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Liberty, the God That Failed

Liberty, the God That Failed

Policing the Sacred and Constructing the Myths of the Secular State, from Locke to Obama

By Christopher Ferrara

726 pp

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About the Book

What has gone wrong with the grand American experiment in “ordered liberty”? The liberal’s answer is that America has failed to live up to its full promise of inclusiveness and equality—likely the result of corporate greed and white male ruling elites. The mainstream conservative or libertarian’s reply points to the Warren Court, the 1960’s, a denial of “states’ rights”, or a loss of Constitutional rectitude. Christopher Ferrara, in Liberty, the God That Failed, offers an entirely different answer. In a counter-narrative of unique power and scope, he unmasks the order promised as a sham; the liberty guaranteed, a chimera. In his telling, the false god of a new political order—Liberty—was born in thought long before America’s founding, and gained increasing devotion as it slowly amassed power during the first two centuries of the nation’s existence. Today it reveals its full might, as we bear the weight of its oppressive decrees, and experience the emptiness of the secular order it imposes upon us. To many of the West’s cultured despisers, religion as personal motive and social force is inextricably bound up with violence. In the tale modernity tells itself, the secular state saved the West from the depredations of religion, and thereby sowed fertile ground for the boundless achievements of liberal modernity. This myth is tenacious, its unmasking a long, continuous struggle, for the secular state has constructed this story to mask its own violent origins and ongoing displays of force. Ferrara destroys this myth with a relentless uncovering of truths hidden by both liberal and conservative/libertarian accounts of what has gone wrong. In this brilliant retelling of American history and political life, the author asks us to open our eyes to harsh realities, but also to the possibilities for a rightly ordered society and the true liberty that can still be ours. To read this book is never to think about the modern West and American history in the same way again.


“Chris Ferrara's book most persuasively demonstrates that negative liberty is an idol and that liberalism is the last of the ideologies. Indeed he shows that it was the basic ideology hidden behind all the others.”


University of Nottingham, author of Theology and Social Theory

“Opinions will no doubt differ on questions concerning the relationship between theology and liberty in American society, but there is no doubt of the scholarship in this comprehensive genealogy, which makes for a very impressive volume, a volume that should be read by everyone concerned with Christian theology and its political shaping of the society we live in. It is highly readable and an intellectual landmark in Catholic ecclesiastical history.”


Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford

“An absolutely epochal achievement—one of the finest historical studies I have ever read. It is backed by impeccable scholarly research, whose myriad of startling discoveries are pursued with relentless and unanswerable logic, and argued with apostolic zeal in the most accessible language imaginable. Every true son of an America still waiting to be transformed in Christ owes the author a boundless debt of gratitude.”

— JOHN RAO (D.PHIL., Oxford)

Associate Professor of History, St. John's University

“I have hardly been able to put it down since I opened it. The narrative is compelling from beginning to end and a pleasure to read. Rich in learning and insight, Liberty, the God That Failed is a tour de force—congratulations on a marvelous achievement!”


John F. Scarpa Chair in Catholic Legal Studies, Villanova University School of Law

“Anyone who cares to know what brought our country to the current state of intimidation and unprecedented government control can find the answers in the idolatrous worship of the Goddess Liberty, which has dominated America’s intellectual and political history from the pre-Revolutionary War era to Modern times. If you do not want to know the truth of our past and prefer to live in the mists of the myth of Liberty, do not read this book.”


Associate Professor, University of Oklahoma College of Law

“Alasdair MacIntyre, William Cavanaugh, and John Milbank have written powerfully and trenchantly against the theory and practice of Enlightenment liberalism, but Christopher Ferrara has given us much more than a scholarly critique—this is a learned polemic, in the best sense of the word. Ferrara is a one-man army against the juggernaut of secular liberalism and the Leviathanian state, and in Liberty, the God That Failed, he has struck a decisive blow.”


author of The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism

“A great book, with clear forceful analysis and lots of eye-opening material! This groundbreaking and extremely provocative study is essential reading for Catholics who want to stand back and understand how we ended up where we are today.”


author of The Tyranny of Liberalism

“It unearths the visceral anti-Catholicism that accompanied secularism, even in its so-called benign forms. The book is a necessary corrective to those who would put forth the American Proposition as an ideal or who would have recourse to the Founding Fathers, as if within their bosom we could somehow place our temporal hopes.”


Chairman, Program of Liberal Studies, Holy Cross College at Notre Dame

“Can liberty be obtained by rebelling against natural law and its author? In this magisterial work, Dr Ferrara meticulously traces the ancestry of Enlightenment liberty and demonstrates that making a god of liberty failed at conception. The inevitable result was a blow against, not for, true freedom. This comprehensive study of an issue central to modernity is essential reading for any student of modern civil and political society.”


barrister and Chairman of the Catholic Union of Great Britain

About the Author

Christopher A. Ferrara is an attorney and President and Chief Counsel of the American Catholic Lawyers Association, Inc., specializing in First Amendment and civil rights law. He is the author of hundreds of articles and six books, including the widely acclaimed The Church and the Libertarian, a defense of Catholic social teaching, and The Great Facade, a co-authored study of changes in the Church since Vatican II, now considered one of the best treatments of the subject ever written.

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