cover image A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism

A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism

Adam Gopnik. Basic, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-5416-9936-6

According to this militantly nonfanatical treatise, liberalism is the self-doubting creed of cautious, compromising, incremental reform—and that’s why it’s great. New Yorker essayist Gopnik (Paris to the Moon) grounds liberalism not in arid individualism but in emotion and social connection, an animus against suffering and for freedom and equality, an understanding of human fallibility, a tolerance for debate, and a search for lasting improvements through democratic action. To conservatives who say liberal rationalism erodes communities, families, and sacred values, he replies that it allows diverse communities and religious beliefs to flourish without bitter divisions; to left-wingers who condemn it as a cover for capitalist exploitation, he champions liberalism’s record of progressivism without the totalitarian repressions of communism or the essentialist identity politics of today’s left. Gopnik hangs his discussion on vivid profiles of liberal dreamers and doers, from theorist-lovebirds Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill to civil rights pioneers Frederick Douglass and Bayard Rustin. He writes with a pithy, aphoristic charm—“what we have today, the insistent sneering insists, is a long, permanent bar fight, where you can’t trust a liberal to throw a bourbon bottle at the bad guys”—that overlies deep erudition and nuanced analysis. The result is a smart, exhilarating defense of the liberal tradition. [em]Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (July) [/em]