A contributing editor at The New Republic urges liberals to reclaim their heritage, contending that their political philosophy is superior to those found further to the left and right.
Wolfe (Political Science/Boston Coll.; Does American Democracy Still Work? 2006, etc.) traces liberalism’s origins back to Enlightenment-era debates in continental Europe. Because liberalism ultimately won out and came to explain our world, he reasons, its ideals have been thoroughly absorbed into the mainstream. Conservatives, Marxists, progressives and libertarians have all been forced to argue against liberalism by using its vocabulary. With its commitment to equality, open-minded debate and procedure and its determination to make government work for the vast majority of people, liberalism is uniquely qualified to meet the challenges of our time, Wolfe maintains. Dense and difficult to read in parts, his text nonetheless provides a terrific analysis of the last 300-plus years of political thought. Wolfe can be a little too dismissive of some critics of his favored political philosophy, but it’s hard to not find his argument persuasive and harder still to not wonder where American liberalism’s defenders have been hiding all these years. If readers have ever wondered where they should stand in regard to the culture wars, American interventionism abroad or the role of government in society, this book will provide a coherent, convincing set of values to guide them. Published on the cusp of a new political era in Washington, Wolfe’s tome is likely to grow more relevant with time.
Highly recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in politics or history.