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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Author Meets Critics: The Future of Liberalism


Event Recap

The Boisi Center’s final event of the year focused on Alan Wolfe’s newest book, The Future of Liberalism (Knopf, 2009). Wolfe was joined by friendly critics Mary Sarah Bilder, Professor of Law, a legal historian at Boston College School of Law, and Daniel Mahoney, Professor of Political Science, a political philosopher at Assumption College. Liberalism, argued Wolfe in his opening remarks, is grounded in the principle that as many people as possible should have as much control over their lives as possible. Liberty and equality, he said, are mutually reinforcing, not contradictory, as some theorists would have it; a person cannot lead a life of dignity and self-respect if those around her are not able to do the same.

Bilder praised Wolfe’s historical method and sensibility but argued that his account of John Locke required more nuance. Locke, she argued, was at once both deeply conservative (in his views on property ownership and race) and unusually liberal (in his promotion of religious tolerance). Mahoney welcomed Wolfe’s call for a liberalism that is both self-critical and friendly to religion, but critiqued what he saw as liberalism’s reliance on the state for promulgation of its ends. The ensuing Q&A session brought spirited discussion of liberal means and ends in the Obama era.