Beliefnet
Public Morality, Civic Virtue, and the Problem of Modern Liberalism
edited by T. William Boxx and Gary M. Quinlivan
Eerdmans, 231 pages

Ever since Edmund Burke criticized the French Revolution, conservativeshave argued that individualism and rationality are not a sufficientfoundation for democracy. Liberalism endorses the rights of the freeindividual above all else, but society will collapse if individual freedomalways trumps communal responsibilities. As the editors of "PublicMorality, Civic Virtue and the Problem of Modern Liberalism," put it "a liberalpolitical order needs to somehow find peace with social institutions andpractices based on moral tradition without abandoning its principles offreedom and equality for all individuals."

However, the dour essays in this collection, by academic philosophers likeJean Bethke Elshtain and Walter Berns, suggest no satisfying resolution tothe problem. Hand-wringing about the "common good" andreferences to Tocqueville replace serious, critical analysis of theproblems facing liberal society today. While the writers are content to lambaste individualismwithout addressing its economic basis; the word "capitalism"--in praise or condemnation--hardlyappears in the book.

The treatment of religion, similarly and more surprisingly, is generally shallow, with Augustin and Bruce Springsteen appearing side-by-side; despite a few disclaimers, the contributors generally seem to see faith primarily as a strategic counerweight to the ills facing the modern world, rather than something to be embraced on its own terms.

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