The Virtues of Liberalism

The Virtues of Liberalism

The Virtues of Liberalism

The Virtues of Liberalism

Synopsis

This spirited analysis--and defense--of American liberalism demonstrates the complex and rich traditions of political, economic, and social discourse that have informed American democratic culture from the seventeenth century to the present. The Virtues of Liberalism provides a convincing response to critics both right and left. Against conservatives outside the academy who oppose liberalism because they equate it with license, James T. Kloppenberg uncovers ample evidence of American republicans' and liberal democrats' commitments to ethical and religious ideals and their awareness of the difficult choices involved in promoting virtue in a culturally diverse nation. Against radical academic critics who reject liberalism because they equate it with Enlightenment reason and individual property holding, Kloppenberg shows the historical roots of American liberals' dual commitments to diversity, manifested in institutions designed to facilitate deliberative democracy, and to government regulations of property and market exchange in accordance with the public good. In contrast to prevailing tendencies to simplify and distort American liberalism, Kloppenberg shows how the multifaceted virtues of liberalism have inspired theorists and reformers from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison through Jane Addams and John Dewey to Martin Luther King, Jr., and then explains how these virtues persist in the work of some liberal democrats today. Endorsing the efforts of such neo-progressive and communitarian theorists and journalists as Michael Walzer, Jane Mansbridge, Michael Sandel, and E. J. Dionne, Kloppenberg also offers a more acute analysis of the historical development of American liberalism and of the complex reasons why it has been transformed and made more vulnerable in recent decades. An intelligent, coherent, and persuasive canvas that stretches from the Enlightenment to the American Revolution, from Tocqueville's observations to the New Deal's social programs, and from the right to worship freely to the idea of ethical responsibility, this book is a valuable contribution to historical scholarship and to contemporary political and cultural debates.

Excerpt

Authors publishing collections of previously printed essays wrestle with competing impulses. On the one hand, it is tempting to rewrite the essays completely to reflect changes in perspective, to register the impact of new scholarship, and (most tantalizing of all) to respond to critics. On the other hand, it is tempting merely to reprint the essays and move on to other projects. Here I have decided to follow a middle course, revising some essays and leaving others alone.

Another temptation is to exaggerate the unity and coherence of the pieces being brought together to form a whole. These essays were written, over the span of a decade, for different purposes; thus, although each stands alone, they sometimes echo each other. I can only hope such similarities will reinforce the arguments that overlap rather than disturb readers who proceed through the book systematically. All the essays deal with aspects of American political thought, but they do not present a single consecutive argument. Although most of the essays cover considerable spans of time, they are arranged here to proceed more or less chronologically, moving gradually from a focus on the eighteenth century to the present.

Since some of the essays (notably chapters 2 and 6) have attracted commentary and criticism, to alter them would be to throw a curve ball to readers who are already familiar with the essays and might reasonably expect to find the arguments they considered valuable (or vulnerable). Chapter 2, "The Virtues of Liberalism: Christianity, Republicanism, and Ethics in Early American Political Discourse," was originally published in the Journal of American History in 1987. One of several essays written by historians attempting to break the logjam that clogged studies of early American politics and culture in the 1980s, it is an effort to clarify as well as complicate the relations between distinct sources of American political thought and practice. Chapter 6, "Democracy and Disenchantment: From Weber and Dewey to Habermas and Rorty," was published in 1994 . . .

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