This book is so important I'm including a negative review -- from of all places, National Review!
Now, I am not sure the higher purpose that religion offers its adherents can ever be replaced by any other human enterprise. Nor do I discount religion’s positive contributions to the building of community, or to the development of our culture. I am just not convinced that there was ever a way for religiosity to have fully survived Charles Darwin. Even if secularization is in some ways undesirable, it is at least partly inevitable. Most of Europe, for one, has renounced Christianity. Deneen mourns the death of God, and understandably so, but as a political theorist in modern society he cannot just assume that the strength of organized religion can be easily regenerated. He must grapple with, rather than just complain about, the rise of secularism. And his inability to cope with it, ironically enough, serves to demonstrate the wisdom of liberalism — for part of liberalism’s genius is that its pluralistic capacity to foster freedom of association can incorporate atheists and people of faith into the same body politic.
And then a "less negative" review from David Brooks of the NY Times!
When your argument is that the only remaining "ism" after Communism, Socialism, and Fascism have failed many times is ALSO a failure, it is not all that surprising that pretty much everyone in the modern intellectual elite would have a lot of negative things to say about your thesis.
NR shows it's true colors by siding with godless atheism as a "value" of the liberal project, and Brooks vacuously points out that something so old can't possibly be wrong ...
Deneen’s book is valuable because it focuses on today’s central issue. The important debates now are not about policy. They are about the basic values and structures of our social order. Nonetheless, he is wrong. Liberal democracy has had a pretty good run for 300 years. If the problem were really in the roots, wouldn’t it have shown up before now?
I think if Brooks read just a little closer, even in his own review, he would see his problem ...
The problem, Deneen argues, started at the beginning. Greek and medieval philosophies valued liberty, but they understood that before a person could help govern society, he had to be able to govern himself. People had to be habituated in virtue by institutions they didn’t choose — family, religion, community, social norms.While liberalism was far from perfect in basic construction, the fact that up until maybe "1930 or 1940", "culture" at least in the US still involved the CULTIVATION (root of "culture") of the basic virtues of governing yourself as Buckley expertly pointed out in "God And Man at Yale". Unfortunately NR, founded by Buckley has obviously strayed from this key quote from that work ...
"The duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world, and the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level".
Without the transcendent foundation of Christianity, a country like what America was is impossible -- Buckley saw that in 1950, Reagan saw that in the '80s, and by 2008, such knowledge was all but gone -- which is why Rod Dreher outlines "The Benedict Option". And Reagan often talked about it.
NR may find that Nietzsche was right and god is dead ... however, God doesn't agree, and that is far more important. Nietzsche IS very dead and NR is showing definite signs of mortality. Evolution is MECHANISM -- it is a HOW, not a cause. To the extent it operates, it operates in a universe that it did not create, and it operates because of underlying principles in that universe that were not created by evolution.
If I write a program you like and you say, WAIT! You used C++! (a programming language, "mechanism"), therefore you do not exist! You would be using the same argument as "Darwin disproves God".
Whatever science "proves" (and it can only EVER prove by induction), the fact remains that for the vast majority of "common people", "the rank and file", Faith and Hope found in religion and family is the only way to a decent life in THIS world. For those of us that believe, the life in this world is only the preseason for the next, but for the purposes of this book, we are dealing with the here vs hereafter.
Shorn of the deepest ties to family (nuclear as well as extended), place, community, region, religion, and culture, and deeply shaped to believe that these forms of association are limits upon their autonomy, deracinated humans seek belonging and self-definition through the only legitimate form of organization remaining available to them: the state. Nisbet saw the rise of fascism and communism as the predictable consequence of the liberal attack upon smaller associations and communities.
("deracinate" -- remove from native environment and/or culture) Once both social and economic "liberalism" have "freed" you from all your "obligations" save to the State, you find that the State is never going to be able to love you or even "care" about you, since it MUST, (by definition) consider you a 100% interchangeable "citizen", "consumer", "taxpayer", etc. that is to be treated "equally".
Our “community” was now to consist of countless fellow humans who shared an abstract allegiance to a political entity that would assuage all of our loneliness, alienation, and isolation. It would provide for our wants and needs; all it asked in return was complete devotion to the state and the elimination of any allegiance to any other intermediary entity.Say that when you discover that you are completely alone with only a cold uncaring state as a constant companion, you decide to make some friends of your fellow "citizens". Remember the root of "culture" so gleefully fled and then destroyed was "cultivation" -- both you and they needed to have an actual culture to CULTIVATE what it means to be the sort of human that can have meaningful relationships with other humans.
These three cornerstones of human experience—nature, time and place—form the basis of culture, and liberalism’s success is premised upon their uprooting and replacement with facsimiles that bear the same names.
Finally, we find we are really "all on the same side" to the extent we lost our transcendent faith. We are one big "liberal tribe" mistakenly thinking we are "left and right"! Each a generic greedy, self-centered consuming pure creature, shorn of anything "higher" than the self save the all encompassing state!
People who are “uncultivated” in the consumption of both food and sex, Aristotle observed, are the most vicious of creatures, literally consuming other humans to slake their base and untutored appetites. Far from being understood as opposites of human nature, customs and manners were understood to be derived from, governed by, and necessary to the realization of human nature.Since we are now mostly atomic individuals who are proud of **OURSELVES**, we choose our vaunted "identity" -- through what we consume, where we live, where we go to school, our sexuality, our degrees, our tats, .... always our "own creation", or more accurately, the creation of a godless state and godless corporate marketing tricking us to the false belief of our "independence".
The book ends with the following ...
After a five hundred–year philosophical experiment that has now run its course, the way is clear to building anew and better. The greatest proof of human freedom today lies in our ability to imagine, and build, liberty after liberalism.I STRONGLY recommend reading this fairly short work. Almost certainly it will make you uncomfortable no matter what your political, religious, or philisophical stripe. Which for me is one of the most important things a book can do -- because only through pain can there be growth!
The fact "both sides" hate it is an awfully good recommendation!