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In the Wall Street Journal’s most recent “Weekend Interview” feature, columnist William McGurn spoke to Professor Patrick Deneen, a political theorist at Notre Dame, about his influential 2018 book Why Liberalism Has Failed. McGurn, himself a Notre Dame graduate, takes Deneen to task for selling the Founders “short” by supposedly exposing their weak moral and social foundations in his book. “Liberalism has failed,” Deneen provocatively claims, “not because it fell short, but because it was true to itself. It has failed because it has succeeded.”
In Deneen’s view basic liberalism necessarily goes astray because it treats the atomistic individual, shorn from his or her social and religious context, solely as a rights-bearing entity. Deneen thus attacks the Framers worldview with its strong protections of individual rights, free and fair elections, and an independent judiciary. Writing even before Trump was elected, Deneen argues that it is “evident to all that the political system is broken and social fabric is fraying, particularly as a growing gap between wealthy haves and left-behind have-nots increases, a hostile divide widens between faithful and secular peoples, and deep disagreement persists over America’s role in the world.”More