The Last Ideology

“Liberalism has failed,” writes University of Notre Dame political-science professor Patrick Deneen in his new book with a related title. “Nearly every one of the promises . . . made by the architects and creators of liberalism has been shattered,” he adds. Liberalism has “generated pathologies” that have corrupted the nation’s economy and culture and distorted its political order.

Such indictments might lead a potential reader to expect still another screed against ObamaCare, the government regulation of banks, the myth of climate change, and the destruction of our once-great Constitution that pour out of the “conservative” publishing houses. In fact, the targets of Deneen’s withering critique actually include free-market capitalism, a technology that is disrupting both human nature and the natural environment, and the original U.S. Constitution. What’s going on here?

Professor Deneen skewers such sacred cows because they are in practice real expressions of the modern liberal project. He defines liberalism as a regime of “rights-bearing individuals” with “their own versions of the good life,” welcoming technological mastery of nature and free markets, and using government to secure these rights and protect this order. Elsewhere, he describes liberalism as the consequence of a dual revolution:...

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