Why Liberalism Failed

Patrick Deneen

We live in a time of intense political polarization. Every day, the dividing lines between left and right seem to become sharper. But Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen thinks that both left and right are infected with the same disease: liberalism. By "liberalism" he doesn't mean the partisan left, but the longstanding political philosophy premised on the freedom of the individual person to realize his or her desires without obstacle. According to Deneen, this is both the operating system for the Western world and the rot at its heart.

The result? Modern Westerners have an abiding impulse to buck against the limiting ties of family, place, community, and religion. Shorn of these ties, we seek membership, belonging, and meaning through our interactions with an ever-expanding state and market.

The left insists that the state must protect the liberty of individuals to do as they please, while the right insists that the market must remain free with very few restrictions placed on an individual’s economic choices. The right “seeks to promote family values but denies that the market undermines many of the values that undergird family life. The left commends sexual liberation as the best avenue to achieve individual autonomy, while nonsensically condemning the immorality of a marketplace in which sex is the best sales pitch.”

Pouring Coffee