The Failure of Liberty
By Christopher Zehnder
Christopher Zehnder writes from the mountains of central California, where he lives with his wife and seven children. He is the former editor of two monthly newspapers, the Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission and San Francisco Faith.
Liberty, the God that Failed: Policing the Sacred and Constructing the Myths of the Secular State, from Locke to Obama. By Christopher A. Ferrara. Angelico Press. 726 pages. $29.95.
“Just as the advance of Liberty was preceded by a war of words in the treatises and tracts of the Enlightenment…so must any attempt at a recovery of the vast territory we have lost commence with a polemical counter-attack.” Thus Christopher A. Ferrara justifies the character and thrust of his tome, Liberty, the God that Failed, the subtitle of which, Policing the Sacred and Constructing the Myths of the Secular State, from Locke to Obama, is hardly conciliatory. As Ferrara readily admits, he does not engage in polite scholarly banter in this 726-page book; he eschews all irenicism. He uses scholarship, as his 18-page bibliography of truly impressive sources attests, but he is unapologetic about the “unconcealed polemical intent” of his book. “It is a polemic,” he says, “in the full classical Greek sense of the word: polemos or war.” And, indeed, that is whatLiberty, the God that Failed is: a sinewy, uncompromising, take-no-prisoners literary assault, having all the strengths and weaknesses of that genre.
Ferrara takes aim at what he calls the “moderate Enlightenment” — that philosophical, social, and political movement whose leading light was the English philosopher John Locke. It is Ferrara’s contention that, despite the description of this movement as “conservative,” it was as radical in its principles and effects as the so-called radical Enlightenment, as exemplified by the French Revolution. The moderate Enlightenment, says Ferrara, promised Liberty to the masses, but in reality it was “a massive bait-and-switch operation…that has never delivered what it promised — anywhere, at any time — because Liberty is nothing more than the elevation of a new form of supreme political authority in the place of the old one.” More importantly, Ferrara contends that “Liberty has not made men free, but rather it has relentlessly opposed and driven from the life of the State the very Truth that makes men free.”
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