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Why Liberalism Failed

Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed offers a whole host of reasons for the failure of liberalism (as well as reasons to belief that it has, in fact, failed). Here are six of the most persuasive and rhetorically satisfying (emphasis added):

Its elites are glaringly hypocritical:

Advanced liberalism is eliminating liberal education with keen intent and ferocity, finding it impractical both ideologically and economically. Students are taught by most of their humanities and social science professors that the only remaining political matter at hand is to equalise respect and dignity accorded to all people, even as those institutions are mills for sifting the economically viable from those who will be mocked for their backward views on trade, immigration, nationhood, and religious beliefs. The near unanimity of political views represented on college campuses is echoed by the omnipresent belief that an education must be economically practical, culminating in a high-paying job in a city populated by like-minded college graduates who will continue to reinforce their keen outrage over inequality while enjoying its bounteous fruits.

It saws off the branch it is sitting on:

Perhaps above all, liberalism has drawn down on a preliberal inheritance and resources that at once sustained liberalism but which it cannot replenish. The loosening of social bonds in nearly every aspect of life - familial, neighbourly, communal, religious, even national - reflects the advancing logic of liberalism and is the source of its deepest instability ... Liberalism has been a wager that it can produce more benefits than the costs it would amass, all the while rendering liberal humanity widely insensate to the fact that the mounting costs are the result of those touted benefits.

In spite of its rhetoric, it requires a big state:

Having shorn people’s ties to the vast web of intermediating institutions that sustained them, the expansion of individualism deprived them of recourse to those traditional places of support and sustenance. The more individuated the polity, the more likely that a mass of individuals would inevitably turn to the state in times of need.

It represents an anticulture, which can be seen most clearly in our most socially liberal institutions (universities) as well as our most economically liberal institutions (big banks). This is unsurprising, since the very same people populate both:

By 2008, the financial industry was stripped bare of any such culture rooted in nature, time and place - as were college campuses. Indeed, training at dorm parties and the fraternities of one’s college were the ideal preparation for a career in the mortgage bond market, and the financial frat party of Wall Street more generally. The mortgage industry rested upon the financial equivalent of college “hookups”, random encounters of strangers in which appetites (for outsized debt or interest) were sated without any care for the consequences for the wider community ... The destruction of culture achieves not liberation but powerlessness and bondage.

It doesn’t understand what true freedom is:

As commended by ancient and religious traditions alike, liberty is not liberation from constraint but rather our capacity to govern appetite and thus achieve a truer form of liberty - liberty from enslavement to our appetites and avoidance of depletion of the world ... One of the most powerful ways that liberalism advances is by implicitly encouraging globalised narcissism while perpetuating a pervasive belief in its own benevolence.

In overthrowing the old aristocracy, it has simply replaced it with a new one (a point also made in Richard Reeves’ Dream Hoarders:

Liberalism’s success thus fosters the conditions of its failure: having claimed to bring about the downfall of aristocratic rule of the strong over the weak, it culminates in a new, more powerful, even more permanent aristocracy that fights ceaselessly to maintain the structures of liberal injustice ... Those inclined to deracination, rootlessness, materialism, risk taking, dislocating social change, and inequality in effect assured their own success, even as they appealed to the system’s likely losers by emphasising the injustice of aristocratic orders.

Strident, pessimistic and without a clear alternative—Adrian Wooldridge wrote in The Economist recently that the best way to read it is “not as a funeral oration but as a call to action: up your game, or else”—but at the same time, I suspect, largely correct.

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