This is a compelling and deeply felt exploration and defense of liberalism: what it actually is, why it is relevant today, and how it can help our society chart a forward course.
The Future of Liberalism represents the culmination of four decades of thinking and writing about contemporary politics by Alan Wolfe, one of America’s leading scholars, hailed by one critic as “one of liberalism’s last and most loyal sons”. Wolfe mines the bedrock of the liberal tradition, explaining how Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, and other celebrated minds helped shape liberalism’s central philosophy. Wolfe also examines those who have challenged liberalism since its inception, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to modern conservatives, religious fundamentalists, and evolutionary theorists such as Richard Dawkins.
Drawing on both the inspiration and insights of seminal works such as John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, Kant’s essay “What is Enlightenment?,” and Mill’s On Liberty and The Subjection of Women, Wolfe ambitiously sets out to define what it truly means to be a liberal. He analyzes and applauds liberalism’s capacious conception of human nature, belief that people outweigh ideology, passion for social justice, faith in reason and intellectual openness, and respect for individualism. And we see how the liberal tradition can influence and illuminate contemporary debates on immigration, abortion, executive power, religious freedom, and free speech.
But Wolfe also makes it clear that before liberalism can be successfully applied to today’s problems, it needs to be recovered, understood, and embraced—not just by Americans but by all modern people—as the most beneficial way to live in our complex modern world. The Future of Liberalism is a crucial, enlightening, and immensely rewarding step in that direction.
©2009 Alan Wolfe (P)2009 Polity Audio LLC
“A terrific analysis of the last 300-plus years of political thought....it’s hard not to find his argument persuasive and harder still to not to wonder where American liberalism’s defenders have been hiding all these years. If readers have ever wondered where they should stand in regard to the culture wars, American interventionism abroad, or the role of government in society, this book will provide a coherent, convincing set of values to guide them....Highly recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in politics or history.” (Kirkus)
“Alan Wolfe and I disagree on many things, but as a defender and thinker about the liberal philosophy in America, he is one of the best. The Future of Liberalism is typical of that. I continue to learn from Alan when I read him, and so doing helps me define and refine my positions and thinking. Alan is always worth the read.” (William J. Bennett)
Overall, I enjoyed the book. It's certainly provocative and it absolutely will tweak the noses of more New Left liberals. However, I do have a serious quibble with the author's caricature of evolutionary psychology. I am not saying evo psych is *necessarily* correct but the author's characterization of the subject itself sounded as if he had not actually read Dawkins or Pinker or anyone else in the field you might care to mention and was going solely off of what others have said about their impressions of Dawkins.
For instance he repeats the oft-stated idea that 'The Selfish Gene' is about selfishness and how our genes 'program' us for selfishness. Actually, 'The Selfish Gene' is about *altruism* and under what kinds of circumstances we would expect natural selection to select for altruistic behavior. Selfishness actually doesn't require a great deal of explanation from an evolutionary stand-point, altruism does.
It doesn't ruin the book but every I heard him going on about evo psych, I was pulled away from his argument because he gets it *so* wrong.
If you are unfamiliar with evo psych then you won't have this problem, although I would suggest you ignore him regarding that subject. The rest of what he has to say is very thought-provoking and certainly gives American Liberals something to think about.
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