The Anatomy of Antiliberalism

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Overview

Liberal: spoken in a certain tone, heard more and more often lately, it summons up permissiveness, materialism, rootlessness, skepticism, relativism run rampant. How has liberalism, the grand democratic ideal, come to be a dirty word? This hook shows us what antiliberalism means in the modern world—where it comes from, whom it serves, and why it speaks with such a forceful, if everchanging, voice.

In the past, in a battle pitting one offspring of eighteenth-century rationalism against another, Marxism has been liberalism's best known and most vociferous opponent. But with the fall of communism, the voices of ethnic particularism, communitarianism, and religious fundamentalism—a tradition Holmes traces to Joseph de Maistre—have become louder in rejection of the Enlightenment, failing to distinguish between the descendants of Karl Marx and Adam Smith. Stephen Holmes uses the tools of the political theorist and the intellectual historian to expose the philosophical underpinnings of antiliberalism in its nonmarxist guise. Examining the works of some of liberalism's severest critics—including Maistre, Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, and Alasdair Maclntyre—Holmes provides, in effect, a reader's guide to antiliberal culture, in all its colorful and often seductive, however nefarious, variety. As much a mindset as a theory, as much a sensibility as an argument, antiliberalism appears here in its diverse efforts to pit "spiritual truths" and "communal bonds" against a perceived cultural decay and moral disintegration. This corrosion of the social fabric—rather than the separation of powers, competitive elections, a free press, religious tolerance, public budgets, and judicial controls on the police—is what the antiliberal forces see as the core of liberal politics. Against this picture, Holmes outlines the classical liberal arguments most often misrepresented by the enemies of liberalism and most essential to the future of democracy.

Constructive as well as critical, this book helps us see what liberalism is and must be, and why it must and always will engender deep misgivings along with passionate commitment.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The debate between liberals and communitarians continues unabated. While liberals stress the value of individual autonomy and rights, communitarians emphasize the bonds of family, neighborhood, and community. The liberal perspective has been strengthened by the publication of this new book. Taking aim at such figures as Leo Strauss, Christopher Lasch, and Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, political scientist Holmes traces the derivation of their theories in the antimodern writings of Joseph de Maistre and Carl Schmitt. He shows that the ``nonmarxist antiliberalism'' of de Maistre and Schmitt are uncomfortably close to fascist doctrines. While acknowledging that today's antiliberals would reject the more extremist views of their historical brethren, Holmes insists that their ``soft'' rhetoric offers encouragement to revanchist critics of liberal-democratic capitalism. This well-organized and thoughtful text, marred only somewhat by the author's earnest but underdeveloped defense of the free market, is recommended for specialists.-- Kent Worcester, Social Science Research Council, New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674031807
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1993
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Holmes is Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law at New York University School of Law.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: What is Antiliberalism? 1
Pt. I The Antiliberals
1 Maistre and the Antiliberal Tradition 13
2 Schmitt: The Debility of Liberalism 37
3 Strauss: Truths for Philosophers Alone 61
4 MacIntyre: The Antiliberal Catechism 88
5 Anti-Prometheanism: The Case of Christopher Lasch 122
6 Unger: Antiliberalism Unbound 141
7 The Community Trap 176
Pt. II Misunderstanding the Liberal Past
8 Antiliberals as Historians of Liberal Thought 187
9 The "Atomization" of Society? 190
10 Indifference toward the Common Good? 198
11 The Eclipse of Authority? 201
12 The Public Realm Sacrificed to the Private? 206
13 Economic Man? 211
14 The Selfishness of Rights? 224
15 Moral Skepticism? 232
16 The Crimes of Reason? 247
17 Antonym Substitution 253
Conclusion 257
Notes 267
Index 317
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