The Poverty of Liberalism

Robert Paul Wolff

Buy at Kindle Store
Buy at Kobo Store
Buy at Barnes and Noble
Buy at Apple Store

Area: Political Philosophy


1. Liberty

2. Loyalty

3. Power

4. Tolerance

5. Community

The Poverty of Liberalism is a series of essays by Robert Paul Wolff critiquing liberalism, examining topics such as liberty, loyalty, power, tolerance, and community.

In the first chapter, "Liberty", Wolff argues that John Stuart Mill's doctrine of non-interference in the private sphere cannot be defended on utilitarian grounds, as Mill claims, and that it cannot be sustained when taking into account activities that are inherently collective.

In "Loyalty" Wolff examines what it means to be able to describe a person as loyal, particularly in regards to loyalty to a nation state.

"Power" argues against the idea of a "power elite". Despite concluding that the United States is not ruled by a power elite, however, Wolff points out that we are nevertheless willing to allow important social decisions to be made privately rather than publicly, even though such decisions are potential objects of our decision.

In "Tolerance", Wolff argues that a pluralist idea of democratic politics, while being more humane, benevolent, accommodating, and far more responsive to the evils of social injustice than either the egoistic liberalism or the traditionalistic conservatism, is fatally blind to the evils which afflict the entire body politic. Wolff suggests that as a theory of society it obstructs consideration of precisely the sorts of thoroughgoing social revisions which may be needed to remedy those evils.

Finally, in "Community" Wolff argues for the idea of a public interest that is more than merely the sum of private interests.