Wed, 16 November 2016
In Democratic Faith (Princeton University Press, 2005), political theorist Patrick Deneen examined what he saw as a state of crisis and a sense of quiet desperation underlying much of contemporary democratic theory. At the end of this month, St. Augustine’s Press will publish a collection of Deneen’s essays entitled Conserving America?: Essays on Present Discontents. In those essays, Deneen advances the case that our discontent, anxieties, and uncertainties are due to problems in the basic liberal principles embedded in the American Constitutional order.
In a lecture given in 2010 examining the relationship between community, culture, and liberalism, Deneen offered this summary of the origins and nature of classical liberalism.
Liberalism begins with the political philosophy of Hobbes, with refinement by John Locke, with the idea that humans by nature are naturally free and equal. These thinkers sought to describe the natural human condition to be one of autonomous and whole individuals who have no past, no culture, no history, no relationships, no memory. They are like Athena, sprung from the head of Zeus.
Deneen went on to describe the effects of this understanding of human persons on their sense of membership in communities or cultures. Before liberalism, persons were members of a whole and understood their identity in light of that membership. They were not — in Michael Sandel’s term — unencumbered selves. Liberalism, said Deneen, aims to liberate individuals from the claims and duties of membership
The autonomous individual at the heart of liberal theory cannot in fact come into being in reality without first liberating him or her from the inheritances of cult and culture. Liberal theory thus redefines all human relations in its wake. . . . Whether one’s religion, one’s community, one’s nation, even one’s family, all human relations are redefined by liberalism’s logic.
In this interview, Patrick Deneen talks with MARS HILL AUDIO's Ken Myers about the relationship between democracy and liberalism.
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