… Capaldi and Malloch are—refreshingly—unabashed American exceptionalists. One of this book’s strengths is the way that it brings to light a critical element of that exceptionalism through the medium of spiritual capital. Part of the American experiment is its commitment to modernity—but a modernity several times removed from that pioneered by the likes of the French revolutionaries, Karl Marx, and modern social democratic movements in Europe. Capaldi and Malloch underscore how America’s spiritual inheritance permeated the political and economic habits and institutions associated with the emergence of its democratic and capitalist order, and in ways that avoided the challenges of theocracy as well as moral relativism.
This, however, is not to say that Capaldi and Malloch think that America’s present spiritual capital is in great shape. They plainly believe—and produce considerable evidence to suggest—that it has experienced considerable erosion in past decades. The narrative of American exceptionalism, they suggest, has been challenged by an alternative narrative of how we ought to be. The roots of this go beyond late nineteenth-century progressivism and are in fact to be found in the works of Rousseau and assorted fellow travelers (most notably John Rawls)—or what they call Rousseau-through-Rawls—and their particular conception of modernity, and even more especially by a certain view of equality. This, the authors argue, has thrown into question what they call the liberty narrative that forms an essential part of America’s spiritual capital and its experiment in ordered liberty.
Read “A Necessary Symbiosis” by Samuel Gregg on The University Bookman.