Liberty the God That Failed


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What has gone wrong with the grand American experiment in “ordered liberty”? The liberal’s answer is that America has failed to live up to its full promise of inclusiveness and equality—likely the result of corporate greed and white male ruling elites. The mainstream conservative or libertarian’s reply points to the Warren Court, the 1960’s, a denial of “states’ rights”, or a loss of Constitutional rectitude. Christopher Ferrara, in Liberty, the God That Failed, offers an entirely different answer. In a counter-narrative of unique power and scope, he unmasks the order promised as a sham; the liberty guaranteed, a chimera. In his telling, the false god of a new political order—Liberty—was born in thought long before America’s founding, and gained increasing devotion as it slowly amassed power during the first two centuries of the nation’s existence. Today it reveals its full might, as we bear the weight of its oppressive decrees, and experience the emptiness of the secular order it imposes upon us. To many of the West’s cultured despisers, religion as personal motive and social force is inextricably bound up with violence. In the tale modernity tells itself, the secular state saved the West from the depredations of religion, and thereby sowed fertile ground for the boundless achievements of liberal modernity. This myth is tenacious, its unmasking a long, continuous struggle, for the secular state has constructed this story to mask its own violent origins and ongoing displays of force. Ferrara destroys this myth with a relentless uncovering of truths hidden by both liberal and conservative/libertarian accounts of what has gone wrong. In this brilliant retelling of American history and political life, the author asks us to open our eyes to harsh realities, but also to the possibilities for a rightly ordered society and the true liberty that can still be ours. To read this book is never to think about the modern West and American history in the same way again.

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