In This Review

Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism
Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism
By Paul Starr
Basic Books, 2007, 288 pp

Starr, a distinguished political sociologist, offers an eloquent restatement of the principles and promise of modern liberalism. In recent decades, the "liberal project" in the United States seems to have lost its way, while conservatism has come into its own. Starr sets out to recover the guiding ideas of American liberalism and defend their relevance today. Part of his book is a sweeping intellectual history of "constitutional liberalism" -- a retelling of the great movements of Anglo-American liberal political development, in which citizenship rights and limited government were secured. He argues that liberalism is not simply a set of principles about freedom and equality but a "discipline of power" -- ideas about how to both control and create power. Accordingly, the singular achievement of liberalism has been restricting arbitrary power and thereby unleashing the ability of society to generate wealth, knowledge, inclusion, and opportunity. Starr acknowledges the decline of liberal innovation in recent the decades, but he resists the conservative charge that New Frontier and Great Society liberalism was tried and failed. To reinvigorate the liberal project, he urges a public philosophy of "partnership," which at home means moving beyond interest-group liberalism and abroad means a return to multilateralism and a community of democracies. Starr's contribution is to help restart the national conversation about the sources of American greatness.