An enlightening, frustrating conversation on liberalism (with Adam Gopnik)
“Liberalism is as distinct a tradition as exists in political history, but it suffers from being a practice before it is an ideology, a temperament and a tone and a way of managing the world more than a fixed set of beliefs.”
That’s from Adam Gopnik’s new book A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism. It is, by turns, a bracing, charming, insightful, irksome defense of the most successful political movement of our age. Liberalism is so successful, in fact, that its achievements are taken for granted while its shortcomings throb through our politics.
What caught my eye about Gopnik’s book is his argument that liberalism is a temperament more than an ideology, an approach more than a prescription. As I read his argument, it felt to me that he had identified something essential and often missed in discussions of agendas and plans. But he was also developing a definition of little use in settling the core debates of our age, a liberalism that could be seen as too flexible to mean anything in particular.
And so, as liberals do, we argued it out. This conversation has something to thrill and frustrate every listener. In that way, it’s like liberalism itself.
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