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Review of 'Why Liberalism Failed' by Patrick Deneen

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‘Why Liberalism Failed’ provides insight to the beliefs of author Patrick Deneen. Deneen is a political philosophy and constitutional studies professor at Notre Dame, believing that liberalism has failed by succeeding. He believes the contradicting principles have allowed our citizens to take on individualistic beliefs and therefore succeeding in that sense, however this fails to unite the nation and produce an effective, long-term result in American society. Inspired by today’s governmental and societal structure, Deneen wrote this book to call a change in our political ideology while emphasizing the importance of strong, active communities in our nation. Initially, I agreed with his idea about growing toward a society that focused on smaller communities and as a Christian, I still believe it is very important. However, as I continued to read the through the first chapter, Deneen’s radical opinions provoked an opposition within me that does not agree fully with his view. I chose this book because the title made me curious to know why the author believes so, and the many adverse opinions of others I read about online compelled me to want to develop an opinion of my own.

Although Deneen believes the Founding Fathers established liberal principles that encourage us to be independent, he expresses that the view our nation has on that definition of liberalism has changed. I agree that our founding fathers wanted us citizens to have the right to be free from authoritarian rule, but it is evident that today’s society has created a view for our government that is all too promising. Deneen explicitly states that the role of our government is to “preserve a space in which individuals are able to self-create”. This implies that it is the government’s responsibility to ratify laws that protect its citizens rights. I firmly believe that Deneen is correct and due to this, the opportunity to flourish in our nation is great compared to other forms of government. However, many people take this preserved space and define it as the ability to create their own identity, being a part of this nation individually rather than unitedly. As previously stated, the Constitution creates the idea that we have an impact on the country as a whole and I do not agree when Deneen argues that this ideology eliminates the opportunity of having a more effective impact in our local communities. I do not believe that the constitution impedes on the impact of smaller communities at all and it’s rather his own conclusion and therefore I would consider this a flaw in Deneen’s work.

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Throughout his book, the author emphasizes the importance of civic engagement. “The strength of free peoples resides in the local community”, Deneen states, “it was the nearness and immediacy of the township that made its citizens more likely to care and take an active interest not only in their own fates, but in the shared fates of their fellow citizens”. Although this may be true, I personally feel that it is through the attention of much larger, national issues in our country that allows Americans to take active interest in our democratic system. Having a strong concern for what happens in the country entirely, will have a direct impact on each individual’s concern for what happens in their smaller communities that Deneen stresses the importance of. It can be concluded that Deneen does not view the nation as one large community, especially when he asserts that elections only appear to give Americans a sense of significant purpose.

Deneen wrote very well in every chapter of ‘Why Liberalism Failed’. As I read this book, there were many incredibly written lines and quotes of his own beliefs, some of which I agree with and others I do not. One quote by Deneen that captured my attention was, “Students are taught by most of their humanities and social science professors that the only remaining political matter at hand is to equalize respect and dignity accorded to all people”. It is one of my favorite quotes, because it really speaks to how today’s younger generations are widely exposed to the idea of everyone being treated equally despite their race, gender, or ethnicity and how it is considered to be one of the most controversial and discussed topics in today’s society. I have always believed that it is important to treat all humans the same and anything less is not acceptable. However, I do not believe it is the “only remaining political matter at hand”, as many are also concerned about losing culture and diversity. This leads me to another favorite quote of mine which says, “What we need today are practices fostered in local settings, focused on the creation of new and viable cultures”. This quote appeals to me because it offers another perspective toward the political matter of equality and while many agree that we all should treat others fairly, many also consider the possibility of losing the uniqueness that encompasses every individual. I do not agree with that, however this quote shows the uncommon but still very present attitude of many in our society.

When I first read the title, I thought the opinions of the author would be very one-sided. However, Deneen agrees liberalism has had great effects, just not the effects necessary to progress. Personally, I found ‘Why Liberalism Failed’ to be a difficult read, not being exposed to much of this language previously. However, the more that I read the easier it became to understand, and I was still able to identify the author’s purpose to writing this book. Deneen did a fantastic job highlighting his personal perspective and clearly displayed his increasing concern about the direction our nation is heading. I would recommend others to read it despite their political party affiliation or other beliefs, to allow them to not necessarily agree, but to consider the explanation of the views of others in our nation.

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Review of ‘Why Liberalism Failed’ by Patrick Deneen. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
“Review of ‘Why Liberalism Failed’ by Patrick Deneen.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
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