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Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism Hardcover – April 3, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1ST edition (April 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046508186X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465081868
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,230,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Part political theory and part intellectual history, this book tracks the development of liberalism as the world's dominant political tradition and argues for its continued ascendancy as the best guarantor of individual rights and prosperity on the global stage. Starr, a Princeton sociology and public affairs professor and founding editor of the American Prospect, explains modern liberalism as an evolutionary process, rooted in classical laissez-faire liberalism, and gradually accreting a greater role for the state to provide a social safety net, defend equal rights for all and institute true democratic pluralism. Defending liberalism from its socialist as well as its conservative critics, Starr sees his ideology as a middle path, harnessing the creative power of the free market while tempering some of its capriciousness. A central thesis is that "[t]he peculiar internal tension of liberal constitutions is that they constrain power even as they authorize it—that is, they attempt to curb the despotic power and ambitions of individual rulers and officials and, by doing so, to permit stronger systemic capacities." The first section of the book discusses the causes and consequences of liberal revolutions in Britain, America and France, while later chapters cover recent events, including the 2006 congressional elections. Complex macroeconomic, demographic and philosophical trends are presented engagingly and understandably for casual readers and political buffs alike. (Apr.)
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About the Author

Paul Starr is Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and its Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs. He is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Social Transformation of American Medicine and The Creation of the Media. Starr is the co-founder and editor of The American Prospect. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on August 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a book you would not want to read if you are either sleepy or distracted. The first part is very dense and abstract. The author goes from general concept to general concept without giving any historical support or citing other works that support his theoretical claims. However, toward the end, he comes down to earth with a more fleshed-out and partisan message that sees little good in Repubicans, especially the Bush administration. He tries to build the case that only Democrats, who are the true liberals, can save the country.

Paul Starr is not only a professor of sociology and politics at Princeton, he is also one of the founding members of " The American Prospect." On the political spectrum, that would place him to the left of "The New Republic" and to the right of "The Nation." In this book, he attempts to rehabilitate modern liberalism from being a term of abuse. He traces its origins back to the 17th century. According to Starr, the first phase of liberalism was known as "classical liberalism" or "constitutional liberalism," forged by the Glorious Revolution in Britain and the American Revolution. In this phase liberals sought to contain state power in the name of individual liberty. A balanced constitution would guarantee rule of law and individual rights.

It is from this historical milieu that conservatism also springs. They also trace their origins back to these two revolutions. (Read Michael Barone's Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathers.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Joseph F. Panzica on May 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The greatest weakness of this book is also its greatest strength.

Full of resentful fury at the ideologically based incompetence, irresponsibility, and felonious assaults on constitutional liberty that characterize the bush "administration", one might crave more stirring reading.

One MIGHT be disappointed...

Except, this is not a book for people who just want to be outraged. It is a well-crafted explanation of the development of "liberal" thinking AND ACTIONS starting from the late Enlightenment/early Industrial Revolution. This evolution involved many splits and transformations. But it also represents some coherent progression to a consensus that MAY actually be growing in power and acceptance.

It should be required reading for citizenship . . . but that would be a naive, moralistic (as well as utterly unenforceable and counterproductive) requirement. It would also be contrary to democratic liberalism, as it has evolved.

Still reading this book drove home several points. First, even without the current "presidential" disaster, we should never be complacent about our constitutional liberties and their economic, political, civic, and other structural underpinnings. Second, worthwhile progress takes lots of hard work, serious clear eyed thinking, and strategic compromises; its success and failure is measured more in decades than in years. Third, so much cynicism (along with so much idealism) is rooted in thoughts and feelings divorced from responsible experience.

Not everyone will read this book. But I hope that many who do will work to use its examples and ideas to bring more citizens back into the political process. The stakes are very high.

(I'm still gonna try to give less $$ to the Democrats and more to orgs like MOVEON)
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on July 19, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Paul Starr is Professor Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, and grew up during the years of student radicalism in the USA, working for Ralph Nader about the time Nader wrote Unsafe at any Speed. Starr is a self-proclaimed and vigorous liberal in the Kennedy sense, and is one of the founders of The Public Prospect, which is probably the leading intellectual policy journal in the liberal camp.

Starr wrote this book because "there was no cogent, concise, accessible, and up-to-date account of the liberal project." (p. x) Starr overall perspective is to illustrate the continuity between classical liberalism, with its stress on individual freedom, private property, limited state, and market competition (Starr calls this constitutional liberalism), and contemporary American Liberalism (I'll write it with a capital L to distinguish it from the classical variant), with its egalitarian objectives and support for extensive state intervention in ameliorating the vicissitudes of the capitalist marketplace (Starr calls this modern democratic liberalism). The link for Starr is that the freedom for self-realization cherished in classical liberal thought can be realized in modern society only with a powerful state that offers a relatively level playing-field---something not guaranteed by classical liberal institutions. Modern Liberalism, says Starr, is the application of classical liberal principles to modern social conditions and a heightened presence of democratic institutions.

I think this representation of modern Liberalism is essentially correct.
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