Author Patrick Deneen "Why Liberalism Failed"

Patrick J. Deneen is the David A. Potenziani Memorial Associate Professor of Political Science and Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He has previously taught at Princeton University and Georgetown University.

Introduction: Why Liberalism Failed

A political philosophy conceived some 500 years ago, and put into effect at the birth of the United States nearly 250 years later, was a wager that political society could be grounded on a different footing.  It conceived humans as rights-bearing individuals who could fashion and pursue for themselves their own version of the good life.  Opportunities for liberty were best afforded by a limited government devoted to “securing rights,” along with a free-market economic system that gave space for individual initiative and ambition.  Political legitimacy was grounded on a shared belief in an originating “social contract” to which even newcomers could subscribe, ratified continuously by free and fair elections of responsive representatives.  Limited but effective government, rule of law, an independent judiciary, responsive public officials, and free and fair elections were some of the hallmarks of this ascendant order and, by all evidence, wildly successful wager.

    Today, some 70 percent of Americans believe that their country is moving in the wrong direction, and half the country thinks its best days are behind it.  Most believe that their children will be less prosperous and have fewer opportunities than previous generations.  Every institution of government shows declining levels of public trust by citizenry, and deep cynicism toward politics is reflected on an uprising on all sides of the political spectrum and economic elites.  Elections, once regarded as well-orchestrated performances meant to convey legitimacy to liberal democracy, are increasingly regarded as evidence of an impregnantly rigged and corrupt system.  It is evident to all that the political system is broken and social fabric is fraying, particularly as a growing gap increases between the wealthy haves and left-behind have-nots, a hostile divide widens between faithful and secular peoples, and deep disagreement persists over America’s role in the world.  Wealthy Americans continue to gravitate to gated enclaves in and around select cities, while growing numbers of Christians compare out times to that of the late Roman Empire and ponder a fundamental withdrawal from wider American society into updated forms of Benedictine monastic communities.  The signs of the times suggest that much is wrong with America.  A growing chorus of voices even warn that we may be witnessing the end of the Republic unfolding before our eyes, with some yet-unnamed regime in the midst of taking its place.

]Deneen, Patrick J. “Introduction: Why Liberalism Failed.” Why Liberalism Failed, Yale University Press, 2018, pp. 1–2.


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