Moderation in the Name of Liberty Is No Vice: Francis Fukuyama's calm evisceration of illiberalism on the left and right.

Date01 April 2022
AuthorHalpin, John

Liberalism and Its Discontents

by Francis Fukuyama

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 192 pp.

In an act of wanton aggression with the invasion of Ukraine, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has thrust the West back into an ideological and military conflict that Europeans and Americans thought they had put behind them decades ago. Although not a rebirth of the original Cold War battle against global Communism that ended in victory for the West in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the current conflict is shaping up to be a similar generational fight between liberal democracy and authoritarianism.

On one side are the United States and most of Europe. On the other are Russia, China, and various forces of illiberalism within Western nations themselves. To win this conflict, liberals must once again prove to the world--with brains and brawn--that political orders based on individual rights, market economies, constitutional rules, value pluralism, reason, and basic decency are superior to those maintained through force, internal fear and propaganda, and widespread corruption.

This intellectual struggle might seem like a slam dunk for liberal societies because of their successes throughout history. Liberal nations defeated both fascism and Communism and worked cooperatively to create decades of rising growth and expanding prosperity for people in America and Europe. But with mounting internal political divisions in our countries--fueled by new digital forces of propaganda, extremism, and misinformation--it's not at all clear that proponents of liberalism are adequately prepared to win the fights ahead. Liberals will clearly need to better understand and counter their internal critics, as well as outside enemies like Russia and China, if they want to defend a system of thought and governance that has survived since the Enlightenment. Western defenders of liberalism must make a strong case for liberal renewal in the face of multiple self-inflicted economic and political crises--mishandled military efforts in the Middle East, market meltdowns, rising inequality, and political polarization. If not, post-liberal forces on the right and left seeking to either upend or replace a political system based on pluralism, constitutional freedoms, and individual rights will continue to gain strength.

America and the world will need good generals to help steer people through the ideological battles to come, people armed with historical insight and a genuine normative commitment to liberal values of equal dignity and rights for all.

There are few people better able to lead this intellectual fight than Francis Fukuyama.

Fukuyama's new book, Liberalism and Its Discontents, offers an eloquent and eminently sensible defense of liberal freedom and pluralism that should be read and debated by leaders and activists across the ideological spectrum. This clearly written and concisely argued book highlights Fukuyama's lifelong examination of the political theories and systems that shape human history--and in turn get shaped by its developments.

Classical liberalism in Fukuyama's definition represents a "big tent that encompasses a range of political views that nonetheless agree on the foundational importance of equal individual rights, law, and freedom."...

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