A compelling and deeply felt exploration and defense of liberalism: what it actually is, why it is relevant today, and how it can help our society chart a forward course. The Future of Liberalism represents the culmination of four decades of thinking and writing about contemporary politics by Alan Wolfe.
But Wolfe also makes it clear that before liberalism can be successfully applied to today’s problems, it needs to be recovered, understood, and embraced—not just by Americans but by all modern people—as the most beneficial way to live in our complex modern world. The Future of Liberalism is a crucial, enlightening and immensely rewarding step in that direction.
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.
- E.J. Dionne, Jr. Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right. (Princeton, 2008).
- Paul Star. Freedom’s Power: The True Force of Liberalism. (Basic Books, 2007).
- Andrew Sullivan, The Conservative Soul: Fundamentalism, Freedom and the Future of the Right. (Harper Perennial, 2007).
Alan Wolfe on Liberalism:
April 16 -- Moderated by William Galston; with E.J. Dionne, Jr. and Ross Douthat