Today’s wholesale lack of trust in our institutions is a problem with deep roots in liberalism, and it cannot be solved by tweaking a liberal paradigm in which different conceptions of the good create conflict that is resolved by a sovereign state without reference to a nonexclusive common good. Ultimately, the essence of liberalism is contained in the language of values which serve as wedges to divide people.
Philip J. Harold takes this problem head-on with a thoroughgoing survey, reaching back to the early modern era, to uncover the nature of liberalism’s basic assumptions and diagnose its breakdown. As opposed to traditional liberal denial of a good superior to individual interest, Harold proposes a postliberal political philosophy able to understand the common good as friendship and social trust built up by loyalty. While critiquing values language, Harold also addresses the concept of sovereignty and the invention of morality as its supplement, the inappropriate distinction between the empirical and the transcendental, the true nature of the secular and the sacred, the necessarily symbolic expression of the common good, and the false conceptualization of religion and politics.
Philip J. Harold is dean of Constantin College of Liberal Arts at the University of Dallas and was formerly professor and associate dean in the School of Informatics, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Robert Morris University. His previous books include Other People’s Money: Politics in Pennsylvania and Prophetic Politics: Emmanuel Levinas and the Sanctification of Suffering.
A contribution to the well-established genre of criticisms of liberalism, Against Values takes as its central target the modern focus on values and its attendant atomistic and agonistic idea of the self. In Harold’s telling, values replace older organizing concepts, such as justice and virtue, that emphasized the relational nature of human association…. The book as a whole argues for a post-liberal political philosophy that reconstructs the idea of the common good in terms of friendship, trust, and loyalty, pointing back to an embedded condition. Recommended. Graduate students and faculty.
One of the great challenges today is the power of technology, especially social media, that flattens these diverse and multifaceted relationships which makes the discourse of values rather than virtues more attractive. It is easy to preach one’s values as a keyboard warrior; less so face-to-face to children’s schoolteacher. How we get out of this dilemma is not clear but at least Harold has provided us a philosophical genealogy to explain our “value” situation today. Against Value has done a great service to clarify why we are in a state of constant disagreement, for we are looking to the wrong solution. It is not in values where we will be saved but only in virtue; the recovery of virtue can help bind our wounded society back together.
Thanks to a careful genealogy hailing back to unexpected ancestors like Martin Luther, this book deconstructs values-speech. It reveals how well-meaning people are hoist by their own petard when their values-speech ultimately encourages the kind of subjectivism, relativism, and social rivalry that they would like to eliminate. Harold replaces values with the common good, looked for in friendship and actuated in loyalty. This is a book I wish I’d written.
A compelling argument that the individualism which vitiates liberalism is not so simple as an attachment to a false theory of human nature, but rather is found in our own deeply rooted commitments, as if to something completely obvious, to delusory and unstable notions of value, sovereignty, and even morality.
Drawing expertly on an astonishing array of sources—ancient, modern, and postmodern—Philip Harold proposes a provocative thesis: the eclipse of the classical language of friendship, virtue, and the good by the now-dominant language of values is one of the hidden causes of our current cultural crisis. After this book, the burden of argument will now fall on those who wish to defend this language.