A short book about the challenges to liberalism from the right and the left by the bestselling author of The Origins of Political Order.
Classical liberalism is in a state of crisis. Developed in the wake of Europe’s wars over religion and nationalism, liberalism is a system for governing diverse societies, which is grounded in fundamental principles of equality and the rule of law. It emphasizes the rights of individuals to pursue their own forms of happiness free from encroachment by government.
It's no secret that liberalism didn't always live up to its own ideals. In America, many people were denied equality before the law. Who counted as full human beings worthy of universal rights was contested for centuries, and only recently has this circle expanded to include women, African Americans, LGBTQ+ people, and others. Conservatives complain that liberalism empties the common life of meaning. As the renowned political philosopher Francis Fukuyama shows in Liberalism and Its Discontents, the principles of liberalism have also, in recent decades, been pushed to new extremes by both the right and the left: neoliberals made a cult of economic freedom, and progressives focused on identity over human universality as central to their political vision. The result, Fukuyama argues, has been a fracturing of our civil society and an increasing peril to our democracy.
In this short, clear account of our current political discontents, Fukuyama offers an essential defense of a revitalized liberalism for the twenty-first century.
A liberalism under siege from right and left gets a measured defense in this incisive treatise on politics and governance. Stanford University political scientist Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man), ponders classical liberalism as a creed that champions respect for individual dignity and autonomy, the rule of law, economic freedom, and scientific rationality. Unfortunately, he contends, liberalism has wandered into excesses, including neoliberal economic theories and policies that are hostile to even necessary government regulation and breed inequality, dislocation, and soulless consumerism; divisive attacks on social traditions in the name of personal self-actualization; identity politics demanding that rights be invested in groups rather than individuals; and ambitions to override property rights and redistribute wealth. As a result, both right-wing populists and left-wing progressives are wary of liberal ideals of tolerance, freedom, and reasoned debate. Fukuyama's lucid, insightful analysis traces liberalism's development back to its medieval Christian roots and forward to modern philosophical muddles and today's wrangles over voting restrictions and cancel culture, offering tart criticism for all sides: "Progressives and white nationalists come together in valuing raw feeling and emotion over cold empirical analysis." The result is an authoritative and accessible diagnosis of how liberalism went wrong and how it can reclaim its best impulses. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM Partners.