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Esteemed Political Theorist Talks Devolution of Liberal Democracy

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Written by Brice Hall

On February 12, RC hosted Dr. Patrick Deneen, an American political theorist who is Professor of Political Science and holds the David A. Potenziani Memorial College Chair of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The Roanoke College Public Affairs Society organized and promoted the event, which was titled “Consumers vs. Citizens: How Liberalism Imperiled Democracy.”

Deneen spoke about the erosion of societal institutions due to the encroachment of modern liberalism into all aspects of modern life. Deneen often referenced his book Why Liberalism Failed, a staple read of public affairs professor Dr. Justin Garrison’s political science classes, as he painted a dystopian portrait of our nation’s political and social state of being. 

Deneen discussed how the inevitable conclusion of liberalism, a political philosophy championed by enlightenment philosopher John Locke that emphasizes the individual rights of men, is a society of citizens who are alienated “bundles of rights” that have little to no impact on their environment. Deneen points to our polarized political climate as well as the permeation of our political process with negative partisanship as clear evidence of the divisive and alienating nature of liberalism. Deneen also highlights the meritocratic nature of liberalism which sorts citizens into winners and losers, with the winners divorcing themselves from the losers entirely.

Liberalism has advanced a globalist agenda, which has granted citizens more overall purchasing power at the cost of a lifetime of debt. Debt from mortgages and student loans is arguably not worth the ability to buy the newest consumer novelty. Deneen sees a trend where all sense of civic duty and abstract responsibility is being usurped by consumerist complacency. Deneen’s lecture was a warning about the new “normal” lifestyle of individualism and hedonism that has been promised to us by liberalism.

One of this year’s Morehead Award recipients, senior Gaston Ocampo, thought that the lecture was rewarding and poignant.

“This talk offered a fascinating critique of liberal society from an American scholar who perfectly understands the non-Western world and has contributed a modern perspective to the implications of current economic, social, and technological advances,” said Ocampo.

The president of the Public Affairs Society, sophomore Ryan Denholm, was grateful that his organization was able to bring Deneen to RC. 

“Students can learn from his (Deneen’s) warnings regarding the decline of liberal arts institutions, the magnetic pull of young people to Washington D.C. and other large metropolitan areas, ostensibly meritocratic justifications for status, and increasing individualism and consumerism in our society,” said Denholm.