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The CONSERVATIVE FOUNDATIONS OF THE LIBERAL ORDER: Defending Democracy against Its Modern Enemies and Immoderate Friends (ISI's Religion and Contemporary Culture) Hardcover – January 15, 2011

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Product Details

  • Series: ISI's Religion and Contemporary Culture
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute; 1 edition (January 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935191004
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935191001
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #798,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Book Description

“Mahoney covers a vast field with speed, brio, and pertinence, evoking nearly all the great questions of the hour.”—Pierre Manent


Saving Democracy from Its Enemies—and from Itself

Western democracy has become increasingly estranged from its crucial historical, political, spiritual, and cultural prerequisites—from what author Daniel J. Mahoney calls “the conservative foundations of the liberal order.” In this eloquent and insightful work of political philosophy and cultural criticism, Mahoney offers a vigorous defense of these foundations, and shows the dangers of identifying liberty with a radical project of social and cultural emancipation.


The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order takes particular aim at partisans of “pure democracy,” who have transformed the principles of liberty and equality into an unreflective dogma. By reducing liberty to a vague affirmation of equality and individual autonomy, Mahoney shows, such partisans undermine those “contents of life”—religion, patriotism, philosophical reflection, family and social life—that enrich human existence and give purpose to human freedom. What we need instead is a conservative-minded liberalism.


Calling on the wisdom of Winston Churchill, Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Raymond Aron, and other exemplary leaders and thinkers, Mahoney addresses a wide range of questions related to liberty in the contemporary world. He brilliantly analyzes the task of the democratic statesman; the need for prudence, sobriety, and civic courage in confronting the totalitarian enemies of the West; the ties that bind religion and democratic liberty; democracy’s tendency to squander its own inheritance in frenzied efforts to establish a human order that is more and more “democratic”; the follies of the postmodern “culture of repudiation”; the reasons so many intellectuals indulge totalitarianism and terrorism; and much more.


Rejecting the dual temptations of utopianism and despair, Mahoney defends self-government—properly understood—against both democracy’s enemies and its all-too-numerous “immoderate friends.” The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order upholds the rich civilized inheritance that allows human beings to lead free and decent lives together.

What They're Saying...

"Mahoney knows more about these great Europeans than anyone else…his thoughtful and endlessly detailed appreciation for what they accomplished is unrivaled…Cherish this book as the most informed defense of a chastened liberalism written in a long time."
The American Conservative

"Mahoney is among our most insightful political thinkers…He brings intellectual rigor and clarity to our often simplistic conversation about liberal democracy."
City Journal

 “Mahoney, author of an excellent work on Solzhenitsyn, explores the relationship between religion, freedom, and democracy. . . . Mahoney proves his case that a sense of limitation is necessary if the democratic ideal is not itself to become despotic in its pursuit of perfection.”
National Review

“A wide-ranging and illuminating book.”
First Things




About the Author

Daniel J. Mahoney is the author of works on Charles de Gaulle, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Raymond Aron, and Bertrand de Jouvenel, and has edited or coedited many books, including The Solzhenitsyn Reader. He serves as chairman and professor of political science at Assumption College and has written for a wide range of public and scholarly journals. Mahoney lives in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Leslie H. Higgins on July 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Conservative Foundations covers the thought of a variety of thinkers who have best explained how our liberal democratic order presupposes a variety of non-democratic inheritances--the nation, religious piety, the integrity of the family, and the noble love of freedom--necessary to prevent the depoliticization of the West and a descent into nihilism, and to preserve respect for the human person. Mahoney,under whom I studied at Assumption College, argues from a conservative liberal perspective (the liberal order is best served by conservative means). Traditionalist such as myself will find points of strong agreement and steadfast disagreement on almost every page.

Mahoney begins the work with a striking quote from philosopher Michael Polanyi. In part it reads,

"Tom Paine could proclaim the right of each generation to determine its institutions anew, since the range of his demands was in fact very modest. He unquestionably accepted the continuity of culture and of the order of private property as the framework of self-determination." (vii)

Not to mention the obstacles to the "right of each generation to determine its institutons anew," if culture is seen as a social construct composed of unattached individuals, to whom all overbearing "institutions" are seen as illegitimate oppressors! One wonders whether the likes of Paine and his radical polemic are worth preserving with such contrary means. Indeed, the fortuitous and unnecessary nature of the circumstances of the American founding is a major theme in The Conservative Foundations. Describing the thought of Orestes Brownson in his The American Republic, he observes,

"...the founders' practical achievement was in decisive respects better than their theory.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Laches on November 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Daniel Mahoney's latest book consists of several connected essays on some of the most important political questions and thinkers of our time. Displaying effortless mastery of the intellectual currents and pathologies of the 20th century, Mahoney deftly reveals the long-forgotten but permanent indebtedness of liberal democracy to older timeless principles of spiritual order and moral self-restraint. He also discusses statesmen like Churchill and De Gaulle, heroic men who rescued their ailing regimes through stirring words and deeds of seemingly anachronistic nobility. Written with exemplary generosity of spirit and high mindedness, these essays remind us that political greatness and wisdom are still possible -and all the more necessary- in our days of popular culture and mass democracy.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ralph C. Hancock on November 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
No one has thought through the problem of liberalism in the broadest sense more thoroughly than Daniel Mahoney. Equally at home in examining American and European problems and ranging from Tocqueville through Churchill to Solzhenitsyn in his study of the soundest friendly critics and critical friends of modern liberal democracy, Mahoney exposes the great vulnerabilities of liberalism without losing sight of its virtues. He is always a pleasure to read, and he makes the reader want to know better the great authors he knows so well. Highly recommended.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By McHenry on July 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As Walker Percy noted in his 1989 commencement address at Notre Dame University, the world in which we currently live is "deranged." The two-headed virus of progressivism and secularism, loosed upon the world following the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the Post-Moderns, continues to eat away at serious engagement with the transcendent, religious tradition, and the order of things -- all of which shape the good life. Man cannot fully embrace his humanity without these things.

Fortunately, there exist bulwarks. Mahoney recognizes that we must reclaim the values that kept alive our Western World for much of its existence. He takes us on a tour through the minds of such thinkers as Tocqueville, Manet, and Burke, all of whom recognize the dangers of the project that the modern and post-modern West has undertaken.

These essays show us that we can -- and must -- return to the beauty of what was. We can again realize the need for order, for objective truth, for religious freedom and conscience.

Mahoney's book, then, is a cool, refreshing drink in the midst of a parched desert. It is highly recommended for serious citizens, thinkers, and those who are concerned with the current state of affairs.
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2 of 17 people found the following review helpful By P. Schultz on November 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Ambition rarely coincides with thoughtfulness. After an author has written too much, the results are less than rewarding. The shortcomings of Mahoney's latest may be summed up in the following quotes: "Liberalism had never felt this obligation ['to find a radical justification for its ideas'] previously because the religious tradition that it was otherwise fighting had provided some of its fundamental premises. Yet these religious premises are no longer accepted by anyone due to the very triumph of liberalism. The religious tradition, which in some way formed a protective wall for liberalism, was destroyed by liberalism, and the disappearance of the Christian God led over time to the disappearance of the Christian virtues that were at the foundation of liberalism." From "Leo Strauss: An Intellectual Biography," by Daniel Tanguay, translated by Christopher Nadon.

The foundations of the liberal order cannot be fortified by a recurrence to that which liberalism has undermined. Appeals to citizenship or virtue in a political order whose foundation is laid in self-interest, even if it is "self-interest rightly understood," will fail. A large, commercial republic, populated by a "multiplicity of private interest groups" is indistinguishable from a nation of PIGS [Private Interest Groups].

"Madison's argument [for a large, commercial society] rests on a doubt about the efficacy of securing liberty by relying on the moral, religious, and patriotic sentiments which were supposed to characterize the small republic. A better, more reliable, base is a wide community of industrious men with much opportunity to gratify their private desires and little opportunity to combine unjustly with others. [Such an arrangement creates an] "intricate net of calculation...." [Herbert Storing, "The Problem of Big Government," in Toward a More Perfect Union, ed. by Joseph Bessette, p. 292]
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