two arthritic knees.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Hasn’t it managed to improve living condition for, well, billions of people—to give them unprecedented say in their government and control over their lives?

    On the basis my understanding of Patrick’s argument (which is based on his many past writings, not this book, which I haven’t yet read), he wouldn’t dispute the truth of this claim at all. On the contrary, he would assert that it is liberalism’s very successes, like theses, which allowed its failures to take root and flourish.

  2. My favorite lame criticisms have come from The NY Times. Brooks says that if the liberal project is 300 years old it must be OK, and Douthat says that if no one has a better plan liberalism is just fine. Not exactly powerful rebuttal.

  3. Liberally speaking, anything that David Brooks criticizes is to be saluted with a confidence only long experience and conservative emotion produces. Still, it was a mild criticism, as was another review at the NY Times where the phrase “all the news fit to print” could use some deconstruction.

    Whilst immanentizing the eschaton, it is never advisable to raise any doubts about the august Western Liberal Tradition. After all, it is the redoubt of saintly ladies, cuddly puppy dogs, liposuction, participatory government, well tended infrastructure, mutual assured destruction and an ample expense account. It does not pay, so to speak. Just what would a “conservative” know about liberalism anyhow? Seems impertinent to me and downright disagreeable and that aint liberal buster.

    I ordered it at the locally owned and operated Bookstore and it is set to come in this week . They did not have it in stock, having dedicated much of their retail space to a combination of lifestyle journalism, a pinnacle of the modern liberal tradition and the growing trove of Trumpomania, a kind of bipartisan dyspepsia, conservatively speaking. Still, it is a place where one can turn pages by hand and that is something to be treasured. We caint wait to read it and might report back

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