From Publishers Weekly
With one eye toward the Enlightenment and another toward contemporary politics, Wolfe (Does American Democracy Still Work?
) mounts a passionate defense of why liberalism—broadly defined—continues to be relevant and essential in this thorough, scholarly text. The author refers to liberalism both in its classical and modern sense, emphasizing its commitment, from its emergence to the present, to the two goals of liberty and equality. Despite the title, the book takes a primarily historical approach, surveying a multitude of liberal thinkers from John Locke to John Rawls—drawing especially heavily on the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill—applying their theories to both historical and contemporary political issues. The author uses the frame of liberalism to examine terrorism, globalization and the politics of religion. Wolfe ruminates on conservatism's hand in the Hurricane Katrina debacle and, in his musings on globalization, focuses on how liberalism prescribes a philosophical commitment to global welfare rather than parochial concerns or national protectionism. More a work of political theory than a policy text, this book will strongly appeal to readers interested in the tradition of Western liberal thought. (Feb.)
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In Return to Greatness (2005), political-science scholar Wolfe criticized his fellow liberals for losing their vision for the U.S., substituting impulses toward multiculturalism, isolationism, and identity politics instead of a coherent agenda intended to unify the country behind common ideals. His latest book aims to remedy this lack of vision and reinvigorate liberals by presenting a philosophy of liberalism that advocates a decisive and confident return to first principles (namely, those articulated by the classical liberals of the Enlightenment), calibrated to address the crises of the twenty-first century. Drawing on Locke, Mill, Kant, and a handful of contemporary commentators, Wolfe argues that liberalism represents a commitment to cultivate equality, individual autonomy, and openness; having arisen alongside the first stirrings of modern society, liberalism is the political philosophy that is morally and pragmatically best suited for today’s irreversibly modern world. Discussing Rousseau and the persistent strains of Romanticism, however, Wolfe observes that liberalism may be challenged not only by conservatives but by the impulse, prevalent on the Right and the Left, to reduce human agency to acts of nature. Erudite and insightful. --Brendan Driscoll