Reading The New Republic these days, I often think of the late Lionel Trilling. It was Trilling’s fondest wish to remain, in everything he thought and wrote, a paragon of enlightened liberalism. He had, of course, sharply criticized the liberalism of his own generation—the liberalism that in the 1930s and 1940s had proved to be so easily captive to Stalinist influence. Yet it was never his intention to repudiate liberalism itself. He set out to reform it, to make it more responsive to the complexities of experience and less doctrinaire in its formulas of salvation. His models in this endeavor were Arnold and Mill—especially the Mill who had written about the conservative Coleridge and the radical Bentham with such undeceived intelligence.

That his own criticism of liberalism was likely to meet with resistance and opprobrium from the radical Left was a risk that Trilling was willing to take. Indeed, to incur the...


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