The Values of Liberalism

The Values of Liberalism

A review of The Struggle for a Decent Politics: On Liberal as an Adjective

Review by Justin Kempf

The Values of Liberalism

In this week’s episode of the podcast I talked to Michael Walzer. We talked about his recent book The Struggle for a Decent Politics: On Liberal as an Adjective. In the Preface he explains how he wrote the book during the pandemic without a large library of books to reference. It’s a more casual book. He says he’s “given up on footnotes.” He even claims “it isn’t a work of political theory.” And yet he finds a way to explain the meaning and purpose of liberalism in a way few can.

The book divides the chapters into his different political identities. For each different identity he explains how the values of liberalism shapes his different aspects of himself. In this way it is a very personal book. However, the approach transforms the conversation of liberalism from an abstraction into experiences. Moreover, his approach focuses less on the principles of liberalism. Instead, it brings out the values of liberalism. It turns a distant political theory into a sort of intellectual memoir. I say intellectual memoir, because it does not narrate his life. Rather he explains how liberal values shape his politics through different aspects of who he is.

For Walzer liberal values includes decency toward others, a tolerance for different ideas, and in other ways far more difficult to explain here. Indeed, this is why Walzer uses personal stories and examples to clarify how liberal values shape his life as a democrat, socialist, nationalist, internationalist, communitarian, feminist, professor, and Jew. It takes more than just words to explain the power of something as personal as values. Instead, he opens a window into himself. Through this aperture we begin to grasp what he has intuitively understood for so long.

About the Author

Justin Kempf manages this blog and hosts the podcast Democracy Paradox. He lives with his family in Carmel, Indiana.

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