The L-Word

Freedom’s Power

The True Force of Liberalism

Paul Starr

Basic Books, $26, 256 pp.

Liberalism for a New Century

Edited by Neil Jumonville and Kevin Mattson

University of California Press, $19.95, 270 pp.

Here’s one way a political debate might go: You and I disagree over abortion, say, and whether to invade Iraq. I take a recognizably liberal position on both issues, arguing that abortion is a woman’s private choice and that we should be deeply skeptical of war as a policy choice. You condemn my support for baby-killing and call me the pro-Saddam candidate. I defend myself, making important distinctions that people like me find persuasive. I become their hero. You get elected.

This is parody, but only partly. The general dynamic is both familiar and dismaying. Liberals will say it reflects a kind of simple-mindedness in the way conservatives respond to value judgments. The conservative reasons that since pornography and gambling are bad, the state may act to constrain them; prayer and abstinence are good, so schools should...

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About the Author

David McCabe teaches philosophy at Colgate University.