Freedom’s Just Another Word…

Hart-190 Gary Hart reviews Alan Wolfe's The Future of Liberalism and Jedediah Purdy's A Tolerable Anarchy, in the NYT:

Wolfe’s style is elucidatory rather than polemical. His balanced explication of ideas and their histories makes the book a candidate for advanced undergraduate courses, though more in political theory than in political science. He is strongest in showing the clash and bang of ideas in contest with one another. Most interesting, he demonstrates how conflicting ideas can be at once advantageous and antagonistic to the liberalism he advocates.

Having rejected Rousseau’s nature in favor of Kant’s culture (what Wolfe calls “artifice”) as the basis of liberal thought, he then points out that both Calvinism (or fundamentalist Christianity) and modern evolutionary theory (atheistic Darwinism) are predestinarian enemies of liberal self-determination; that neither socialism on the one hand nor the ruthless markets of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman on the other guarantee any degree of equality of opportunity; that militarism’s roots in Romanticism produce today’s neoconservatism, itself a reaction against the perceived failure of cold war liberalism; that both traditional liberals and conservatives are guilty of a concentration of power that threatens freedom.

Wolfe falters, however, in applying his liberalist structure to the globalized world. Though shunning antiglobalist window smashing, he concludes that “the heyday of American liberalism’s commitment to an open global economy . . . is clearly over.” In response to this Canute-like assessment, reality might say, “Not so fast.”