Patrick Deneen on Why Liberalism Failed
Jul 9 2018

WhyLiberalismFailedBookCover.jpg Political Scientist and author Patrick Deneen of the University of Notre Dame talks about his book Why Liberalism Failed with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. By liberalism, Deneen means the modern enterprise--the push for self-actualization free of the constraints of tradition, family, and religion that typifies modern culture. He argues that both the left and the right have empowered the state and reduced liberty. He argues for a smaller, more local, more artisanal economy and a return to the virtues of self-control and self-mastery.

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Explore audio transcript, further reading that will help you delve deeper into this week’s episode, and vigorous conversations in the form of our comments section below.


Jul 9 2018 at 11:13am

So what’s new?

Family dissolution and overblown/overbearing state have happened before, while culture and tradition have only been replaced with different ones (food stamps, abortion, Darwinism, and handouts galore). Nazis and Communists have done exactly the same with all four institutions – why can’t you recognize this?

Liberty is simply a function of choice – do we have any or not? If the state controls almost 100% of healthcare and education then we have no choice hence no freedom, and if Google controls 67%, then Google is the new tyrant. Add to that Communist China, EU-SSR, Washington DC – the imperial city and political dynasties of Bushes, Clintons, Kennedys, etc plus thousands of local dynasties and the loss of liberty is complete. But again, what’s new?

Microsoft, Amazon, Fbook, Twitter… there are no good tyrants out there, only tyrants that have not reach maximum power yet.

Jul 9 2018 at 11:29am

I really enjoyed this interview. Patrick Deneen is a strategic socialist—like a combination of Bill Clinton and a philosophy professor—the kind of man I would enjoy playing chess with.

Deneen’s first strategic move is to combine liberalism to socialism, calling one the Liberal progressive and the other the classical liberal. He says they are the same, separated largely by a difference in the understanding of the word liberty. I disagree. They are not the same. On the one side is socialism—which places some value above justice—and on the other is libertarianism—which maintains the primacy of justice.

His second move is not actually a move. It is the absence of a clear move. He never says during this interview that his  overarching concern is legitimizing the application of violence to other people. Instead he says things like, “We need these kind of external encouragements to a kind of self control and self discipline, but we have largely disassembled the institutions that in a way served as a kind of training ground…” Remove ‘external encouragements’ and put in its place ‘violence’, ‘force’, or ‘coercion’ and you will have an [accurate, I think] understanding that this entire conversation is about Deneen’s desire for coercive authority to “guide” individuals’ decisions toward what is good. He’s not actually very picky about the source of the power or what is defined as good. Instead, he laments the loss of power from culture, community, religion, family, and especially politics. He is literally bemoaning the loss of coercive power from those institutions to structure the world and environment. On reflection, he comes across as yearning for structure—as if structure, in and of itself, is the greatest good. Especially the structure of his childhood.

His third move is to conceive of politics as something unique. Politics, in his discussion, is not a contractual institution between citizens and specialists seeking to satisfy obligations to the citizenship agreement. It is “the art of the possible.” Or, in other words, the good [art] that is possible through the application of force through the state.

His fourth move is [correctly I think] to point out that for beings who are defined by their relationship to the environment—which includes other people—changing that environment, changing the people, and changing institutions can all lead to a crisis of self-definition. That can be discomforting, for sure. But in and of itself that discomfort does not suggest whether the changes were beneficial. Also, by logical extension, Patrick Deneen has spent his career teaching in three separate academic institutions famous for their socialist ethos.  How could he not, therefore, be something other than a product of his environment? How could he not be socialist?

His final move is a call to action. “I think what we need is a better ruling class. A better elite.” In other words, he wants some people to have coercive power over others.

I know this game. I see it for what it is. And I reject it with the one exception of that business he brought up of the importance of the environment in how we define ourselves. The rest of his work is old. The Road to Serfdom debunks precisely and accurately near everything he said, so I don’t feel I need to repeat it here… except to say violence outside of justice is evil whereas what is good is not nearly so obvious. The prudent approach is to avoid what is obviously bad [violence], and let what is good emerge through trial and error.

David J Driver
Jul 10 2018 at 1:42pm

I could not have said it better. When he conflates progressives with libertarians he is abusing the word liberal. He bemoans the loss of centralized control and extols that if he could just put together a better ruling class we would all be better off. He is fishing for some new brand of stateism on which he can hang his philosophy. I heard nothing compelling on his side of the argument, I just kept hearing the quote from Orwell’s book echoing through my head:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

That is what I hear every time I hear someone say that THEIR version of centralized control will be better than all the others.

Jul 11 2018 at 6:49pm

It wasn’t clear to me whether he was actually advocating coercive enforcement by the state. In fact, when he talked about the sexual assault issues on college campuses, he seemed to imply it was a bad thing the state was getting involved.

He could simply be referring to social pressures/norms within those institutions that have faded away.

But I agree 100% that he should probably make his stance a little more explicit on whether he is advocating for coercive force from the state.



Aug 3 2018 at 5:19pm

“In fact, when he talked about the sexual assault issues on college campuses, he seemed to imply it was a bad thing the state was getting involved.”

I think the reason why it was unclear was because it he is unclear, or has not bothered to think through what he means.   This is an excellent example to lay bare all that is wrong with his thinking.

What Deneen said:

I mean, what we’ve seen, certainly here on college campuses, is: In the absence of or the demolition of the in loco parentis customs and the role that the adults on the campus were supposed to play in helping young people enter, again, this time of fraught and challenging relationships with the opposite sex, that in the absence of that kind of formation, what we now find is that we need now the State to come in and exercise a kind of juridical realm over questions of whether or not consent was given or consent wasn’t given.

He is claiming that it is a bad think that adults on campus (teachers, etc) don’t teach/parent youth in what constitutes healthy sexual relations, and therefor the state has to come in and do it for them which is a very bad thing.

First the claim that campus adults don’t teach/parent/counsel young adults about healthy sexual relations is a completely unsubstantiated claim.  I think that most campus have many peer and/or staff based office to specifically help students talk about and deal with sexual issues.

But the bigger problem is what Deneen is inferring (or flat out stating) is that a better world would be one where adults on campus “just knew” what was right and had the unfettered power to “parent” their students about what constitutes consent or not when it comes to sex.   Moreover, they would “just know” what was right because it came from some religious tradition.

According to this Deneen’s ideal campus would be one where the rules around sexual consent either came from an un-elected religious leader somewhere in the world, or from the “common sense” of the campus adult in authority.  So on one campus consent would be an affirmative verbal utterance, and in another it would be the shortness of the skirt the woman choose that morning.

Deneen further has the nerve to suggest that:

that it’s precisely the overturning of these institutions that have allowed, now, the liberation and the equality of people who were formally not accorded those forms of equality  (Homosexuals?). And yet, what’s striking about that–and what, you know, even if we look at the newspaper stories of the last several months, the overturning of these institutions has not decreased or has not eliminated what we clearly see as certain forms of abuse that’s taking place. We saw this with the Harvey Weinstein incident, with all the various MeToo movements.

So the breakdown around the norms of sexuality and the guaranteeing of individuals basic human rights, is a failure because it didn’t prevent people from abusing their authority?!

I can’t even begin to describe how offensive and wrong headed this is.  News for Deneen, they used to beat homosexuals to death, AND threaten to fire their secretaries if they didn’t perform fallacio on them.     Happily now with legal protection the beat homosexuals to death less often.

Jul 9 2018 at 12:59pm

I found much of what Dr. Dineen said to agree with and much more that caused me to question my opinions,  but his reliance on current Amish retention rates following Rumspringa is at a minimum naïve. I lived for five years in among the Amish in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. They made wonderful neighbors. I saw Amish kids on Rumspringa; in town drinking, smoking, driving and partying. And I saw many of those kids then commit to the Amish way of life. But to suggest that this was a choice of equal opportunities is wrong. These kids had only received schooling through the 8th grade (the mandatory minimum in PA), and that schooling was in Amish schools where academic studies were virtually non-existent. Children on Rumspringa found that they could smoke, drink, etc., but they had no academic skills to lead anything resembling an economically competitive life in the ‘English’ world to that available in the Amish community. Earlier Amish retention rates were much lower because a half century ago a poorly educated person could find work in the factories.   Lawrence Greksa, professor of anthropology at Case Western in Cleveland has estimated that 50 years ago as many as 50 percent were leaving. The retention rate has increased gradually as the differences between Amish and non-Amish populations have increased. If you want an apples to apples comparison of the Anabaptist faith, perhaps evaluate the Mennonites where I suspect except in the Old Orders that closely resemble Amish, you’ll see retention rates similar to those in other Christian denominations.

Jim Myles
Jul 9 2018 at 1:17pm

It seems to me that Deneen’s view can be distilled to he wants a benevolent dictatorship (authoritarian political class) where those that agree with him (elites from institutions where he as taught or like places) are in charge.

We have been living this dream starting with the Wilson administration.  As the political class has taken over control of cultural functions (e.g., welfare and health care), inequality has increased and personal responsibility has decreased.

Jul 12 2018 at 10:50am

I need to re-listen and I’ll read the book, but based on my first listen, I don’t think that’s right.  Yes he says we need a ‘new elite,’ but firstly; what society doesn’t have elites?  Secondly and more importantly, I think he’s arguing more broadly for a new political philosophy, having concluded that the political philosophy of the founding fathers and their influencers of the 16th and 17th century has resulted, finally, in an unstable state where individualism is so highly valued that it collapses into a form of pure subjective relativism.  Worse, it requires an ever more powerful state to enforce individual rights, and actively oppose institutions (religious, associations, clubs, fraternities) that restrict unfettered individualism.  (Boy Scouts, Religious schools)  This discussion got interesting when we heard Russ think out loud in probing the frontiers of his own libertarianism.  For example, he cherishes the exercise of his individual choice to be an observant Jew, but what happens when the state trains it’s powers against Judaism as an institutional threat to individual choice?  I wish Deneen had countered with that in conjunction with his Amish example…

Antonio de Sousa
Jul 9 2018 at 3:09pm

“Orient people towards making good decisions”. This episode was really insightful. I wish this viewpoint would be presented in schools. I really appreciate the explanation of the word Liberty, its original meaning and how its meaning has evolved. BTW the argument that we are not atomic selves and that we owe a lot to our environment is echoed in business papers investigating workplace success. If I remember correctly, success at work is 70% attributed to the “system” in place (support structures such as corporate capabilities, training, mentoring, etc …) and 30% personal characteristics and compentencies. In my opinion traditions and institutions are society’s support structures.

Jul 11 2018 at 12:09pm

Thought provoking. It reminds me that assumptions can be so deeply rooted that our awareness of them is at best fleeting, at worst completely elusive. And when we do examine those most fundamental of assumptions, there’s a human tendency to apply a judgmental framework that has been adopted as a consequence of having accepted those same assumptions. Which is not to say the assumption is wrong, but it’s almost always helpful to call it out and questions it.
I’m thinking of the exchange about the assumption of the “self-making self.” I found myself reflexively critiquing the challenge using arguments that are founded on or tethered to having accepted the truth of that assumption. Someone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity grapples with this same topic in an elegant way.
Deneen’s book is a worthy read. The claims are more flushed out of course, but the endnotes I found to be particularly valuable in tracing out the lineage and evolution of the premise.
On the podcast: nicely done.

Jul 11 2018 at 12:25pm

…sorry, I intended this as a separate, post not a reply

Jul 9 2018 at 7:03pm

Very well-spoken guest, but I had problems with a number of things he said.

1. The definition of individualism resting on the decline of the family, the decline of child-bearing, the decline of associations, the cratering of religious affiliation, and declining membership in churches (circa 6 minute mark).  It would seem that you could have an individualist society and have associations, with individuals deciding to cooperate.  Isn’t that what Tocqueville saw in the early 19th century US?

2. This critique of liberalism (or modernity or individualism) isn’t anything new.  All the same social critiques that Deneen brings up have been echoed in previous ages, usually with some reference to a “Golden Age” in the past.  Deneen never reveals what his “Golden Age” comparison is, but one must suspect it is pre-liberalism (perhaps during the height of the absolutist monarchs?).

More importantly, such a critique shows a remarkable misunderstanding of history.  The pre-liberal (let’s say, before 1700) era was not a place of flourishing associations and religious affiliation.  Church attendance in Europe at this time was actually quite low because there were not enough clergy to minister to the population, and the priests that did exist were often poorly trained.  This was certainly true pre-Reformation and Luther/Calvin provided a little competitive challenge to get the Catholic Church to take ministering to the population more seriously, but that didn’t last too long as Protestants sifted out into their own monopolies and became equally lazy in their ministerial tasks (“reposing themselves on their benefices” as Adam Smith astutely noted in Book V of Wealth of Nations).

And even during the so-called religiously-vibrant era of colonial America, the Congregationalists were constantly complaining about the lack of faith even as early as the 1660s when they had to invoke the “Half-Way Covenant” to qualify enough people for civic duty.  (Previously, you had to be in full standing with the Covenant, but by the 1660s nobody was faithful enough to qualify so they relaxed the requirements.)  The early 1700s weren’t much better and there needed to be a Great Awakening (because people were spiritually sleeping).  And another Awakening in the early 1800s, and another one needed in the late 1800s (fundamentalist revival) and the 1920s (Pentecostal revival), etc.  Oh, and there were lots of broken families back then too, as witnessed by the extensive number of orphanages.

And to say religion is cratering today is a bit of hyperbole.  Yes, there has been an uptick in “nones,” particularly among younger folks who are marrying later (with marriage and child bearing being a good indicator of going to church), but the country is still vibrantly religious as documented by the various new shapes and forms that spirituality takes place in NYC (see Tony Carnes’ A Journey through NYC Religions).  Worldwide, religion is on the uptick, even in places such as Latin America where evangelicals have given Catholics a run for their money and the Catholics have responded with more grassroots ministering.  China is seeing a religious revival against all odds of a government trying to tamp down “individualism.”

All this could also be applied to other associations as well. We may not be bowling as much together, but look at the soccer clubs and the like.  Associational forms changing doesn’t imply associational life is declining.

3. The notion that “classical liberals” saw people as individualistic atoms is also a misrepresentation of much of classical liberal thought.  Read Hayek on what individualism really is, or Buchanan noting that we live as individuals together.  Cooperation/coordination has long been part of the “classical liberal” project.  (Also, Buchanan did understand that a state was needed in order to provide freedom, but he saw the conundrum of it eventually dashing individual freedom.)

4. The solution that Deneen tosses out at the end — train elite students at elite universities to become better leaders (presumably by taking the courses of political theorists) — came across as very paternalistic, which left me the impression that if not liberalism, then it must be a return to feudalism with an ordained elite.  I was left very unsatisfied with the whole tenor of the interview saying that “liberalism has failed so we must move on” and not propose any solution other than “it’ll be in the next book.”  Liberalism may be a bad option, but it is the least bad of all the other options in comparison and until something else is put on the table, I will keep my wagon hitched to that horse.

David J Driver
Jul 10 2018 at 4:30pm

Thanks! Feudalism was the word I was looking for, paternalistic feudalism. That is not a future I am interested in.

Jul 11 2018 at 12:26pm

Thought provoking. It reminds me that assumptions can be so deeply rooted that our awareness of them is at best fleeting, at worst completely elusive. And when we do examine those most fundamental of assumptions, there’s a human tendency to apply a judgmental framework that has been adopted as a consequence of having accepted those same assumptions. Which is not to say the assumption is wrong, but it’s almost always helpful to call it out and questions it.
I’m thinking of the exchange about the assumption of the “self-making self.” I found myself reflexively critiquing the challenge using arguments that are founded on or tethered to having accepted the truth of that assumption. Someone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity grapples with this same topic in an elegant way.
Deneen’s book is a worthy read. The claims are more flushed out of course, but the endnotes I found to be particularly valuable in tracing out the lineage and evolution of the premise.
On the podcast: nicely done.

Jul 11 2018 at 1:29pm

This is my favorite interview of the year (so far!)  Love the respectful engagement of Patrick and Russ with each other as they disagree.  They also represent an interesting juxtaposition of two nuanced viewpoints; Russ being more libertarian and Patrick more classically conservative.  More than anything, I enjoyed Patrick’s analysis as a critique of the American Experiment.  He’s plotting the consequences of the founding fathers’ blueprint, and concludes that two-three centuries later, it expresses itself as militantly anti-cultural.  It’s a fresh and disturbing conclusion.

May I also say that I was dumbstruck by his comment, late in the podcast, that the Trump election (and other populist global election results)  was some sort of spastic (I think he says ‘inchoate’ ) mindless rebellion of the masses against an insensitive and out of touch elite class.  I agree about the rebellion, but surely there was nothing inchoate about it: it was very specific rejection of socio-political priorities of our elite class that no longer mapped to the day-to-day priorities of a portion of the electorate.

It was a condescending way to characterize the Trump base, especially amusing coming from an Elite who is delivering a critique of Elites…

Aug 3 2018 at 6:02pm

“He’s plotting the consequences of the founding fathers’ blueprint, and concludes that two-three centuries later, it expresses itself as militantly anti-cultural.”

I found this idea of anti-culture to be the second most frustrating thing about Deneen’s ideas. (After his obvious illiberal authoritarianism).

If we can define “culture” in this context as “Laws and norms that communicate communal values”.     Than its not that states don’t have values, after all the US founding documents are hugely value laden.  The US state HAS values to advertise, it is not anti-culture, it just does a lousy job lately of actually advertising them.

I think that western states are secular humanist organizations (which I think is a very good thing).  But they don’t tend to broadcast that they are. (The only people who call them bastions of radical secular humanism are the religious fringe.

Western states do a good job of advertising that they support such things as religious freedom, freedom of association, etc.  In other words believe whatever you like.  To many this sounds like the absence of values rather then a values statement.

Groups like ISIS have a pretty easy job recruiting people with a romantic underdog story of the devote against the soul less evil empire and their flying robots.   What is the US national story to counter this story?

I think all western nations ought to do a better job of projecting a positive values statement (Positive in the sense of state what’s its values are, not what they are not)

For myself, we should start by advertising that reason and science are the best ways to understand the world around us, and that dignity and compassion should be the basis for how you act toward someone else.

Build a culture on that.





Jul 12 2018 at 6:34am

Not having read the book, someone who has might answer this: is Deneen not just another conservative, concerned about ‘society’, the sort of frenemy to whom Hayek referred in ‘Why I am not a conservative’?

Jul 12 2018 at 10:07am

Thought provoking podcast, the issues discussed I am definitely sympathetic towards but we should be honest with ourselves that there isn’t an easy solutions towards any of this.

I especially liked the guest counter-argument towards tradition/slavery in that racism &equality haven’t improved over the years anyways.


Admittedly Russ, I have to disagree with  you on the issue of inequality. I will admit this isn’t an easy thing to measure, but after examining the evidence for BOTH sides I just don’t see how this issue can be ignored. Forget the numbers, step back and look at the real world, how our economy is set-up, the lowest paid workers v. the highest paid etc…. it’s important to keep that in mind whenever trying to read the data on this.

Understanding what’s going on behind the numbers can be helpful in identifying and correcting the issue in a orderly fashion.

Jul 12 2018 at 2:30pm

Old hippies often turn to libertarianism after the peace and love doesn’t work, but the problems that kill communes are the same that kill libertarianism.

The problem that freedom and libertarianism can’t answer is the mimetic problem, which is, what do we do when we both want the same thing? Without religion, what we do is kill each other. Rene Girard discovered that this was the purpose of mythic religion, to defuse the community violence that came from imitation and the jealousy that resulted from it. Imitation means that we will inevitably want the same thing, the same man or woman usually, and nothing will substitute for it. Murder is inevitable.

Sacrifice, in this interpretation, was the way for the community to come together and kill an innocent victim and feel better afterwards.

Christianity is designed to destroy mythic religion first, and sacrificial Christianity afterwards. We are living at the end of that process. This is why liberalism has died, because it is designed to destroy itself! Libertarian atheists don’t realize that they are using Christianity to critique sacrificial Christianity.

Deneen proposes we return to culture. Can’t be done, if you are honest, because all culture is based in sacrificial religion. Libertarian atheists propose that we get more freedom. Can’t be done, because without Christ, mimetic violence runs rampant and leads to the end of humanity.

Pete Miller
Jul 13 2018 at 4:16pm

Good episode.  I came away feeling like Mr Deneen was wrong in most of his particulars, but still has hold of an interesting core point.

First, the particulars.  I listened to this episode while on a walk around my home city of Washington, DC.  In the course of that walk, I passed three cathedrals (one National, two Greek Orthodox) and a mosque, the latter with people streaming in and out of Friday services; so the absence of religion didn’t particularly strike me.  On the same phone from which I was playing the podcast, I have access to a bewildering sweep of cultural works from across the globe and centuries in written, audio, and video forms.  I can choose to constrain my behavior in accordance with wisdom traditions from the Bhagavad Gita, by way of Socrates, through Confucius, to the folksy aphorisms of Andy Griffith reruns.  The absence of culture, therefore, also slides by me.  ALL CAPS banners (celebrating the home hockey team) and the flags of various World Cup contenders still fly in home windows.  Reasonable people can differ on whether sports fanaticism is evidence of community or religion, but it’s certainly there in either case.  I saw scads of families when the walk took me through the National Zoo.  I think these specific gaps of religion, culture, community, and family are a fantasy.

The interesting core point is that we should spend more time and energy interrogating the values our political and personal decision making respond to rather than treating those values as unexamined self-evident goods.  I personally approve of an effort to broaden individual liberty under the metaphorical limitation of my right to swing my fist ending at the tip of your nose; but in a universe and particularly a social milieu of such combinatorial complexity, more discussion of goals and ends would be worthwhile and is exceedingly rare.  I understand that a book called and about “Why Liberalism Failed” is going to gather more attention than one called and about “Shouldn’t we talk more about goals and values?”  Nuance in public discourse, like fresh produce in a human diet, is perhaps what we need most but want least.  If this book can provoke a little more “But why?” discussion, it will be worth the writing and talking about.

Which brings me to the real payload of this post.  Late in the episode, Russ mentioned that they have not spoken much about economics.  I would like to differ with him there.  As a long time EconTalk listener, Russ has convinced me that the most important topic in economics today is exploring factors beyond GDP per capita to measure and optimize for.  This week’s episode, implicitly, was working on that question.  Now Mr Deneen’s suggestion, that we should be striving to reduce survey-reported feelings of loneliness, may not be a very good alternative.  All right, I wrong him slightly there, although that was practically the only number he deployed in his argument.  I think he was really trying to find some sort of proxy for how many people feel the whole social order informed by the modern, liberal project may lack legitimacy, which would be interesting to know.  At any rate, I would welcome additional episodes, perhaps as many as one in five, that expressly address the question of alternative social metrics economics could be exploring to more valuably apply its toolset to the effort to promote human flourishing.  Maybe those episodes could even get their own snazzy subtitle to help them stand out.  Discovering and highlighting some factors more impactful than money that all those wonderful equations could illuminate would be a worthy contribution to the field.

Jul 14 2018 at 12:23pm

Very good episode, but I find it difficult to accept one of Deneen’s key points. For example, at one point he talks about the “ongoing unfolding of this liberal ideology”, as if at one point you have, say, Thomas Paine and Voltaire and then you press the fast forward button, move forward about 200 years or so, and you inevitably end up with all the social ills Deneen is talking about. Maybe I don’t have enough respect for abstract ideas, but I feel that more localized and concrete explanations make more sense.

p.s. In the transcript “August Kampf” should be “Auguste Comte”

Ben Riechers
Jul 16 2018 at 9:46am

A few thoughts on last week’s podcast with Patrick Deneen:

You spoke about THE culture as if we are living in a single culture. This foundation for your arguments made you far less persuasive than what I am used to. Most surprising, when I was sure you were playing devil’s advocate (as you often do when you are “sympathetic” to your guest’s view) by noting the worst attributes of the traditions and institutions, you weren’t. I’m sure that wasn’t what you meant, but your typically careful word choice was absent from the discussion (about 23 minutes into podcast).
It reminded me of the previous podcast when the holding of all other variables constant was an important part of your discussion about how economists go about their analyses. In this podcast, too often all traditions were lumped together, held constant, and characterized stereotypically by their worst attributes.
I suspect you would agree that traditions that include standards for morals and values often overlap and become secular values, for example Judaism and Christianity. Judeo-Christian values are often cited as the foundational values of the U.S. Where traditional values clash, for example around slavery, society wrestles with it until, thankfully in the 18 countries of the Americas that had slavery, it ended.
I thought your guest made an excellent point when he characterized the Left’s view as anti-culture. Such thinking seems bound to be race to the bottom. Consider how slowly we come by the wisdom about human nature and a thousand other aspects of life. I like great quotes better than great poetry…both provide more insights about human nature and life in general than one person could not learn in multiple lifetimes on their own. The hypnotic notion of starting with a blank slate and becoming a self-made person isn’t the least bit rational once the hypnosis is ended by reality.
Nearly every choice we make in life is informed by multiple perspectives based on any number of traditions. There are traditional values that lead to a more meaningful and happier life…and some that don’t. It is irrefutable that we can learn from the evidence provided by generations of outcomes…which in fact are the sources of many great traditions. Those holding this anti-culture worldview are fools to thoughtlessly ignore lessons that have stood the test of time.

Jul 21 2018 at 12:34am
Kelly Hall
Jul 22 2018 at 5:24pm

Consider the last 500 years of western civilization.  Yes, the state is much more powerful.  Yes, church and community is less powerful.  But before we assign cause and effect, where are corporations in this discussion?

I spend 8 to 10 hours a day working.  At my job, I labor on tasks that don’t benefit me directly, in an environment of infantile rules and policies designed by and for the benefit on the corporation.  There’s a fundamental difference in how people work for themselves and how people work for others.

We’ve transformed our society into a world of “hired hands”, and Deneen blames the decoupling of freedom from responsibility on liberalism.  Hilarious.

Aug 3 2018 at 5:36pm

Russ, I have been a listener since the beginning and I very much enjoy your conversations with your guests.  I think that it is to your deep discredit that you did not challenge this guest more on his wrong headed ideas.

Your guest was advocating the illiberal state and recommending nothing less then the tyranny of the masses through some vague sense of a moral culture, not generated through the will of the people through their elected representatives, but from some shadowing unnamed religious/historical authority.

I hear him saying,  “Rip up the bill of rights, its an example of a jack-booted government intruding into the church’s god given authority to TELL you what is right.  How dare the people as a community design their own morality and communicate that morality through their laws.”

I am stewing at your decision not to challenge his woolly arguments.   Mill’s and your country’s founding fathers are rolling in their grave,


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TimePodcast Episode Highlights
0:33Intro. [Recording date: June 21, 2018.]
Russ Roberts: My guest is political scientist and author Patrick Deneen.... His latest book, which is the subject of today's episode, is: Why Liberalism Failed.... Let's begin with the definition, because 'liberalism' means lots of different things to different people in different parts of the world. What do you mean by 'liberalism,' when you say it's failed?

Patrick Deneen: Sure. And that's of course, that's the crux of the issue. It's--if my definition is right then perhaps you can accept the argument. But, many people, obviously, have differences over the definition. I guess I would start with just a very basic premise, which is: Liberalism inaugurates a kind of a new understanding of liberty. 'Liberty' is a very old word. It goes back to the Latin 'libertas.' And, in a classical, and then in the Christian tradition, 'liberty' meant the condition of ruling oneself according to what is understood to be good. And always had a kind of understanding that the life of liberty was a life lived according to virtue. So that there was a kind of self-limitation and an orientation toward the understanding of the good. That was the ground condition for what constituted liberty.. And in the early modern period, in the beginnings of the liberal project, the word 'liberty' was continued to be used. But the definition became really rather different. And one sees it originally in a proto-liberal thinker like Thomas Hobbes. And then a fully, kind of full-blown liberal thinker like John Locke. That, liberty becomes understood as the absence of obstacle to the fulfillment of our desires, or will, or appetite. So that it becomes redefined as the absence of external constraint. And, as a political matter, then, you can see how this would really transform our understanding of what the ends and purpose of government is and what they should be.

Russ Roberts: And you argue that what I will call, maybe, progressives or maybe modern liberals--people who would identify with the Left in America today--as well as people you would call conservatives, or classical liberals--sometimes shading into libertarianism--that both of those groups are liberal by your definition.

Patrick Deneen: Yeah, really what we have is a kind of debate over the means to the end of the liberation of the individual. And, in the classical liberal tradition that means was understood largely as the limitation of the state, understood in a certain way. And, of course, the expansion of, um, the economic realm, what we think of today as the free market system, as the best venue for the pursuit of this kind of idea of individual liberty. And then, in the, kind of, let's say, the second wave of liberalism--the progressive liberalism--the understanding is that it's actually inequalities and injustices arising from the economic system that prevents a large number of people from realizing their personal individual liberty. And so, what's needed is the intervention of the state, and the role of the state to put people in position then to have the kind of equal opportunity to pursue liberty. But, my argument is really that what we think of as the great and titanic political battle of our time--kind of classical liberal versus progressive liberal--is actually two sides of the same coin. And, what we see failing is not one version of this liberalism or another version of this liberalism, but the entire--in a way, the presupposition that liberty understood and this liberal understanding is itself at fault and really at the core of what I think is, the, kind of the crisis of the modern liberal regime.


Russ Roberts: You also make the dramatic claim--a provocative claim--that the State has grown--gotten larger; it's powers extended as the scope of individuality is also being expanded. Flesh that out. Explain what you mean. As if I got it right.

Patrick Deneen: Yeah. Sure. We tend to think---and again, I think this goes back to this division between classical liberal and progressive liberal--we tend to think that, on the one hand there's kind of this condition of the--the unliber[?]--the liberated individual. And that's the kind of ideal that you see in classical liberal understanding. And then, on the other side, you have the kind of growing and encroaching state as a limitation on individualism. And that’s the way we tend to think of this dualism. But, I argue in the book that in fact individual requires an expanding state. Because individualism is a kind of, you could kind of say, it's a condition that requires the growth and expansion of broad functions that are required by the state. Including the expansion of the market. But, that the state begins to fill in, for all of the kind of, we could say, functions of civil society. Think, family, community, church, and so forth--that provided for the sort of sustenance and help of individuals. But, of course, also limited the scope of individual expression and individual autonomy. So, in the pursuit of this ideal of individualism that classical liberalism sets up, the odd thing is that the state is required to expand and grow in order to make possible the conditions of the realization of this creature, the individual. So, rather than the individual being in this theoretical sense the creature imagined in the state of nature, the individual only comes into being once you have this kind of large, expansion of and increasing centralization and empowering of the central state. And this, I think, helps to explain this kind of odd paradox that's not well-explained by our politics, that, on the one hand, we have all these growing measures of individualism. If you look across all kinds of findings in social science--the decline of the family, the decline of child-bearing, the decline of associations; the cratering of religious affiliation and declining membership in churches. On the one hand, you have this explosion of this kind of form of individualism. But, on the other hand, you have the increasing and extraordinary centralization of the state. And, I think, really, it's best understood these two phenomena grow together, rather than understanding them as opposites.


Russ Roberts: Well, I like your description of culture, community--I don't know if you used these exact words--but culture, community, and religion; you could throw in the family as well. These are all aspects of pre-modern life that restrained choice by people in their daily lives. Culture, community, religion, family. We were encouraged as individuals to respect those institutions. And, what your book made me appreciate, although I don't agree with all of it and find some of it puzzling--but what your book made me appreciate is how much of the, what I would call the 'modern project,' which you call, 'liberalism,'--I think of it also as modernity and, we had a recent episode with Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay on that formulation of it. But much of that was--I don't want to say it was designed to destroy those constraints. Because there was no one in charge of it. It's an emergent phenomenon. But, certainly, the rise of modernity and the rise of liberalism as you define it have cut those restraints on authority, and on the choices that individuals make, whether they are by class--you know, peasants serve middle, bourgeois--whether they are by race, whether they are by gender. All of those previous categorizations have been either eliminated or greatly reduced. And most people, I think, listening in my audience would say, 'Yeah. That's been great.' So, you don't--I don't think you feel that way. So, what's wrong with that liberation? What's wrong with modernity's destruction of those sources of authority in the past, that many people today see as repressive of confining?

Patrick Deneen: I guess the most surprising thing about your formulation is that your members of your audience think this is largely a good thing.

Russ Roberts: Yeah--I think--I know that's true for my audience. And I am sympathetic to them. I'm not entirely in agreement; and I'll give you some reasons on both sides. But I think that's the case. I think most people--my audience is predominantly--by the way, I think it's disproportionately, say, 25-35. And in that age group, they don't want to have anything to do with those things--community, religion, family--

Patrick Deneen: [?] I've been teaching students roughly 18-22 years old, and then graduate students.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. You know about them.

Patrick Deneen: I sure do. And, you know, it seems to me at the very least a very mixed view of things. On the one hand, there is a sense of liberation, living in an age in which there aren't the, say, traditional guideposts. But that's at least as great a source, at least in my opinion, as great a source of anxiety as it is of any liberation. That it's very much of a mixed bag. And it seems to me that what we have lost--I don't mean to sound nostalgic, but at least one understanding of what we've lost is that, it's not so much that these kinds of institutions--broadly speaking, culture, community, religion, family--it's not so much that they restrained choice as such. It's that, I think these kinds of institutions oriented people toward making good choices. You can't eliminate choice from human beings. We know this from the Garden of Eden. Choice is a [?] aspect of what human life is about. But it seems to me that civilization has always been ordered on the understanding that there are good choices and there are bad choices, and that we've constructed institutions, broad--the most basic, the familial structure, up to the national forms of law and so forth, but all the intermediate institutions that exist between those, kind of the very local and the much more national--that orient people toward good choice, and the ability to make good choices not because it's imposed upon you ultimately, but because you sort of adopt within your own soul the capacity to make those good choice. And, speaking as a parent, that's what you try to do with your children--you begin as something of an authority, but ultimately you have to hand over the reins to your children in the hopes that you have oriented them towards making those kinds of choices. So, it seems to me what we've done as a civilization is, concluded that even those kinds of institutions that orient people toward making good choices, that constitutes a form of arbitrary and unjust authority. And we've thrown ourselves--we've made ourselves, we've thrown off largely the formational aspects of those institutions. The family maybe still being the one and only. But, the result of this is that now we have, in particular, a condition and a situation where it's especially young people who come from families and to some extent communities that are well-constituted, that now have increasingly advantages over those who don't. So it's not a kind of just undifferentiated liberation from these kinds of institution. It's become a much more, you could say, kind of class-based advantage, increasingly--that students at the institutions where I've tended to teach, at Princeton, Georgetown, Notre Dame, definitely have considerable advantages. Where, those who are increasingly finding it more difficult to form those kind of institutions, we see this kind of decimation among the, in the lower middle classes in our society, and across the industrialized West. So, I guess I would be a bit surprised if your listening audience didn't see this, sort of let's say, dislocation of authoritative institutions, as, at the very least a kind of mixed consequence of this broad project of modernity.


Russ Roberts: Well, I think the economic consequences of the current time are misunderstood. And I think people are too pessimistic about them, and too pessimistic about inequality. Having said that, there are large groups of people who are not integrated well into the economy, and it's not obvious they are going to be well-integrated into the economy in the coming decades. And that's alarming on all kinds of, for mostly human reasons. But, the other point I want to make, which--I want to look at your argument a little bit differently about liberation, and how much of it's a mixed bag or not. I do think there is two conflicting impulses in human beings--which I don't think you talked about explicitly. Implicitly it's in your book. But, we have a desire to be free. We want autonomy. We want to craft our own identities. We also like to be taken care of. And some of that, of course, comes from the womb. It's just our very nature that, you know, as you said: When you're young--as a parent you are telling your kids how to behave. You are trying to tell them what are good choices. There come a point where they don't want to hear that any more. And whether you want to tell them what's a good choice or not, they are not interested. And, so that--we go through that phase. But deep down inside there's still that part where, 'I want someone who knows better than I do what's good for me.' And, so, when you talk about good choices, I think a skeptic would say, 'Well, whose choices? Who decides what a good choice is?' and 'Our culture is increasingly tolerant of all choices. There are no bad choices. Anything you do, as long as it's your choice and it feels right to you, that is to be honored.' And, that's a strange idea, a very modern idea. But, I understand it. We have a deep impulse to make our own choices and lie in our own bed. At the same time, I think we have this desire to be coddled. And to be--we want to avoid those choices. So, I see, when I look at sort of the mixed bag of modernity's political upheaval--and we'll get to that explicitly later--I see this conflict playing out over that dimension: My inner conflict between wanting to be free and wanting to be taken care of. And as a classical liberal, I'm always pushing for people to have, to embrace their own freedom, their own autonomy. And to make good choices as they see them. But, I understand that not everybody feels that way. And I look at part of the failure of my philosophy to influence the world more than it has, is the fact that: People just don't want--they don't really want to make their own choices, so much. What are your thoughts on that?

Patrick Deneen: What strikes me is that you have sort of the worst of all possible worlds. If on the one hand, you have a philosophy--which I think we do--which argues that freedom is the condition in which we have an absence of external constraints, fulfillment of my desires. This is the core definition of what liberalism is. But, on the other hand--and I think you are right about that--that we have a right to be taken care of. And, if anything, that the consequences of the choices that I make ultimately shouldn't be attributed to me or that society should in some ways be held to be responsible. You could say we have the worst of classical liberalism and the worst of progressive liberalism combined there. In other words, it's only when freedom and responsibility are combined in a--in a very strong relationship--that you could say that freedom is properly understood, and its consequences are properly embraced. So, freedom without the responsibility of the consequences of the choices you make is, leads to a condition in which you have, broadly speaking, societal irresponsibility.

Russ Roberts: It's infantilizing.

Patrick Deneen: Absolutely. I would agree with that entirely. And I do think we live with this kind of combination of this, let's say, this detached understanding of what freedom is, alongside a kind of broadly, kind of broadly conceived understanding that ultimately we are not responsible and we are not the sources of the consequences of the choices we make. And so, again, I would say that, broadly speaking, the breakdown of these institutions, these formative institutions, that again range from the very local and familial all the way up to the national and even international, of course--religion being a big role and part in this--sought to forge a very strong connection between this idea of freedom rightly exercised, and responsibilities and consequences that flow from freedom when it is wrongly exercised. And it's this detached idea of freedom as simply this good in itself that I'm afraid sometimes that a certain understanding of classical liberalism tends to expound, that I think has led to a breakdown in the relationship between what should be a close bond between freedom and responsibility.

Russ Roberts: And yet--you know, I really am fascinated by your description of, I would call it the liberty project, as a matter of self-control of both the personal and then the political level. I think a lot of people understand that deeply. They are embedded in what you call liberalism. But--modern liberalism. But they, deep-down long for self-control. Those of us--there are plenty of people I think who use Twitter and their phones all day, and don't feel anything, that there's anything wrong with that. And that's fine. But many of us wish we used it "a little bit less," or wish we ate a little bit less, or wish we exercised a little bit more. Wish we read better books rather than lower-brow books, etc., etc. And I just--I got email, email from The Daily Stoic today--it was something about how to exercise self-control. I think a lot of--there's a lot of pushback. And the pendulum swings back to where people are saying, 'Yeah. Maybe everything I want to do for myself isn't always good for me. And, isn't that the way we want our culture to evolve, to allow those kind of natural impulses that we have--isn't that my responsibility? That self-control? Why would I want that coming from outside me, in any dimension?'

Patrick Deneen: Well, it seems to me that a core assumption of liberalism is the idea of the self-making self--

Russ Roberts: Yeah!--

Patrick Deneen: It's the idea that the individual makes him or herself.

Russ Roberts: Love that.

Patrick Deneen: Yeah, but I think this is fundamentally a false understanding of the human person. We are creatures that are bound in relationships to each other. And the self is, you could say the self is itself. We are selves, in many ways, the kind of sum of those kinds of relationships. And the challenge that we face is we have this ideology of the self-making self. And we have abandoned the self to the self-making. But the self is really, um, ultimately, I think you are right to describe that we need these kinds of, let's say, sort of external encouragements to a kind of self-control and a kind of self-discipline. But, we have largely disassembled the institutions, that, in a way served as a kind of training ground for those [?]. And I will put it this way, going back to something we were saying earlier: That the upper classes have largely been able in some ways to create new forms of those institutions. Largely through the exercise of their wealth and their privilege. These institutions used to be a lot more egalitarian. Used to be simply a part of the fabric of social life. And the kind of breakdown of, especially of what we see in the lower and the working class, the breakdown of these kinds of institutions has made it extremely difficult for people who are struggling at the margins of our economy today to do things that weren't that difficult, even when, you know, they were arguably even poorer. And had fewer opportunities. During the Great Depression, for example: there was a great encouragement and support for marriage and for family and formation of a kind of human life that was encouraged through church and Boy Scouts and, again, the broad set of institutions that existed in the country. So, I think that, um, it's a kind of false conception that we simply make ourselves: That the ability to exercise the kinds of forms of freedom and choice that orient us toward the good, come from a kind of training that has to begin at, you know, the earliest stage, in ways that are not simply our own will and our own making. Which is not to minimize how important that becomes, as we become adults. But, a kind of, you need a strong formation that precedes the ability for ourselves to kind of take over for those kinds of capacities and practices.


Russ Roberts: So, I agree that our sense of self is a tabula rasa, is a blank slate. It's clearly just a fantasy, an illusion. But I think the--what's fun about your book is that it offends both people on the Left and the Right, in modern America.

Patrick Deneen: I've noticed.

Russ Roberts: Yeah; I bet you have. So, I think the Left's critique of your point would be, and I think there's something to it, which is, 'Okay. We've had all these institutions before. The family was stronger. More people were religious. Local community and norms imposed by that community were much more powerful. We were much less atomistic. We were connected in ways that you talked about. But those were bad institutions. They were patriarchal. They were sexist. They were racist. They were homophobic. We had to get rid of those, because all the liberation that they promised and were able to achieve were only for a small set of people. And, it's better now. Of course, it's imperfect. But, this current system, this current world we live in, this current culture that is--that you call liberalism--is a big improvement.'

Patrick Deneen: That certainly is a well-articulated statement that I've received from many people on the Left about the book--that it's precisely the overturning of these institutions that have allowed, now, the liberation and the equality of people who were formally not accorded those forms of equality. And yet, what's striking about that--and what, you know, even if we look at the newspaper stories of the last several months, the overturning of these institutions has not decreased or has not eliminated what we clearly see as certain forms of abuse that's taking place. We saw this with the Harvey Weinstein incident, with all the various MeToo movements. That, in the absence of shaping norms, especially in that fraught area of human sexuality, the likelihood is not a kind of sexual Nirvana in which everyone knows exactly what they're supposed to be doing or kind of world in which consent can simply just fill in for all of the, um, the necessary problems--

Russ Roberts: the baggage we used to carry--

Patrick Deneen: and challenges-- Yeah. Exactly. Now, it seems to me that if anything--one of the interesting results of this, and I talk about this a bit in the book--and it's a kind of paradoxical one--is that the liberation of the individual in this instance, to govern their own kinds of choices when it comes to something so deeply personal as sexuality, now, actually, ends up empowering the State in interesting ways. I mean, what we've seen, certainly here on college campuses, is: In the absence of or the demolition of the in loco parentis customs and the role that the adults on the campus were supposed to play in helping young people enter, again, this time of fraught and challenging relationships with the opposite sex, that in the absence of that kind of formation, what we now find is that we need now the State to come in and exercise a kind of juridical realm over questions of whether or not consent was given or consent wasn't given. And so, you know, as a consequence we are not actually forming character in the way that I think we should ideally be forming character in this area, but rather we are simply, we are imposing now a kind of regime of a kind of almost obeisant[?] Leviathan that's going to take the place of what we thought were oppressive customs. But now we're going to have this expansion of the State as a consequence. And that doesn't seem to me to be a particularly attractive alternative to what were much more local, and it seems to me, much more personally invested forms of formation that ideal it seems to me should happen in these kinds of institutions.


Russ Roberts: And there's an underlying theme in the book, which I'm deeply sympathetic to, which is--I would describe it this way; I don't think you word it this way but I would describe it as: We can solve everything. We just need to--we need more liberalism. So, if liberalism has problems, we just need more of it. And, I see this--on the Left--as, 'Oh, yeah, oh sure, there are some problems with government corruption, or special interests. But we can fix that. We just need to get money out of political system.' Or whatever it is. And classical liberals--myself--we have our own fantasies and utopias about, 'We just need to reduce--we need to go back to a more constitutional form of government where government has less power, then there'll be less money. Then there's be less corruption.' So, we all have our--I would call, either utopian urge or an illusion about what is possible: That, it just needs to get fixed. And you raise the possibility, really, that it's not fixable. This is not--so, in this cultural application, it would be, 'Okay. Sure. There are some problems with patriarchical structures; and sure, we'll just keep the good stuff.' And, keeping the good stuff--I think there's an illusion about how we can fine tune our culture. It's obviously an example that is the role of technology, which you talk a lot about--that, 'Oh, we're all, there's negative things about technology. We just need more technology to fix the problems.' Is that an accurate summary of what, your view on this issue of sort of improvement?

Patrick Deneen: Yeah. I mean, [?] that's a nice way to put it. I don't think I put it in exactly those terms. But there is this belief, it seems to me, as part of both sides of this liberal equation. I think you put that nicely. What the political philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenal called the 'Myth of the Solution': that we can ultimately solve all of the problems of politics. And it seems to me that at the deep core of liberalism, that the problems of politics can ultimately be solved through the kind of elimination of politics. Through the application of technique. And so it's interesting you should raise technology in that instance: that, if we can get the right technique, we can actually eliminate the problems of politics. And I think this is--this lies in some ways in the kind of yearning for, if we can just restore the Constitution and if we can just get the right mechanism in place, we'll solve the problem of politics--

Russ Roberts: 'We need the right software update. We downloaded the wrong one.'

Patrick Deneen: Yeah. I think that's right. And then the debate becomes: What's the right mode of achieving this particular end? And is it through this kind of application of this kind of constitutional form, or is it the application of the right kind of state program? And it both--in some senses it is kind of--I don't know if I would call it utopian. I do think the Progressive version of this is much more utopian. But, I think it's kind of--it's sort of an ideology. It's a visions' solving of all political phenomena at some level. And, I'm much more sympathetic to what Vaclav Havel described politics as: The art of the possible. That is: It's always defined by the limits of, you know, sort of the frailty and imperfection of human beings. I've been actually writing new preface to a book, a set of lectures that were delivered by the wonderful political theorist, the late Jean Bethke Elshtain, who delivered some lectures in 1995 called Augustine and the Limits of Politics. And I found in her arguments of 1995 a freshness that seems even more relevant today: That politics is somewhat, somehow the realm between, a kind of, on the one hand this kind of overweening optimism that we can solve politics through the right application of a kind of technique; and that, what I see today is a kind of growing, sort of pessimism, a kind of despair about politics, that seems to be the flip side of this coin. And, in rereading this book and writing a new preface for this book, it did strike me that one of the odd consequences of this liberal project, which was: it was supposed to be in some ways a kind of lowering of the horizon of what we thought possible. In other words, in particular by trying to remove any kind of religious notion from politics--what I was saying earlier about the idea of freedom being the achievement and capacity to choose the good, the idea was if we could eliminate that from politics we could therefore just simply all get along, and do whatever it was that we wanted to do. And we are seeing at the end of this kind of 200-, 250-, or 500-year project, depending when you date it, a kind of an odd new kind of deep politicization--on the one hand a kind of despair and a kind of optimism and a need for a kind of chastened but realistic aspiration to what's possible in politics.

Russ Roberts: Well, there's no doubt that--I think people who have been listening to EconTalk for 10 years will note changes in my level of optimism versus pessimism. And I think until, certainly until the crisis, the Financial Crisis of 2008 but even more importantly in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump and Brexit is the realization that, 'Wow. Things aren't going to keep going like they've been going.' And that things that were off the table might be back on the table. And I think there's a human tendency to embrace the illusion that, 'Oh, yeah, we're just going to keep getting better.' I think the fix-it--and by that, I don't mean just better, but, 'Oh, we've kind of figured this out. We'll tweak things here at the margins. But it's actually that there are upheavals that challenge the existing order that I think a lot of people, including myself, were naive enough to think, 'Oh, that's not'--it's the End of History argument, essentially. And this idea of fixing everything--I associate it to some extent with Silicon Valley, where I spend summers; and just an unbounded confidence in the human ability to fix stuff. Mainly with software. But, it's just a generic outlook. And, it's very seductive, and it's a pleasant feeling to hold. And, I'm not sure it's true. So, I appreciate your reminding me.

Patrick Deneen: Yeah. I actually began the book by talking a little bit about Francis Fukuyama and the End of History, and the sense of confidence in 1989: that liberalism had sort of resolved that age-old question of what is the best form of government? And we had solved that question. And, part of that view was, I think, very much what you are describing, as a kind of belief that a new form of permanent progress, particularly technological progress, had been introduced. But also, and I think this was more on the Progressive side of things, a kind of moral progress had been introduced.

Russ Roberts: Yep. Absolutely.

Patrick Deneen: And I study the history of political philosophy; I began with the Greeks, and I assign stuff from Augustine and Aquinas and the Christian thinkers; and I just always thought this was an incredibly naive view that had become this almost civilizational-wide mythos that had been embraced. And, if anything, what you just described as the kind of upheavals--obviously, the economic crisis; now, what I think is the political consequences of some of that crisis: the election of Donald Trump, Brexit, the rise of these populist parties in parts of Europe today. If people have the inability to recognize the connection between that overweening confidence and this kind of blowback, then all we're doing is to continue to perpetuate this mythos. And I see too much of that--for example, in the institutions and the kind of people I associate with in elite universities and this institutions, is a kind of desire to say that this phenomena that seems to disrupt our narrative must simply be a sort of a false turn from the otherwise arc of history and the trajectory of progress; and once we solve that, we'll just resume the march of progress. And it seems to me that this is almost a condition that makes people--in a sense--immune from reality. And this is what strikes me as ideological thinking, is the inability to recognize how the feedback from reality contradicts the ideological beliefs. And we were ready to see that when it came to Communism: that, Communism kept telling us that the economic things were getting better and better. Right? Every 5 years there would be a new plan in which the economic situation would improve, while you had people lining up to buy toilet paper and so forth. And we have our own kind of ideology today, at least in the elite circles that I tend to travel in, that makes people immune to seeing how the very consequences of the things that are regarded as being progress, the breakdown of all these various institutions that once helped to form a good and decent life, regardless of your income level, has actually resulted in this incredible blowback. And until, let's say, those who now lead the liberal project can recognize this, there's going to continue to be, I think, the ongoing internal clashing--that, that will continue unresolved as far as the eye can see.

Russ Roberts: And I alluded to this in a recent conversation with Arnold Kling, here, where I think, to apply some of that conversation to what you just said: The idea is that, 'Well, some people aren't going to participate in the economy, perhaps; or, they're having a tough time. That's okay. We'll pay 'em. We'll just give 'em money. We'll give 'em lots of money: Universal Basic Income. They'll be fine.' And I think that's a misunderstanding about what human beings care about, and our search for meaning and our desire to belong and our self-respect. Money is not enough. It's good, when you don't have it. But that's not the way to create a flourishing community or flourishing society.


Russ Roberts: I want to put on my Hayekian hat for a minute and maybe riff a little on what you just said. In thinking about tradition--I was having lunch this past week with some folks; we were talking about tradition. And they[?] said, 'Well, when tradition is wrong, you should just reject it.' And I said, 'Yeah; that's a good idea, but sometimes it's hard really to know what's right and wrong.' And I think that, you can call it hubris, but I would call it hubris or smugness about what's right and wrong, infests all of us, on the Left and the Right. We all have a tendency to want to reject the things we think are wrong. It's a human tendency. But, I think what's fascinating about that issue of tradition--and this is my Hayekian point, and I tie it into Charles Peirce and the Pragmatists--is that you don't really understand where these traditions come from. You don't understand they've stood the test of time. And so, therefore you should be leery and wary of just rejecting tradition because you are aware that it's wrong. And when you remind people of that, they correctly point out, 'Well yeah; what about slavery?' 'Well, yeah: Slavery was a bad tradition that turned out to be wrong. And I'm glad we rejected it. And that was a mistake. Not everything that's traditional is good.' But, if your attitude is, 'Therefore nothing traditional is good,' I think you're going to have some challenges.

Patrick Deneen: Right. So, in fact, one of the arguments I make in the book is that liberalism is, as a philosophy and going back to this sort of ground definition, begins not with simply, let's say, the disposition to try to articulate what is a good tradition from a bad tradition, but begins with a kind of ground assumption that tradition is, by its nature it's arbitrary, not chosen by the individual; and therefore presumptively illegitimate. So, if we begin with the basic assumptions of classical liberalism, the basic assumption is that the individual is sort of born into the world--you mention tabula rasa; that we are the self-making selves. And how can you be a self-making self if you are already formed and shaped in a tradition before you even come of the age of cognizance? So, think, for example, of the Amish. Are the Amish able to choose freely whether or not they'll remain as an Amish person when you're given that choice--

Russ Roberts: Yeah. Tell that story.

Patrick Deneen: Yeah. Well, in the book I tell the story--there was a book that came out probably in the late 1990s called Rumspringa, which is a tradition in the Amish community, certain Amish orders, in which a young person, usually 16, 17 years old is told to go out into the world to live among the non-Amish--the English, as they call us--for a year or for two years. Often to live in lives in ways that a kind of typical teenager would live--smoking, etc., etc. And, at the end of that period of time is then asked whether or not they will re-enter the community, on the terms that the community demands. So, giving up all of that kind of idea of freedom that they experienced in that English community and everyday American teenage life. Or, whether they will depart from the community and join that world of modern liberty. And, on the order of 90-plus percent, the Amish people having tasted the fruits of this vice and freedom, they choose to re-enter the Amish community. And I was discussing this with some colleagues when I taught at Princeton at the time, and my colleagues were quite upset about this. They were good liberals, believing in the self-making self; and they thought that unless people were choosing more or less on the basis of a coin flip whether or not they would reenter the Amish community that they weren't actually exercising freedom. And you can understand that from the liberal perspective, the idea that you are shaped and formed by some kind of tradition constitutes a kind of prior constraint on our free choice. And the fact that 90% were reentering the community, even after, in a sense, being given the choice suggested that these young Amish people had been so deeply shaped [?]--

Russ Roberts: --[?] and improperly--

Patrick Deneen: they'd been mis-shaped. They'd been brainwashed.

Russ Roberts: They'd been brainwashed.

Patrick Deneen: Yeah, they'd been brainwashed. That they couldn't exercise actually liberty. And so I did ask, I said, 'What would be the percentage that would indicate that they were actually free?' And they said, 'It would have to be 50% or less.' In other words, a coin flip, whether or not one would reenter the community or not. And that's kind of where we are today if you think about it according to contemporary measurements of whether or not someone remains in the Church or the religious tradition in which they are raised. It's kind of a coin flip today if you look at most of the major religions in the United States today. So we have achieved this condition of freedom, in some ways. So, all this is to say is that the liberal tradition begins with a deeply anti-traditional disposition. That, tradition constitutes a form of constraint upon the ability of the self to make itself. Now, Hayek himself had a more sophisticated understanding of this, because he understood and he broke down what he saw a kind of a problematic form of liberalism, which he called French Liberalism; and he pointed to figures like Rousseau and Condorcet and August Kampf[?], and he even identified Thomas Hobbes as an honorary Frenchman [?]--in other words, people who were deeply anti-traditional. But also he identified a tradition which he named people like Edmund Burke and Hume and--an honorary Englishman--the French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville as a much more tradition-friendly understanding. And I would say this is a certain kind of liberalism that recognizes the limits of liberal ideology. And, I would say that this understanding--the self-limiting liberalism--that recognized you needed a kind of non-liberal, pre-liberal set of understandings to limit the liberal ideology--this idea of freedom--was the ground condition for the success of the American Project for the first, we could say, several hundred years, maybe several decades at least. That is to say, the ideal of a people that understood this idea of liberty as self-limitation that you see articulated in some of the writings of the Founding Fathers--George Washington, in particular. But, then at the same time you had some of our Founding Fathers also advancing this idea of a liberal anti-tradition. And so you had this kind of debate at the time of the American founding. And the argument of my book is that over time we have become more conforming to our ideology rather than the kinds of practices that drew on these pre-liberal understandings that Hayek himself recognized would be necessary for a successful kind of society.


Russ Roberts: I want to shift gears. There's a lot of discussion in the book of nature, which surprised me at first but made sense as I read more, and as I got farther in the book. You argue that we've become very, through agri-business and through our economic system, much more detached from nature, from the land. There's a certain--you didn't talk about it, I don't think--but certainly urban life, the concentration of people in cities away from their former roots: these are big issues in Europe. There are occasionally issues here in the United States about the importance of smaller communities living closer to the land. Talk about how that fits in with your story.

Patrick Deneen: Well, I think ultimately--again, according to a classical understanding of human beings--human beings are, of course, creatures who have a nature. We are creatures that are defined by our nature. And we are limited by our nature. And, I think this understanding of freedom that I was talking about earlier is deeply connected to the idea that human beings have a nature; and therefore, there is a way in which we can live that accords with our nature. And there's a way we can live which doesn't accord with our nature. And why you can then distinguish between good choices that we make, based upon our native freedom, are choices that we make that accord with the nature of human beings. And that nature of human beings is continuous with us, not at odds with the nature of the world. It's not to say that human beings are the same as the nature of the world, because we are also creatures that create conventions: We can manipulate nature, we can alter nature. But the great and over-arching question was always: What are the limits of--in some ways you could say--the human manipulation of both the natural order of things and our own nature? Because we are these creatures who exercise this freedom. And I would say that the heart of what education is, a liberal arts education is, is this question: What is it to exercise freedom in a way that doesn't contradict our nature and the nature of the world? And at the core of the Liberal Project, I argue--this kind of ideological project--is the idea that nature is the other great obstacle to our liberty. There are two great obstacles to our liberty. The first is other people, and so we erect a political system and an economic system to minimize the interference of other people, including that just[?] sort of disassembling of tradition which we just talked about. But, the other great obstacle to this understanding of liberty is nature. Nature becomes the great obstacle. It's the ultimate obstacle. Nature will kill us. So that the natural world comes to be understood not as in some ways continuous with human nature, but as something, a kind of let's say, an object that's the subject of our complete and thorough manipulation and mastery. And here I would again distinguish between, kind of classical liberalism which views the natural world as the stuff of our mastery and manipulation--and I think you see a continuous set of arguments from proto-liberal thinkers like Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, and then to figures like John Locke. And even in the American tradition, John Dewey, who argues strongly in the tradition of Francis Bacon that human beings ought to manipulate and control the stuff of nature. I have several quotes in the book from John Dewey that evince this.

Russ Roberts: Yeah, I'm going to come to one of them in a minute. But, carry on.

Patrick Deneen: But, then you have, in the Progressive tradition you have oddly enough a kind of rejection of this view of nature as the stuff of ultimate manipulation; but they've replaced that with the idea that the human body is the subject of our complete and thorough manipulation. So, they've detached the idea that human beings have a nature that's connected to the natural world. And while today's progressives argue we should be environmentalists and concerned with the stuff of the world, they are also the most ardent in terms of arguing for the complete mastery of the human body--especially reproductive processes, the kind of reproductive technologies that we see today, that there should be no limit to what we can do to change and alter the human body. So, in both instances within the Liberal Project, what you see is fundamentally the argument that nature is an obstacle and a limitation of our liberty; and that ultimately through our capacity to govern and control nature, especially the scientific and technological project today, that we will have the ultimate ability to create and generate this form of human freedom, free of the obstacles of nature.


Russ Roberts: Yeah. I have to say, a lot of my impulses is to say most of that seems like a pretty good thing, so I'm not as alarmed by it as I think you are. And I'm not as alarmed by what you write about as the potential environmental consequences--although there's obviously uncertainty about that. But I was struck, when reading about this, the parallels to The Master and His Emissary, recent guest on EconTalk Iain McGilchrist who sees the world--he has a different lens. He's got the left side of the brain very focused, very concrete, very overconfident, very isolated; the right side of the brain is how we interact in a world where we have to live with other people, where we have to interact with nature. And, he argues that our culture today is much more left side than right side, and as a result, we've lost that feeling of connection with the world. We've lost that feeling of connection with others. We're drifting toward a more lonely and alienated experience of life that is "not natural." Because, as you point out, we are natural creatures who are part of nature. I don't know if you've read his book, but certainly much of what you are writing about made me think of what he is worried about with modernity.

Patrick Deneen: I haven't read it, but now I'm going to put it on my list of things to read. So, thanks for that. You know, it's interesting, the way that you frame that. One of the things that I argue in the book is that this domain of culture, this thing we call culture, even if we think about the word, culture is related to the idea of cultivate, of raising up, like agriculture; of bringing life to fruition. It's also the basis of our word for cult, closely related to religion. And so, culture and religion have always had a close bond relationship with each other. And, in the book I argue that culture has been that domain in which the negotiation, in particular between this possibility of unfettered human liberty and the constraints of the natural world was largely negotiated. That culture was the space, you could say, where our capacity of acting in even ways that go against our own nature, you could say--of manipulating and transforming and overcoming our nature. That, that capacity or that ability was in some ways regulated and constrained and negotiated. And, you know, you could talk about this, for example--I think we talked earlier about sexuality being one realm--that culture was the space where the ability of human beings to do just about anything they want in terms of their own sexuality was governed and guided, you could say. And, it was part of our liberation, was the conclusion that that form of guidance and governing was seen as this constraint upon this natural kind of equality. But, as a result, we now live in a world in which we have no constraints, or increasingly fewer constraints, upon sexuality, including even the idea of what it's for and what its ends and purposes are for. And so, why increasingly this kind of de-cultured form of thinking about the human body leads to what I think is increasingly the likely manipulation of the human body in terms of overcoming, we could say, the natural functions of human beings. And why we're having debates over things like transhumanism, whether there are natural limits to what we should or ought to do. Now, in a society with a culture, those are debates that we could and ought to have. But, liberalism is, in many ways you could say one of the things it attempts to do is to deconstruct culture and replace it with what I call an anti-culture in the book--the absence of a kind of culture. And that anti-culture then makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to have those kind of conversations and debates, because the presumption is always that any expansion of individual liberty is always good. And any constraint upon individual liberty is always, on its face, unjustified. But, what we are unable then to think of are the kind of broader and universal consequences of what we see as these kinds of really the ultimate, the pursuit of individual choice. And, is it a good thing for human beings ultimately to manipulate their own nature, in a sense, out of existence? In the same way we are unable to have discussions and debates over the question of how we are using and manipulating the planet as a whole. So, liberalism is not just that it sees nature as an obstacle: It deconstructs the realm of culture that seems to me as the realm where those negotiations take place.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. 'Our tradition is: We don't have one. Our culture is: We don't.' I think that's a very deep, interesting way to think about it.

Patrick Deneen: I think this is--to an extent, we had a kind of remnant culture, it was obviously informed by an older, Christian understanding of the human person. And that persisted for a time. But the argument of my book is that the underlying political philosophy had its own logic that eventually disassembled that culture and that tradition. And that's where we find ourselves today.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. No: it's definitely that religious tradition along with some others, they are in retreat. And, so one view says, 'Okay. Yup. We don't have a culture. We don't have tradition. We've got some baggage; but not much because we've thrown a lot of it over the side. So, we don't have to have to live out of those suitcases. We can just put in there whatever we want. And so, these jobs, the great human enterprise of self-control and self-government, that's up to us, now. We don't have the tradition; we don't have the shame and the guilt that motivates behavior in many religions or in small, local groups where gossip plays a similar role. Those things are gone. And now, it's just up to you. And so, that's the enterprise. And, if you don't like it, you are free to make your own restraints on yourself. You can tie yourself to the mast, as Ulysses did, if you choose to. But you don't have to. And the people who don't have to like it that way; and the rest of us have our choice.' I happen to be a religious Jew; that's my choice. I happen to have embraced a bunch of restraints on myself. I like it. Maybe I'm a fool. Maybe I'm deluded. But I like it; and so, you don't. You choose a different set of restraints. Or none. What's wrong with that, those personal choices being made? It seems like a--isn't that a better world?

Patrick Deneen: Well, we're finding out whether it's a better world. I think, ultimately--

Russ Roberts: That's a good answer, by the way. I like the answer.

Patrick Deneen: Yeah. You know, this--politics is ultimately, of course, is the ultimate petri dish. And we are in the midst of an experiment that had never been tried before in the history of the world. Which is: let's disassemble all of these traditional institutions, the idea of tradition itself, the idea of culture. We'll unleash these scientific powers. We'll create a political and economic order that's ultimately in certain senses limitless, at least in its charge to produce the autonomous self-making self. And my argument, the argument of my book is that we are now at the point where we can make some pretty broad conclusions about this project, about this experiment. We are living in this petri dish. I mean, it's not something you can do literally in a petri dish: we are doing it with an entire civilization. And hence the title of my book, Why Liberalism Failed. I think that the evidence has accumulated to the point where we have to conclude that this project was based on a false conception of human freedom, a false understanding of human nature, a false understanding of the relationship between human beings and nature. And that we have to start anew. And probably the part of the book that's received the most criticism is my conclusion, where I don't have a grand alternative.

Russ Roberts: 'You need a new ideology.'

Patrick Deneen: Right. We need a new ideology. Which is precisely the liberal desire: What's the new fix? And, in the first instance, my argument is that: Well, we're going to actually have to try to create culture. And how do you do that when you exist in an anti-culture? And, oddly enough, you now have to do it within the context of liberalism: which is to say we have to--I think, just as you are describing--we have to, in a sense, decide to begin to create a culture. Which is not how cultures typically work. You usually are raised in a culture, and it's not a matter of your choice or decision. And it leads to this kind of paradox. And many of my readers have pointed out, 'Well, this paradox seems to me to be kind of unrealistic.' And, I don't know what else to say other than: If culture is needed and we don't have one, then one has to begin creating it somewhere. So, in the first instance I think there's a need to begin from the bottom up: For families, communities, churches, and so forth to build anew. But I also argue that there is a need for a new political philosophy. And, while I don't begin to lay that out at the conclusion of the book--that will be the next book--it's going to have to be based on a different understanding of freedom. And so, here we're going to need to articulate new forms--recognizing where we've been, where we've come from--but new forms of the conception of the good, and forms of self-limitation in ways that are appealing to a people that have lived in this kind of condition in which we haven't had the guideposts and the signposts and the kinds of, those kinds of forms of, let's say encouragements for self-limitation. And, how does one articulate that in a post-liberal age? I think that's a project that's at least--I thought it would be--when I wrote the book I thought maybe this is another 250-year project. I'm actually convinced now it might be just another 20-year project, the way things are going. I think the need for a kind of post-liberal vision is becoming really, very quite evident: that, it seems to me, the dissolution of the liberal order is taking place at a much more accelerated rate than I even expected. So, I actually think that there's a time, right now, a need for the articulation of kind of a new political philosophy that will begin to articulate a rather different vision of the human good that we've had on offer here for the last 200, 300, 400 years.


Russ Roberts: My counterpoint to that is that I think things are much better than you think. I think we live long; we live healthy; most of live a standard of living that's unimagined even 50 years ago. Enormous swaths of people are doing that, across the world. So, I think there's some grounds for some optimism; and I think--I understand--I see the dark side of things, too. But I think the glass is half full; and you think it's maybe three-quarters empty.

Patrick Deneen: Well, you know, I've been presented with many of these arguments. And people will often present Steven Pinker's kinds of arguments. And there's no doubting that--and liberalism really was the kind of wager that if we could create the material conditions of what Francis Bacon, among others, talked about, the kinds of overcoming the constraints of a cruel nature, that people, that we could create kind of a happy civilization. And I guess I would just point to a whole bunch of different measures that, to me, constitute the core of happiness. I'm not saying we should relish the idea of living shorter lives or less healthy lives. I think it's wonderful. I think it--it conforms to human nature to desire health and desire life. But it also conforms to human nature to have good and healthy relationships. To have, you know, at the end of one's life, one doesn't think about how much money one has in the bank--maybe some people do--but most people will think about the relationships that they had--their families, their loved ones, and so forth. One of the striking things about, one of the measures one sees today in the wealthiest countries in the world are the levels of loneliness that are just extraordinary, and unprecedented in our civilization. So, what is it? In some ways, what have we gained when roughly half of our population today says, 'My greatest challenge today is the fact that I'm lonely'? So, I'm just not as convinced--

Russ Roberts: First World problem.

Patrick Deneen: Well, maybe. But it seems to me that's a First World problem that the First World hasn't figured out.

Russ Roberts: Well, I agree with you there.

Patrick Deneen: But in fact what we've done is say, 'You can be content if you have all these things.' If you have all these material goods. And it turns out that that's not the ultimate source of human contentment.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. No one on his deathbed wished he spent more time at the office. And I agree with you there. But I would add: Thoreau, writing a long time ago, said, "The mass of men lives of quiet desperation." And, I'm not sure there's any more desperation, and maybe there's a little bit less. I don't know. To me--I'm agnostic on that. I understand the concern that it might be getting worse.


Russ Roberts: I want to close--we haven't talked much economics, which is perhaps ironic. I'd like to read a quote from John Dewey that you mentioned, and then get your thoughts on, sort of capitalism or economics writ large. You write about Dewey--Dewey is discussing a savage tribe in the desert, and he says,

"its adaptation involves a maximum of accepting, tolerating, putting up with things as they are, a maximum of passive acquiescence, and a minimum of active control, of subjection to use."

And then you say,

A "civilized" people in the same desert also adapts; but [says Dewey], "it introduces irrigation; it searches the world for plants and animals that will flourish under such conditions; it improves, by careful selection, those which are growing there. As a consequence, the wilderness blossoms as a rose. The savage is merely habituated; the civilized man has habits which transform the environment."

And I think that's an accurate statement. And I guess the economist in me finds it deeply appealing. The vision I see you advancing is local, less manipulative, more artisanal, and, to be honest, poorer--because we are not going to have the global ability to trade and specialize and the things that create prosperity at the level we have them now. Is that the bet that you would want that, in the opposite direction: a little less prosperity, a little more closeness to each other, a little more awareness of who we buy and sell from? Those are two questions really--Dewey, and that last point. But, say whatever you feel like.

Patrick Deneen: Sure. Well, I like that quote in particular because Dewey is a great hero, especially among progressive liberals, and so to have that quote was a little bit of a--

Russ Roberts: Oh, shame on you.

Patrick Deneen: Well, yeah. Here's one of your heroes who is basically calling traditional culture a bunch of savages, talking about sort of modern manipulation of nature as civilization. So, Dewey's hardly the figure that many of the Progressive Left think that he is. In fact, there's another line that I quote in the book by Dewey, who talks about 'the need to see nature essentially as a kind of prisoner who is withholding its secrets from us,' and that we have to subject it to torture in order to disclose its secrets. Again, so Dewey is, let's say, at least a mixed figure for those on the Left. I just think that the dichotomy that's drawn is very typical, and its very problematic. That: either you are a savage who seeks to retain some old, traditional forms of living in accordance with nature--and that's really what Dewey is criticizing. He's criticizing a civilization, or he calls it a bunch of savages, who sought to live in accordance to natural rhythms and natural--the kind of what nature could offer. And he contrasts this with people who completely reject the idea that nature forms any kind of a standard or a set of limits and rather just simply seeks to force its will upon the natural world in order to extract from it what it wants. And I guess I would say that, you know, this division of the world into these two choices seems to me to be very much a kind of false dichotomy. And it's one that I'm afraid too often affects those of the classical liberal disposition--this sort of, you are either this backward-thinking person trying to hold onto old forms or you are this forward-thinking person who is innovating and thinking and transforming. And it seems to me that we need the capacity to exercise prudence, and judgment: Are there things that we can or ought to do that constitute some recognition of the existence of nature? that we're going to need and rely upon? and indeed that future generations are going to need and rely upon? There's often the presumption that whatever we do today, whatever problems we cause will be dealt with by the inventiveness and innovativeness of future generations. So, basically we're kicking the can down the road. And I just don't think this is a particularly good form of parenting; and I don't think it's a good form of generational responsibility. It seems to me some capacity to think outside of these binary terms is the first instance. And then, the second thing would be: the idea that some evaluation on the question of whether there are, a need to regard the natural rhythms and flows of life as limiting factors to what we do, that this is necessarily going to lead to a poorer society. I mean, we have a society that's highly bifurcated, that many people are struggling on the edge of society on their economic lives. And so the idea that simply increasing wealth is always good when in fact it seems to be increasingly concentrated in a rather small number of people, that's an argument that I think is going to have less and less purchase in a world that's increasingly divided in a way that Tyler Cowen discusses in his book, Average Is Over, in a world in which you are going to have, well he said[?] 10-15% of the population is going to be enormously wealthy, and 85-90% of the population is basically, he says, living in the equivalent of favelas in the state of Texas, he suggests--is one that I think this argument is not going to have much appeal to. The argument that generating wealth for the sake of wealth is always and necessarily a good thing. And so the question to me becomes is that old question of political philosophy: What is economics for and what is it doing? And that, ultimately the economy serves a political end. And if an economy is generating titanic forms of inequality, it's likely to have very bad political repercussions. This is understood by Aristotle; it's understood by Machiavelli. This is a long-standing part of political philosophy. And that part of the equation seems to have fallen out entirely out of economics thinking when the sole criteria becomes economic growth and the increase of wealth. It seems to me economics has to be reconnected to the discipline of politics and political philosophy if a kind of flourishing political and economic order hopes to survive.

Russ Roberts: Well, I'm a big fan of Tyler, and I interviewed him about his book. We'll put a link up to that episode on Average Is Over. But I think he's grossly--it's an interesting dystopian vision, but I don't think it's where we're going.

Patrick Deneen: He says it's a utopia. He actually argues that it's a u-topia.

Russ Roberts: I know. Well, that's Tyler. God bless him. But--

Patrick Deneen: But I think he has the virtue of a kind of honesty about it--

Russ Roberts: Yeah. Fair enough--

Patrick Deneen: that he sees that this is the trajectory of the modern economic order, and that this is a good thing. And I just think that, as a matter of course, that a). It's--I disagree that it's a good thing, and b). I don't think it's a plausible political scenario.

Russ Roberts: I certainly agree with the latter. I do think that the level of inequality being generated is being misrepresented by the numbers. I do think it's widely believed to be the case; and that generates a lot of political consequences. I don't think economists have ignored it. They are increasingly obsessed with it, it seems to me. I wish they'd be more obsessed with thinking carefully about whether those numbers are reliable. But that's just my pet peeve.


Russ Roberts: Let's close on a more optimistic note. Your book is very dark. I would call it a pessimistic book. Do you see any signs of optimism and positive things from the trends you are talking about? Do you see anything to be optimistic about beside the Amish?

Patrick Deneen: Actually, I do--

Russ Roberts: I [?] the Amish myself--

Patrick Deneen: No, I finished the book in a time when it seemed that all of these trends would just continue without cease. So that there would be the ongoing unfolding of this liberal ideology. In fact, I think in an odd way what often causes a lot of upset among my colleagues, the kinds of electoral activity and consequences and outcomes that you see in Europe today and even in the United States--oddly enough I see these as kinds of signs of inchoate and somewhat articulate signs of a certain rejection of this liberal trajectory. That, I hope will be this percolating up from below, will itself generate a new and different leadership class. I think what's needed today is a better elite. A better ruling class, that simply doesn't presume, as we were saying earlier, the end of history narrative and that everything is always getting better and better and we'll have the fix for things. And, rather, the renewal of a kind of politics; and in particular the capacity to negotiate within national settings between those who are doing really quite well, people who graduate from the places that I've taught, and people who are not doing that well in our society. And I think that's simply a matter of political negotiation that requires us to overthrow the ideology that so deeply informs our liberal society today. And to think of ourselves as a kind of national community. And I know it's difficult. It's a challenge to do that in a time of globalization, of economic integration. But unless we conceive of ourselves as a kind of national community, and even community of communities--the nation as a community of communities--then I think that liberalism will continue on its sad and worrisome trajectory. So, I actually see signs of hope in kind of the eruptions in our political situation today. And I'm devoted to whatever extent possible that I can in my position as a professor at a top research university to encouraging my people--people at these places--to begin thinking about what do we do to form a better elite, a better leadership class that can better respond to what seems to me to be legitimate grievances that are welling up in our political system today.