Commentary Magazine


Liberalism as Tolerant Advocacy

In the New York Times Book Review, Gary Hart reviews books on liberalism and freedom – Alan Wolfe’s The Future of Liberalism,  and Jedediah Purdy’s A Tolerable Anarchy

Hart describes Wolfe’s book as a “rescue of liberalism from the jaws of latter-day know-nothings” and Purdy’s book as a “reconciliation of radical individualism with community obligation,” and he sees a common theme in the two books:  freedom is self-realization — which is “liberalism’s gift to public discourse” and a “uniquely American virtue.”  In the course of the review,  Hart presents this definition of liberalism:

Liberalism is substantive – individual autonomy, freedom and equality; it is procedural – fairness and impartiality; and it is temperamental – invoking tolerant, open and charitable advocacy.

Modern conservatism, on the other hand, is a “mutant strain,” produced by the recent “prolonged neo-medieval era,” which “has not wanted to reverse the New Deal; it has wanted to reverse the Enlightenment,” and which features a neoconservatism springing from “militarism’s roots in Romanticism.”

So liberalism is substantively, procedurally and temperamentally superior to conservatism, which features mutant, pre-Enlightenment, neo-medieval militarists.  What a nice demonstration of the “tolerant, open and charitable advocacy” that defines contemporary liberalism.

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