2016-06-30
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, conservatives have argued that individualism and rationality are not a sufficient foundation for democracy. Liberalism endorses the rights of the free individual above all else, but society will collapse if individual freedom always trumps communal responsibilities. As the editors of "Public Morality, Civic Virtue and the Problem of Modern Liberalism," put it "a liberal political order needs to somehow find peace with social institutions and practices based on moral tradition without abandoning its principles of freedom and equality for all individuals."

However, the dour essays in this collection, by academic philosophers like Jean Bethke Elshtain and Walter Berns, suggest no satisfying resolution to the problem. Hand-wringing about the "common good" and references to Tocqueville replace serious, critical analysis of the problems facing liberal society today. While the writers are content to lambaste individualism without addressing its economic basis; the word "capitalism"--in praise or condemnation--hardly appears 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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