Influential policy adviser in the Clinton Administration (including in matters respecting religion) and in the campaigns of several other Democratic presidential candidates. Prominent exponent of liberal pluralism (see, for example, his eponymous book, which was, at the time, a sort of practical manual for implementing Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism in contemporary American political life). William A. Galston has been a leading American public intellectual for the last several decades. In this interesting looking new book, Anti- Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy (Yale University Press), Galston takes a hard look at some of the foundational challenges to his own favored and long-defended liberal pluralism that have emerged in recent years, and that are likely to persist in the future.
The Great Recession, a growing divide between urban and rural prospects, and failed efforts to effectively address immigration have paved the way for a populist backlash that disrupts the postwar bargain between political elites and citizens. Whether today’s populism represents a corrective to unfair and obsolete policies or a threat to liberal democracy itself remains up for debate. Yet this much is clear: these challenges indict the triumphalism that accompanied liberal democratic consolidation at the turn of the century. To respond to today’s crisis, good leaders must strive for inclusive economic growth while frankly addressing fraught social and cultural issues encompassing legitimate demographic anxiety. Although reforms may stem the populist tide, liberal democratic life will always leave something to be desired. This is a permanent source of vulnerability, but liberal democracy will endure so long as citizens believe it is worth fighting for.