Western democracies are in trouble, grappling with rising inequality, lost confidence in government, fraying social fabrics, and intense political divides. What has brought on this crisis? In this provocative book, Deneen argues that modernity itself has failed. Today’s predicament is the inevitable result of flawed ideas laid down by thinkers such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, René Descartes, and John Locke, who together inspired the Enlightenment and modern liberal democracy. These theorists, Deneen argues, rejected classical and Christian efforts to foster virtue and instead premised their secular visions of politics on a less lofty view of the individual as motivated by pride, selfishness, greed, and the quest for glory. On this basis, Western liberal democracies have grown powerful and wealthy but have also experienced the corrosive effects of untrammeled self-interest. Social bonds and traditional values have disappeared, and citizens feel threatened by the growing power of a distant state. Deneen argues for a retreat into smaller units: family, church, and local communities. Yet it is precisely this world of private life and civil society that liberalism has sought to protect.
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