The Magazine

The Liberal Paradox

Why Lionel Trilling's 1950 classic remains essential reading in 2009.

Aug 31, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 46 • By JAMES SEATON
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Lionel Trilling believed that the "moral imagination" as expressed in literature could, indeed, provide a basis for criticizing and questioning political and social movements, including those that seem so unambiguously righteous as to be beyond criticism. Louis Menand is confident that today "educated people tend to be culturally promiscuous and permissive," so that concepts like the "moral imagination," "moral realism," and even "literature" seem outdated.

If Louis Menand is right, The Liberal Imagination goes against the grain in the 21st century even more than when it was first published in 1949--and is even more necessary.

James Seaton is professor of English at Michigan State.