The Politics of Virtue

Post-Liberalism and the Human Future

By (author) John Milbank, Adrian Pabst

Publication date:

29 August 2016

Length of book:

418 pages


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9781783486489

Contemporary politics is dominated by a liberal creed that champions ‘negative liberty’ and individual happiness. This creed undergirds positions on both the right and the left – free-market capitalism, state bureaucracy and individualism in social life. The triumph of liberalism has had the effect of subordinating human association and the common good to narrow self-interest and short-term utility. By contrast, post-liberalism promotes individual fulfilment and mutual flourishing based on shared goals that have more substantive content than the formal abstractions of liberal law and contract, and yet are also adaptable to different cultural and local traditions.

In this important book, John Milbank and Adrian Pabst apply this analysis to the economy, politics, culture, and international affairs. In each case, having diagnosed the crisis of liberalism, they propose post-liberal alternatives, notably new concepts and fresh policy ideas. They demonstrate that, amid the current crisis, post-liberalism is a programme that could define a new politics of virtue and the common good.
Most critiques of liberalism in the past 200 years—from Marxism, feminism, and poststructuralism—come from the political left. In The Politics of Virtue, Milbank (Nottingham) and Pabst (Kent) challenge liberalism from the right, advocating for a “conservative socialism." Influenced by postmodernism, the authors argue that liberalism destroys itself by abstracting from the human good and treating each individual impersonally, thereby allowing ever more authoritarian tendencies into liberal politics in order to maintain control over a populace whose desires are unfettered by traditional social order. In place of liberalism’s primacy of individual rights, the authors defend the primacy of associations of all kinds—religions, regions, localities, unions, voluntary organizations—that arouse citizens’ sense of civic duty and responsibility, and check the centralizing tendency of liberal governments. The book has five synoptic parts—politics, economy, polity, culture, and world—and matches its ambitious scope with the difficult project to bring abstract theoretical discussion down to policy specifics. What emerges is an exciting, enthralling alternative, though the authors remain unclear about which liberalism they take aim at—there are now many liberalisms in theory and practice. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.