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...