Individualism   /   Spring 2002   /    Articles

Individualism and the Rise of Democratic Despotism

Patrick J. Deneen

LIBERTY AND EQUALITY, LIKE A LONG-MARRIED and cantankerous old couple, are often spoken of as inseparable, but in fact they seem rarely to get along in public. Invoked frequently togeth- er (and only sometimes accompanied by equality’s ancient sibling, “fra- ternity”), they form the core aspirations of modern liberal democracy, yet often seem more at odds with one another than intimate partners in a common endeavor. During times that equality is particularly strong, liberty feels threatened; when liberty is ascendant, equality feels slighted. Much contemporary political theorizing as well as current policy debate resembles marriage counseling of a sort, aimed at trying to balance the claims of each, without causing one to cede too much ground to the other.

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