Rowman and Littlefield International

The Politics of Virtue

Post-Liberalism and the Human Future

By John Milbank and Adrian Pabst

18 Reviews

Two expert authors combine a compelling critique of contemporary liberalism with post-liberal alternatives in politics, the economy, culture and international affairs, to provide the fullest account so far of the post-liberal alternative in Western politics.

Hardback ISBN: 9781783486489 Release date: Aug 2016
£102.00 €119.00 $133.00
Paperback ISBN: 9781783486496 Release date: Aug 2016
£35.00 €41.95 $45.00
Ebook ISBN: 9781783486502 Release date: Aug 2016
£29.95 €41.95 $42.50

Contemporary politics is dominated by a liberal creed that champions ‘negative liberty’ and individual happiness. This creed undergirds positions on both the right and the left – free-market capitalism, state bureaucracy and individualism in social life. The triumph of liberalism has had the effect of subordinating human association and the common good to narrow self-interest and short-term utility. By contrast, post-liberalism promotes individual fulfilment and mutual flourishing based on shared goals that have more substantive content than the formal abstractions of liberal law and contract, and yet are also adaptable to different cultural and local traditions.

In this important book, John Milbank and Adrian Pabst apply this analysis to the economy, politics, culture, and international affairs. In each case, having diagnosed the crisis of liberalism, they propose post-liberal alternatives, notably new concepts and fresh policy ideas. They demonstrate that, amid the current crisis, post-liberalism is a programme that could define a new politics of virtue and the common good.

Introduction / Part One: Politics / 1. The Metacrisis of Liberalism / 2. The Post-liberal Alternative / Part Two: Economy / 3. The Metacrisis of Capitalism / 4. The Civil Economy Alternative / Part Three: Polity / 5. The Metacrisis of Democracy / 6. The Mixed Constitution Alternative / Part Four: Culture / 7. The Metacrisis of Culture / 8. Culture as Formation / Part Five: World / 9. The Metacrisis of the Nations / 10. Commonwealth, Culture and Covenant / Conclusion / Index

John Milbank is Professor of Religion, Politics and Ethics at the University of Nottingham and Director of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy.

Adrian Pabst is Reader in Politics at the University of Kent and Visiting Professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Lille.

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18 Reviews

Most critiques of liberalism in the past 200 years—from Marxism, feminism, and poststructuralism—come from the political left. In The Politics of Virtue, Milbank (Nottingham) and Pabst (Kent) challenge liberalism from the right, advocating for a “conservative socialism." Influenced by postmodernism, the authors argue that liberalism destroys itself by abstracting from the human good and treating each individual impersonally, thereby allowing ever more authoritarian tendencies into liberal politics in order to maintain control over a populace whose desires are unfettered by traditional social order. In place of liberalism’s primacy of individual rights, the authors defend the primacy of associations of all kinds—religions, regions, localities, unions, voluntary organizations—that arouse citizens’ sense of civic duty and responsibility, and check the centralizing tendency of liberal governments. The book has five synoptic parts—politics, economy, polity, culture, and world—and matches its ambitious scope with the difficult project to bring abstract theoretical discussion down to policy specifics. What emerges is an exciting, enthralling alternative, though the authors remain unclear about which liberalism they take aim at—there are now many liberalisms in theory and practice. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.


This book is at once profoundly disturbing yet also compelling, and full of exciting ideas about how to moralise the market and reclaim democracy. It stands as a signature contribution in the emerging debates around post-liberalism and provides real hope as we apparently slide into a post-truth world


This book could perhaps be called prophetic.... Milbank and Pabst extensively argue these formidable claims, with passion, flair, and flourish and across the fields of politics, economics, constitutional polity, culture, and international relations.... This is a profound and often brilliant cry to recognize the procedural follies and criminalized economics that have converged to undermine the social and cultural relatedness and embeddedness that constitute the true goods of human existence.

The Christian Century

The Politics of Virtueis clearly an intellectual tour de force. It deals with all the major problems, crises, and metacrises of our timeand does so with intelligence and moral (not moralizing) passion. There surely is an urgent need for both qualities in our contemporary world, ravaged as it is by massive corruption, exploitation, ecological devastation, and the stark danger of nuclear holocaust. To deal with its multiple topics, the book marshals an enviable breadth of expertise, cutting across the usual barriers between politics, economics, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and theology. One can only wish that academic border-crossing of this kind would become a more widespread habit. Needless to say, in my above account, I could only touch on some highlights of the book. Actually, the text is chockfull of valuable insightssometimes provocative insightson numerous topics…. [O]ne can only wish the book the largest possible readership.

The Review of Politics

Amidst the rising chorus of voices calling for the renewal of grassroots democracy, Milbank and Pabst sound a distinctive “blue” note. The languages of individual virtue and public honor, they urge, must be redeployed to meet human needs for belonging and embeddedness while revitalizing citizen participation in government. It is possible, they argue, to draw on the very energies that feed attacks on big government and fuel populism to cultivate instead a politics of hope that joins patriotism with international solidarity. Given the political impasses we face today, their astute proposal merits a wide hearing.

Jennifer A. Herdt, Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics, Yale Divinity School

This is a vital contribution within an emerging literature and emboldened public conversation around what constitutes the common good. Drawing on ancient traditions it is full of philosophical insight and concrete, practical political suggestion. It challenges the most basic assumptions of liberalism; it is quietly devastating.

Jon Cruddas, MP

To the dilemmas of late modernity, Milbank and Pabst propose a vision of social, political, and economic order that is at once classical and Christian, but neither reactionary nor emptily nostalgic; a politics of virtue, and of a cultural commitment to the pedagogy of the good, theirs is a brilliant and original imagining of a genuine Christian socialism sustained not by the technocratic bureaucracy of the modern state, but by the deepest wellsprings of human spiritual community.

David Bentley Hart, Visiting Professor, Providence College

With a characteristic mix of bravura argumentation and telling detail, Milbank and Pabst mount a powerful critique of what they call the 'metacrisis' of liberalism across fiive areas, politics, economics, democracy, culture and international relations, and in each case offer equally powerful alternatives, rooted in much older traditions. Superbly written, bracingly argued and with a reach and range that is genuinely impressive, this book is bound to have a powerful impact in many different academic fields and indeed in the world beyond the academy as well.

Nicholas Rengger, Professor of Political Theory and International Relations, University of St Andrews

Perhaps what is most shocking – and most thrilling – about this book is that the authors fully expect their proposals to be taken seriously! The Politics of Virtue is a masterpiece which, with a single stroke, both rebukes the cowardice and effete impracticality of so many armchair political theologians, and shows up the resigned nihilism of those political theorists who believe that liberalism is the only game in town.

Scott Stephens, Religion & Ethics editor, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Co-host of The Minefield, on ABC Radio National

A brilliant analysis of the triumph of economic and social liberalism and the miseries these have engendered, especially to the poorest of us. And the first signs of a clear path out of this mess, towards a politics rooted in tradition, history and social obligation. The best political book of the last five years.

Rod Liddle, journalist and writer

The Politics of Virtue is going to be a vital contribution to that issue [what kind of thing humanity might and should be], as well as a crucial intervention in current political debate. It will infuriate as many as it will delight; but it is a monumental and un-ignorable diagnosis of a critical moment in our culture.

Rowan Williams, New Statesman

I am in deep sympathy with Milbank's and Pabst's understanding and critique of liberalism and I have sympathy with some of their proposed alternatives [...] I am particularly drawn to their understanding of the ethics of virtue which they argue depends on the presumption that our lives have a purpose and meaning that is not just our arbitrary will.

Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law, Duke University, on the ABC Religion & Ethics website

The Politics of Virtue is clearly an intellectual tour de force. It deals with all the major problems, crises and metacrises of our time—and does so with intelligence and moral (not moralizing) passion. There surely is an urgent need for both qualities in our contemporary world [...]. To deal with its multiple topics, the book marshals an enviable breadth of expertise, cutting across the usual barriers between politics, economics, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and theology. [...] the text is chuck-full of valuable insights—sometimes provocative insights—on numerous topics

Fred Dallmayr, Packey J. Dee Professor in the departments of philosophy and political science, University of Notre Dame

... a heavy volume of breathtaking erudition, ambitious scope, compelling insight, elaborate argumentation, occasional unwise sideswipes, and profound insight, which makes [...] for an exhausting, but richly rewarding read [...] an awesome tour de force [...] a magnificent diagnosis and provocative series of remedies in this remarkable book.

Revd Dr Sam Wells

In a time of political instability where neither the Left nor the Right have ideas around a unifying theme, Adrian Pabst and John Milbank have developed a non- ideological framework of how European countries and the U.S. can move forward around a value based way of thinking about building healthy societies.

Arnie Graf

It is, of course, an ancient perception that democracy is not bound to produce equality and justice. Milbank and Pabst focus their exposition of this ancient truth on the abstract tendency of democratic procedure to eliminate one-sided initiatives from public decision-making, so defying the conditions of life in time, ‘both spontanously creative and giving'.

Modern Theology

The book achieves a rare balance: it offers a deeply informative theoretical account of the historical and philosophical foundations of liberalism to advance the case for post-liberalism, along with a remarkably detailed account of the practical implications of post-liberal politics.

Temenos Academy Review

Milbank and Pabst are to be congratulated for producing the best clarification and refutation of liberal metaphysics in English [...] They bring a wonderful sense of outrage and humor to arguing against all the pallid shibboleths of the age.

First Things

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