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'WITTY, HUMANE, LEARNED' NEW YORK TIMES
The New York Times-bestselling author offers a stirring defence of liberalism against the dogmatisms of our time
Not since the early twentieth century has liberalism, and liberals, been under such relentless attack, from both right and left. The crisis of democracy in our era has produced a crisis of faith in liberal institutions and, even worse, in liberal thought.
A Thousand Small Sanities is a manifesto rooted in the lives of people who invented and extended the liberal tradition. Taking us from Montaigne to Mill, and from Middlemarch to the civil rights movement, Adam Gopnik argues that liberalism is not a form of centrism, nor simply another word for free markets, nor merely a term denoting a set of rights. It is something far more ambitious: the search for radical change by humane measures. Gopnik shows us why liberalism is one of the great moral adventures in human history--and why, in an age of autocracy, our lives may depend on its continuation.
According to this militantly nonfanatical treatise, liberalism is the self-doubting creed of cautious, compromising, incremental reform and that's why it's great. New Yorker essayist Gopnik (Paris to the Moon) grounds liberalism not in arid individualism but in emotion and social connection, an animus against suffering and for freedom and equality, an understanding of human fallibility, a tolerance for debate, and a search for lasting improvements through democratic action. To conservatives who say liberal rationalism erodes communities, families, and sacred values, he replies that it allows diverse communities and religious beliefs to flourish without bitter divisions; to left-wingers who condemn it as a cover for capitalist exploitation, he champions liberalism's record of progressivism without the totalitarian repressions of communism or the essentialist identity politics of today's left. Gopnik hangs his discussion on vivid profiles of liberal dreamers and doers, from theorist-lovebirds Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill to civil rights pioneers Frederick Douglass and Bayard Rustin. He writes with a pithy, aphoristic charm "what we have today, the insistent sneering insists, is a long, permanent bar fight, where you can't trust a liberal to throw a bourbon bottle at the bad guys" that overlies deep erudition and nuanced analysis. The result is a smart, exhilarating defense of the liberal tradition.