John Mearsheimer and the Future of the Damaged Liberal Dream


John Mearsheimer and the Future of the Damaged Liberal Dream

Mearsheimer argues in his new book that liberalism is a truly hopeless doctrine, shot full of contradictions and absurdities.

One point, however, must be conceded. However much one might seek to recover the lineaments of an older liberalism, seeking a more perfect union at home and a peaceful international order abroad, one does increasingly get the sense that the project is somehow doomed. All the things Americans once said about themselves—a tolerant political culture, an acceptance of civil disagreement, respect for the rights of other nations—no longer hold true. A gigantic gap between liberal profession and practice, between the glittering generalities and the dark underbelly, inevitably induces widespread cynicism. When people are asked to accept a fairy tale and can see with their own eyes the unreality of it, disillusion follows. Fairly or not, it is discrediting of liberalism when that happens, and especially when that happens in the world’s leading “liberal power.” I hold it against the political leadership of this country that the thing most in their care, of which they were to be the sacred vessels, should have been held, in the event, in so little regard by them.

David C. Hendrickson is Professor of Political Science at Colorado College and the author of Republic in Peril: American Empire and the Liberal Tradition (2018).

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