Liberalism: what’s gone wrong? And what needs fixing?

There an interesting symposium in Democracy in which a number of well-known US intellectuals wrestle with the question of whether — and how — liberalism needs to be redefined in the context of Obama’s (and Limbaugh’s) America. Panellists include Michael Sandel, Martha Nussbaum, Robert Reich and Michael Walzer.

We asked some of America’s leading progressive thinkers to give us their takes on where the last 14 months fit within the historical scope of American liberalism. Here are their responses, which get at what may be the central challenge for progressives today. We have a liberalism that wants to do much–that has, over the years and decades, only added to its list of goals and desired interventions. But we have a system that seemingly in both political and policy terms simply can’t accommodate all those desires. We have what you might call an idea-oversupply problem. How, then, do we prioritize? What goals can succeed in the short term–and in the long term, can succeed in opening up more breathing room for the list?

Our symposium does not definitively answer these questions; they are, ultimately, unanswerable, destined for a state of constant flux, like Heraclitus’ ever-flowing river into which one cannot take the same step twice. But they’re the right questions, and our contributors address them in provocative ways.