A New Kind of Liberalism

"A New Kind of Liberalism," New Criterion, March 2010.


In view of Alexis de Tocqueville’s criticisms of philosophy, it may seem paradoxical and presumptuous to call him a philosopher; yet it was through his critique of philosophy that he set forth a new, rethought liberalism. In Democracy in America, Tocqueville criticizes materialist philosophy for encouraging democracy’s habit of finding nothing in life but material pleasure and for depriving it of the pride excited by religion. In The Old Regime, he criticizes rationalist philosophy for seeking systems of reform that do not care about liberty. It is not hard to see the two philosophies as aspects of the modern political philosophy that is the source of liberalism: materialism for the sake of reform rather than resignation to the inevitable, and rationalism for the material improvement of life rather than contemplation.

New Criterion