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What's The Matter With Liberalism?
by Ronald Beiner
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From Publishers Weekly
Liberal political theory, which promotes choice, mobility and maximum personal freedom, has contributed to a "shopping mall culture" whose members are producers and consumers instead of involved citizens, suggests the author. Critical of left-leaning thinkers' "preoccupation with rights, interests and rational preferences," he urges liberals to shift gears and turn to the Socratic tradition, with its emphasis on virtue and character formation, for guidance in reordering our social priorities. Beiner, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, has produced a dense, challenging scholarly critique. He seeks to transcend "phony individualism," which hinders creation of the level of public culture necessary to sustain meaningful citizenship in a community guided by moral aims. Described here by a colleague as "a socialist admirer of Allan Bloom," Beiner in a closing chapter sketches "an alternative case for socialism" that centers on solidarity and political enfranchisement rather than economic redistribution and social equality.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Arvind Sivaramakrishnan, Economic and Political Weekly
"This is the most exciting, and quite possibly the most important, book to appear in English-speaking political philosophy for over a decade. It is also certainly the most accessible. Addressing any interested reader about issues familiar to all of us, Ronald Beiner has launched a direct, impassioned, brilliant counterattack against liberalism."
In the wake of the revolutions of 1989, the ongoing political turmoil in the Soviet Union, and the democratization of most of Latin America, what is the task of political theorists?
Ronald Beiner's invigorating critique of liberal theory and liberal practices takes on the shibboleths of modern Western discourse. He confronts the aridity of liberal societies that possess incommensurable "values" and "rights," but no principles. To Beiner, this neutralist view is both a false description of liberal society and an incoherent political ideal. Rather, he encourages the theorist to remain faithful to the important task of questioning and criticism, instead of serving as a source of ideological reassurance about our own superiority.
Beiner looks to the Socratic tradition for guidance. Permitting ethos to replace values, and discourse about "the good" to replace talk about "rights," the theorist is able to reorder social priorities. Considered in this light, the liberal political philosophy of the 1970s and 1980s appears insufficiently Socratic, as does a liberal way of life that presents itself as a model of imitation.
Polemical, impassioned, and brilliantly argued, What's the Matter with Liberalism? is essential reading for everyone who cares about contemporary theory and the future of liberal society.
About the Author
Ronald Beiner is Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Political Judgment (1984) and editor of Hannah Arendt's Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy (1982).
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