Beyond Liberalism

Toward a Purpose-Guided Democracy

by Michael K. Briand


A tiny minority of rich Americans now determines the direction of the United States, regardless of or even against the will of the majority.

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Cover image for Beyond Liberalism

June 2019


Pages 194
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Politics, Law, and Government/General
  Current Events and Issues/Politics and Government

This book shows how the United States can begin dealing with the most difficult and intractable political issues that afflict liberal democracy today: by initiating an inclusive public practice of ethical dialogue and deliberation.

Beyond Liberalism argues that there is a flaw in liberalism: the doctrine of individualism. Specifically, the defect consists in two distinct ideas: "atomism" and "subjectivism." These ideas underpin the "principle of freedom," which is our default method for making personal choices and resolving interpersonal disagreements but contains no standard for determining what might be worth doing, and hence no criteria for assigning relative priority to values in conflict.

Objective ethical judgments can be achieved, however, if we understand that, insofar as they support the fulfillment of empirically identified human needs, statements about good and bad are propositions of a factual nature. A conception of the good for human beings is implicit in the fulfillment of those needs. To articulate that conception, we need a constructive, productive public practice of ethical dialogue and deliberation. To build such a practice will require what amounts to a life of "ethical heroism." This book seeks to encourage that sort of life.


  • Explains that the fundamental problem with liberalism today is its flawed conception of individualism, which discourages people from thinking ethically when forming our political beliefs and policy preferences
  • Contends that beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong can be objective if understood as propositions of a factual nature, and that a conception of the good for human beings is implicit in the fulfillment of empirically identified human needs
  • Asserts that people can begin dealing effectively with the most difficult and intractable political issues that afflict liberal democracy today by initiating a constructive, productive public practice of ethical dialogue and deliberation
  • Issues a call for "ethical heroism" to build such a practice in order to begin reversing the dispiriting effects of contemporary liberalism and its faulty conception of individualism
Author Info

Michael Briand, PhD, is director of the Ethics and Deliberation Project at CivicEvolution. He is author of Practical Politics: Five Principles for a Community that Works.



"Beyond Liberalism is a rare book. It's author has decades of experience as a moral philosopher, civic reformer, and engaged citizen. Michael Briand blends these parallel careers into a seamless case for a deliberative ethics than can save modern democracy from its worst excesses. He shows us that robust ethical judgments arise only when we work together to understand one another's unique perspectives and find a shared purpose and a means to make all our lives fulfilling."—John Gastil, Professor, Communication Arts & Sciences and Political Science and Senior Scholar, the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, Pennsylvania State University

"In a brilliant analysis of America's contemporary ills, Michael Briand explains clearly why personal freedom and the individual pursuit of happiness can no longer serve as the basis for a democratic society. Driven by egoism and fixated on satisfying our desires, we end up frustrated and disillusioned, wondering "Is this all there is?" Briand's answer to the question we should be asking—"What does it mean to live a good life?"—is ethical heroism: an unyielding commitment to finding our own well-being by pursuing the well-being of all."—Scott G. McNall, Provost Emeritus and Professor, California State University, Chico and Faculty Affiliate, Department of Sociology, University of Montana

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