Time To Have A Serious Talk About Liberalism

Sep 27, 2018
Originally published on October 10, 2018 12:05 pm

In his new book, political science professor Patrick Deneen calls on readers to take a long, hard look at America’s oft-exalted liberal ideology.


Liberalism, as Deneen explains, is rooted in the interplay between a limited but effective government and a free-market economy. But as the wealth gap in American widens, Deneen argues the residents who inhabit this liberal national landscape are losing trust in the ideological system.


Host Frank Stasio speaks with Deneen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, about his latest book “Why Liberalism Failed” (Yale University Press/2018). He speaks at Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics in Durham on Thursday, Sept. 27 at 4 p.m

Interview Highlights

Patrick Deneen on the expiration of a political ideology:

The author that maybe inspired me the most was [a] Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote "Democracy in America" who made the observation that I'm really just kind of stealing that every regime has a kind of built-in expiration date. And more often than not, the expiration date is not when the regime, the political order, ceases to be true to itself … It becomes most fully and completely true to itself when it embodies its core principles.

On what liberalism is all about:

It has an emanation in the French revolution. It certainly has its form in the American order and more broadly in the liberal west today. And its ideology is really the liberation of the individual from kind of what are seen as arbitrary relationships: bonds, restraints, restrictions, associations and so forth. And that the more successful we are in that effort, the more it results in a kind of evaporation of civic and political bonds.

On the predicted demise of relationships under liberalism:

To revert again to Alexis de Tocqueville, Tocqueville really saw all this when he was writing about America in the 1830s and 1840s. What he saw was that democracy would have this powerful tendency both toward individualism and to replacing these kinds of relationships with depersonalized mechanisms. And the two depersonalized mechanisms that he saw in particular was the centralized state and the market ... And that these two depersonalized mechanisms of our relationships would sort of absorb all of what had been the sinews of democracy. 

This program originally aired on October 27, 2018.

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