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About Patrick J. Deneen
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Of the three dominant ideologies of the twentieth century—fascism, communism, and liberalism—only the last remains. This has created a peculiar situation in which liberalism’s proponents tend to forget that it is an ideology and not the natural end-state of human political evolution. As Patrick Deneen argues in this provocative book, liberalism is built on a foundation of contradictions: it trumpets equal rights while fostering incomparable material inequality; its legitimacy rests on consent, yet it discourages civic commitments in favor of privatism; and in its pursuit of individual autonomy, it has given rise to the most far-reaching, comprehensive state system in human history. Here, Deneen offers an astringent warning that the centripetal forces now at work on our political culture are not superficial flaws but inherent features of a system whose success is generating its own failure.
The American political reformer Herbert Croly wrote, "For better or worse, democracy cannot be disentangled from an aspiration toward human perfectibility." Democratic Faith is at once a trenchant analysis and a powerful critique of this underlying assumption that informs democratic theory. Patrick Deneen argues that among democracy's most ardent supporters there is an oft-expressed belief in the need to "transform" human beings in order to reconcile the sometimes disappointing reality of human self-interest with the democratic ideal of selfless commitment. This "transformative impulse" is frequently couched in religious language, such as the need for political "redemption." This is all the more striking given the frequent accompanying condemnation of traditional religious belief that informs the "democratic faith." At the same time, because so often this democratic ideal fails to materialize, democratic faith is often subject to a particularly intense form of disappointment. A mutually reinforcing cycle of faith and disillusionment is frequently exhibited by those who profess a democratic faith--in effect imperiling democratic commitments due to the cynicism of its most fervent erstwhile supporters. Deneen argues that democracy is ill-served by such faith. Instead, he proposes a form of "democratic realism" that recognizes democracy not as a regime with aspirations to perfection, but that justifies democracy as the regime most appropriate for imperfect humans. If democratic faith aspires to transformation, democratic realism insists on the central importance of humility, hope, and charity.
In 1973, Wilson Carey McWilliams (1933--2005) published The Idea of Fraternity in America, a groundbreaking book that argued for an alternative to America's dominant philosophy of liberalism. This alternative tradition emphasized that community and fraternal bonds were as vital to the process of maintaining political liberty as was individual liberty. McWilliams expanded on this idea throughout his prolific career as a teacher, writer, and activist, promoting a unique definition of American democracy.
In The Democratic Soul: A Wilson Carey McWilliams Reader, editors Patrick J. Deneen and Susan J. McWilliams, daughter of the famed intellectual, have assembled key essays, articles, reviews, and lectures that trace McWilliams's evolution as a scholar and explain his often controversial views on education, religion, and literature. The book also showcases his thoughts and opinions on prominent twentieth-century figures such as George Orwell and Leo Strauss. The first comprehensive volume of Wilson Carey McWilliams' collected writings, The Democratic Soul will be welcomed by scholars of political science and American political thought as a long-overdue contribution to the field.