Tolerance & Truth

The Politics of Human Frailty
A Theological Defense of Political Liberalism
by Christopher J. Insole
University of Notre Dame Press, $30, 208 pp.

The title of Christopher J. Insole’s audacious book is no lie: The Politics of Human Frailty really is “A Theological Defense of Political Liberalism.” An academic theologian writing from within the Anglican tradition, Insole seeks to establish a theological justification for what he calls “political” liberalism and, just as important, to find in that liberalism a corrective to certain kinds of theological error.

Attempts to reconcile religion and liberalism are nothing new. How that is accomplished, though, depends on the type of liberalism being considered. For example, many who voted recently in France and the Netherlands against the European Union Constitution feared it was too “liberal.” What they meant by “liberal,” though, was different from the Republican Party’s use of the term. They feared the economic liberalism of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan: deregulated markets and a diminished welfare state. That brand of liberalism has a long pedigree in neoclassical economics and an influential ideological exponent in Friedrich Hayek, author of The Road to Serfdom. It is obviously different from the social democratic liberalism that inspired the policies economic liberals would dismantle. Social democratic liberalism emphasizes reduction of inequality, creation of a social safety net, and balancing the powers of capital and labor, and it is not afraid to use the state to achieve those...

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