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The Future of Liberalism Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (February 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030726677X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307266774
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,679,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan Wolfe is professor of political science and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. The author and editor of more than twenty books, he is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harper's, and the Atlantic. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Photo credit: Lee Pellegrini.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jay C. Smith on April 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Future of Liberalism
The Future of Liberalism is a competent history of core liberal ideas. It is wide ranging, in both the issues and theorists it addresses. Wolfe covers big name thinkers (Kant, Mill, and so on) but also includes numerous lesser-known figures, and he refers to about as many conservatives as he does liberals.

Wolfe stresses that the aim of liberalism is to give people the power to choose and shape their own lives. In a typical chapter he plays off a liberal representative against someone who proposed more or less the opposite ideas; Kant versus Rousseau or Benjamin Constant versus Carl Schmitt, for example. He mixes in contemporary political figures to illustrate his chief points. This is primarily intellectual history, so do not expect much in the way of programmatic proposals (health care, energy, the environment, etc.) or analysis of electoral politics. On the other hand, you will learn a great deal about Wolfe's own political beliefs and his reasons for them.

In my judgment, Wolfe's reasoning is less sound on certain key matters than it is on others. I am a bit baffled, for example, at how vehemently he objects to "sociobiology" and "evolutionary psychology." He sets up an overly simplified dichotomy between nature and nurture and argues that it is culture that has made man what he is. He is critical of anyone who suggests that genetic inheritance has some effect on moral behavior, for instance, and he concludes that such ideas necessarily support the political right.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Niklas Anderberg on November 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
On the sharp cover of this book is a red arrow pointing proudly upward. The text inside, however, is not that straightforward. Alan Wolfe is a liberal in the classical sense, building on the heritage of Locke, Mill, Dewey (in 1934 Dewey delivered a lecture with the title "The Future of Liberalism."), and others. In a chapter called "In Praise of Artifice," Wolfe opposes Kant to Rousseau and decidedly opts for Kant with his "artificial" approach as opposed to the latter's emphasis on "nature." Here the trouble starts. The perennial discussion Nature/Nurture rears its head again. After all those articles, books and debates, one would have thought the matter more or less settled. Behaviourism has been soundly refuted; we certainly are no blank slates. On the other hand, we are no slaves to our genes either. Nor have evolutionary psychologists or sociobiologists contended that this were the case. The dichotomy is a false one. In NATURE VIA NURTURE (2003) Matt Ridley explains why. In a discussion on John Tooby and Leda Cosmides he says that the search for "genes for war" is bound to fail, but the contrary dogmatic insistence that war is a pure product of equally foolish"(p.245). Quoting eight scientists on both sides of the fence, he states that they nevertheless believe roughly the same thing. Human nature comes from an interaction of nature with nurture; Nature versus Nurture is dead.
It's as if Wolfe never read the last sentences in Richard Dawkins's THE SELFISH GENE which he by the way incredibly dates to 1989. And if he read it he seemingly doesn't believe a word of it. Here's what Dawkins has to say: "We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. S. Wilkerson on December 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The title of Alan Wolfe's The Future of Liberalism (2008 288 pages) is something of a misnomer because the book is primarily a history, although a history which assures a strong future. Liberalism is alive, well, vibrant, and capable of exciting the imagination and, through its ideals, instrumental in promoting democracy, reason, liberty, equality and creating the good for the most number of people. Wolfe builds an argument for liberalism's superiority over other forms of temperament and thought throughout the book, but, in my opinion, tends to be too apologetic when discussing what he considers liberalism's potential for internal conflicts and inconsistencies. Liberalism seems inconsistent to its opponents only because it is many things, totally coherent within itself and within its goals of an open, equal and just society; its acceptance of differences in opinion, race, nationality, and social status; its openness to new or competing ideas; and its abiding faith in the rule of law. The supposed inconsistency is actually a strength of flexibility. As Emerson pointed out "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Liberalism is about seeing and accepting the world as it is and providing the framework of freedom which allows all people to achieve their own individuality and control over their own choices in life.

Wolfe's book is one of the most thought-provoking I've read recently. As I mentioned above, it's a history of liberalism, examining its many combinations and permutations through time, all resting on the assumption that the freer men are, the greater their opportunities to exercise their own choices to attain a satisfying life free of external controls.
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