Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Why Liberalism Failed” as Want to Read:
Why Liberalism Failed
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Why Liberalism Failed

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  1,696 ratings  ·  293 reviews
Has liberalism failed because it has succeeded? Of the three dominant ideologies of the twentieth century—fascism, communism, and liberalism—only the last remains. This has created a peculiar situation in which liberalism’s proponents tend to forget that it is an ideology and not the natural end-state of human political evolution. As Patrick Deneen argues in this provocati ...more
Hardcover, 248 pages
Published January 9th 2018 by Yale University Press
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Why Liberalism Failed, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Mac Not really. He throws a line out in the conclusion about how we can't go backward and how the medieval and classical periods had their own set of prob…moreNot really. He throws a line out in the conclusion about how we can't go backward and how the medieval and classical periods had their own set of problems, but there's no extended discussion about it which is sort of sad. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,696 ratings  ·  293 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Why Liberalism Failed
Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Those of us born into a post-Cold War world have no memory of a mass political ideology other than liberalism. As a result, liberalism doesn't appear to us an "ideology" at all, at least not in the same sense that communism and fascism do. Just like a fish isn’t aware of the water its swims in and we generally aren't aware of the air that we breathe, liberalism seems to us as simply the “natural way of things,” rather than as an ideological program with specific attributes, tenets and anthropolo ...more
Brad Lyerla
Apr 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I speed read WHY LIBERALISM FAILED a while back when it first came out. Candidly, I did not love it. I do think it is a worthwhile read. My initial take was negative mostly because I regard this as an unstable time. Not a good moment to be criticizing the fundamental principles on which our country is founded. Perhaps too simplistically, I found the book to boil down to an argument for theocracy.

I tweeted about it and Professor Deneen got mildly defensive - I emphasize "mildly" - about my tweet
Charles J
Dec 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Poor Francis Fukuyama. He has been a punching bag ever since he unwisely declared the End of History, more than twenty-five years ago. Fukuyama, of course, meant that the globe had, at the end of ideologies, reached an equilibrium, an even, calm sea of liberal democracy, and all that was left was cleanup. Patrick Deneen is here to kick Fukuyama some more, and to announce that not only is liberalism a defective ideology, it is doomed just as were the other, more flash-in-the pan ideologies. The s ...more
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I don't think I would agree with Deneen politically, but I really liked this book. It is well-written and well thought out. It's not your typical conservative screed attacking the left for its decadence and hypocrisy. No, Deneen is coming for all of it. It's quite an ambitious argument and a compelling one.

I mostly agree with his core arguments though perhaps I would also offer more counterpoints that he would offer. The argument is that the central claim of liberalism--individual autonomy and
Scriptor Ignotus
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Like any compelling ideology, liberalism claims not to be an ideology at all, but rather a neutral and sober-minded appraisal of human nature and the origins and ends of political life. It is not we, its advocates claim, who are ideological; rather, the liberal order serves to protect us against the ravages of ideologically-driven agents within its domain. If such agents had their way, we’re told, our freedom to live, work, and believe as we choose would be undone, and our individual wills would ...more
Feb 14, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I don't know if I have it in me to turn this into a proper review, so for now I'll just leave the notes I made at various points along the way.

About a quarter of the way through:

- so far quite general, vague, repetitive -- I keep hoping these are just the preliminaries, a high-level overview to signpost where we're headed, but so far it has stayed at the political philosophy 101 level, with more assertion than argument.

- the point so far: in modern America (and similar countries), both left and
May 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, criticism
We should be clear because Deneen's sensationalist title is a little misleading. It is not referring to liberals, liberal America, or Democrats (the American liberal political party) as we usually talk about them. Rather, Deneen is referring to, in the longer view, liberalism as a mode of society as opposed to classical ancient society, feudalism and feudal aristocracy, and socialism. Deneen is trying to take down both classical liberalism which he equates with conservatism today and progressive ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone concerned about America's political future.
Deneen does a good job of getting his point across by developing a simple formula that he uses throughout the book. For every statement he makes about liberalism's failure, he applies that formula, so the book is quite repetitive, which is part of what makes his argument so easy to understand. Not that I agree with many of his points, but he did make me think.

It's not within Deneen's stated scope of the book to provide detailed solutions. Nevertheless, I was disappointed by the almost utter lack
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is surprisingly reactionary for being mass produced and layman oriented. Deneen’s observation that liberalism is self destructive exactly because it is actively hostile our natures and traditions is precisely correct. Arguably this is one of the most compact overviews of reactionary/conservative thought around.

Throughout the book you can see echos of other conservative and reactionary thinkers ranging from Aristotle and Burke to Nick Land and Ted Kaczynski all in a relatively digestibl
Michael Siliski
Jan 04, 2019 rated it did not like it

I can't remember where I first heard of this book, but I had it on my to-read list already when I saw it on the list of books Barack Obama read in 2018. As a proponent of liberal democracy reading a book that takes explicit aims at the foundations of all of modern Western political theory, I was not expecting to agree with everything in it off the bat. However, I figured it would give me an intellectual challenge, might sharpen my thinking, and perhaps would yield interesting insights. I
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick J. Deneen, is an interesting examination of what the author describes as the decline of Liberalism. Liberalism is the final of the three competing ideologies of the twentieth century - Fascism and Marxism being the competitors. Liberalism survived the struggle, and has since become the dominant political theory in much of the world. Much has been trumpeted about the "end of history" and the beginning of an age of Liberalism, but recent events have shown this rosy ...more
Thom Willis
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So this is my favorite manifesto and everyone ought to read it, particularly my fellow young Catholics who are confronted with the simultaneous decay of western civilization and the institutional church as we know it. This book shows what went wrong, and how, and why. I do not exaggerate in saying I see the world quite differently after having read this books. I have notes and underlinings on nearly every page.
Joseph Stieb
Jun 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I've giving this book a decent rating not because I agree that liberalism failed (although I do think it has problems) but because it is a mostly thoughtful challenge to liberal ideas that should be answered with equal thoughtfulness. Deneen argues, in short, that liberalism has failed because of how wildly it has succeeded.

Here's what that means: Deneen defines liberalism as a highly individualistic intellectual and political tradition that asserts individual rights and autonomy and choice agai
Flynn Evans
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most stupefying reads I’ve ever encountered. Deneen offers a truly scathing critique of the centrifugal nature of modern liberalism and proposes that its schema are what should properly be blamed for the dilemmas we face today as American citizens, and it must be engaged by any of those seeking to chart the territory for our political landscape for the succeeding generations.
David Buccola
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is so much to like about this book I hardly know where to start. Patrick Deneen has done a marvelous job of placing liberalism within its historical context and illustrating how it’s greatest successes have also been its greatest failures. The author illustrates the pincher like movement of liberals and conservatives not as opposites but as merely different factions of liberalism that “cooperate in the expansion of both statism and individualism, although from different perspectives, using ...more
Nathan G.
May 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
A shallow and poorly-argued attempt at a tour-de-force of 500 years of philosophical and political history. Its selective story-telling is well-calculated to tickle the ears of modern discontents, but it is nevertheless rhetorically tendentious (count how many times he employs the words "deracinated," "disembedded" and "valorize"), and surprisingly ill-substantiated.

Ultimately, this comes across more as a "5 Minute Philosophy" kind-of-a-book rather than a serious political or philosophical criti
Jon Beadle
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
By far the best book I’ve read on “the times” I’ve ever encountered. The narrative is sophisticated, well-researched, and incredibly persuasive. I recommend it to everyone who wants a vision for a way out of our nihilistic future.
Ben House
Political books abound. Political books by conservative authors and publishers abound. I steadfastly avoid at least ninety-nine point nine (99.9) percent of them. I avoid the books that are written in the heat and issues of the moment. The only point of interest for me is wondering how they get written so fast.

I avoid, reject, and almost abhor political books that feature pictures of the author on the cover. In fact, the books where the author’s picture is the cover are effectively “Keep Out” si
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
I'm still grappling with Deneen's points, but I think he's pretty astute and said some things I hadn't come across before, such as the idea that liberalism was supposed to have a leveling effect on society but instead created a new "liberal" aristocracy in place of the titled nobility. He also said that liberalism will fail/has failed because liberalism has succeeded. An overdose of liberal, democratic values has atomized society to such an extent that the preconditions for liberalism in a good ...more
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Spoiler: it failed because it succeeded. Deneen argues that liberalism, as a philosophical and political ideology, was a foregone conclusion, bound to self-destruct, because it was cooked up on a false, “state-of-nature” anthropology by Kant, Locke, and company.

Liberalism has tricked America (the “Great Experiment” of liberalism), pretending to offer liberty while actually distancing us from local communities, virtue and self-government, tradition, cultural practices, from our very selves.

Brendan Shea
I'm not sure what book other people (who seemed to think highly of this book) read, because I came away pretty unimpressed. A few thoughts:

1. The central argument (liberalism undermines the institutions that helped support functioning liberal democracy!) is a standard one from conservative and communitarian critics of liberalism. I don't find this argument especially impressive even when it has been advanced by better, more careful thinkers than Deneen (such as MacIntyre or Sandel, neither of wh
Dec 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-library
Mind-blowing points made through beautiful prose and metaphor, to be found throughout the entire book, and perhaps on every page.
Humza Hussain
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
"As I have argued throughout, liberalism above all advances a new understanding of liberty. In the ancient world - whether pre-Christian antiquity, particularly ancient Greece, or during the long reign of Christendom - the dominant definition of liberty involved recognition that it required an appropriate form of self-governance. This conception of liberty was based upon reciprocal relationship between the self-government of individuals through the cultivation of virtue (whether ancient or Chris ...more
Alex O'Connor
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Despite my many disagreements with his policies, I have always enjoyed President Obama's lists of books and music that he enjoyed that year. Normally I will find a few that I have read already and feel cool that the President and I enjoyed the same book. Every once in a while, however, he will select a book that completely takes me off guard. This year, that book was "Why Liberalism Failed" by Patrick Deneen, a noted conservative writer.

After reading this book, I can completely understand why O
Sean Chick
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
For anyone raised on standard conservatism of social values, military interventions, and free-market capitalism, Patrick J. Deneen must be a shock, since in this book he fully renounces two of the three standards. He is unequivocal that global warming is real and poised to shatter our civilization. Whole pages of this book would be comfortable in a Jacobin essay. That said, few leftists today will like his embrace of social conservatism, and his scathing attack on the Left of all stripes, from n ...more
Russell Fox
I was frustrated by this book, because so much of it was so very good, it made the holes in Deneen's account of liberalism's failures that much more obvious. Obviously Deneen's intention here was to write a manifesto, a summary of his quasi-conservative, localist-republican, Tocquevillian perspective and an insistence upon the accuracy of its diagnosis of our present moment, and that means leaving a lot of philosophical and historical rabbits unfollowed. But still...can you just routinely (and, ...more
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is essential for understanding the political and social situation in western societies. Deneen's fundamental thesis is absolutely correct - liberalism has failed on its own terms: its internal contradictions and fundamental orientation erode rather than promote equality and genuine human freedom. Liberalism has liberated us from our communities, religious traditions and local economic networks; and in doing so has in fact eroded our capacity for self-governance, both personally and politica ...more
One of the best books, thoughtful and accessible, about why the last of the big three ideologies, Liberalism, Communism, and Fascism, is in an advanced stage of decay.

Written for the average educated reader, Deneen's book does not assume much by way of previous knowledge.

Why Liberalism Failed explores how we got here, what our current situation is, and what way forward there may be. The first two Deneen spends most time on but there is a final section that looks at possible ways out of the tra
Tuomas Auvinen
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An interesting and thought-provoking analysis of the rise and fall and the inherent contradictions of liberalism, the dominant political philosophy of our time. As a side product, some of Deneen's premises on the anthropological errors of modern liberalism also offer an explanation to why, in our time, self-help books sell so well. A must-read for everyone interested in politics beyond superficial election slogans and political philosophy more generally. ...more
Why Liberalism Failed is one of the more disappointing books I've read in some time. I'm receptive (very receptive, actually) to Patrick Deneen's brief against liberalism, his case that "liberalism failed because it succeeded" which has been billed by different reviewers as radical and unique. And while Deneen does add some interesting elements to the criticism of liberalism, much of this book, for me, falls flat. Having read Russell Kirk, Robert Nisbet (who Deneen references), Richard Weaver, a ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success
  • The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy
  • The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties
  • After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory
  • The Virtue of Nationalism
  • Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left
  • The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite
  • The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left
  • The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss
  • Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
  • Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents
  • Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition
  • The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation
  • How to Be a Conservative
  • A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream
  • The Concept of the Political
  • The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?
  • The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies
See similar books…
Patrick J. Deneen holds a B.A. in English literature and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Rutgers University. From 1995-1997 he was Speechwriter and Special Advisor to the Director of the United States Information Agency. From 1997-2005 he was Assistant Professor of Government at Princeton University. From 2005-2012 he was Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown Uni ...more

News & Interviews

Readers have a lot to look forward to this year! Just feast your eyes upon all of these debut books to check out and emerging authors to...
67 likes · 30 comments
“Preserved in discrete human inheritances—arts, literature, music, architecture, history, law, religion—culture expands the human experience of time, making both the past and the future present to creatures who otherwise experience only the present moment.” 5 likes
“To be free, above all, was to be free from enslavement to one’s own basest desires, which could never be fulfilled, and the pursuit of which could only foster ceaseless craving and discontent.” 4 likes
More quotes…