Can Aristopopulism Save Us? Patrick Deneen wants to replace corrupt 'structurally liberal' elites with a new elect of moral guardians.

AuthorLongman, Phillip

Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future

by Patrick J. Deneen

Sentinel, 288 pp.

In 2018, Patrick Deneen, a professor of political science at Notre Dame, published a book entitled Why Liberalism Failed. Many liberals, most notably The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner, wrote scathing condemnations. Gabby Birenbaum and I added to the criticism last year, observing in these pages how Deneen's conflation of liberalism with libertinism had deeply influenced Tucker Carlson and his fellow travelers. (See "Inside Tucker Carlson's Brain," April/May/June 2022.)

But the book also received a respectful hearing in some surprising quarters. The back cover of the paperback edition included a blurb from the New York Times columnist David Brooks, as well as one from former President Barack Obama, who praised its "cogent insights into the loss of meaning and community." The book came at a moment when people across the political spectrum were beginning to question the bundle of "neoliberal" policies embraced by both parties since the 1970s that have contributed to the hollowing out of America's industrial base and to the downward mobility of the working class.

Now Deneen is out with a sequel, entitled Regime Change. This time there are no endorsements from Brooks or Obama, but the third-party presidential candidate and Black political philosopher Cornel West lends his name, as does Republican Senator J. D. Vance. In this second take, Deneen seriously turns up the volume-- to say the least. While disputing that America is structurally racist, he seeks a reckoning with America's "structurally liberal" history. Our only salvation from this shameful legacy, he claims, is a regime change that repudiates progress and meritocracy and commits to a new order of "aristopopulism."

Structural liberalism, Deneen tells us, is implicated in nearly all that has gone wrong with America since the Puritans lost control. That includes everything from laissez-faire capitalism to today's mounting inequality, falling life expectancy, and low birth rates. Those Republicans who spent the past 40 years advocating for lower taxes and deregulation of large corporations are liberals, too, says Deneen, whether they have done the work to realize their implicit liberalism or not.

In Deneen's telling, structural liberalism dates to the 17th century, when figures like the English philosopher John Locke started casting around for an ideology that would entrench a new elite made up of their...

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