Interrogating liberalism

I’m following with considerable interest the discussions stemming from Patrick Deneen’s “Unsustainable Liberalism” article in First Things this past summer. We’re starting to hear a lot (e.g., here and here) that the raw polarity of Right and Left in the United States (grimly illustrated in the last election season and beyond) is completely unfruitful, that the stock “conservative” and “liberal” options have gone stale, and that “third ways” are the need of the hour. I think Deneen offers some profound insights as to why this might be the case and how we got here, though his critics aren’t persuaded that he’s right in condemning the American liberal experiment to its foundations. Vincent Phillip Muñoz, for example, wants to distinguish the temptations to which modern liberalism has succumbed from the liberalism asserted in the Declaration of Independence (Deneen responds here). Nathan Schlueter argues that we need to recover, more specifically, the “natural law liberalism” of our founding, which is quite different from its competitors – “social contract liberalism” and “classical liberalism” (Deneen responds here). Most recently, Peter Augustine Lawler has weighed in, and I’m reliably informed that more critical interactions are forthcoming. It’s an exciting and timely conversation.

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