There is no more fateful failure of modern political thought than its failure to distinguish between elitism and social exclusivity. From this failure stems an enormous, costly, and increasingly intolerant attempt to rectify what is not wrong in the first place. One fights chimeras the better to avoid confrontation with real enemies.
I am going to Paris this weekend, because the OECD invited me to present on law and technology. A visit to the city of lights should be a delight, but sadly it looks like mine will be darkened by national strikes. Unions are trying to pressure the Socialist government to drop mild reforms to French labor laws that would make it somewhat less expensive to discharge workers. Currently, workers who are not on short-term contracts have close to life tenure. The absurdity of this regime was underscored just this week, when a French labor tribunal held that a bank wrongly discharged a worker who had caused it billions of dollars of losses through illegal trades!
The sturm und drang about moving France ever so incrementally toward a free market shows the continuing importance of a nation’s founding principles. Our revolution and Constitution embedded principles of classical liberalism in the DNA of America. In contrast, the French Revolution created an enduring political norm demanding substantive equality, not merely equality under law. It is worth looking at the consequences of these different principles, because the renewed focus on inequality in the United States is fundamentally an attempt to make our core political concern be equality rather than liberty.
In response to: Respectable Partisans of Modern Liberty
The three replies to my essay are thoughtful discussions of important issues, and I thank the respondents for writing them. Professor Weiner correctly suggests that to rely on great men is a mistake. A polity will not endure if it allows significant decline and constantly requires for its salvation an excellence that is always rare. It will soon lack what it needs, and will unwittingly empower subversive pretenders. But we may nonetheless sometimes need active prudence: we cannot ignore the liberal democratic statesmanship of a Lincoln or Churchill, or even of a Thatcher or Reagan. Such statesmanship involves enterprising and not…
Parties have long been respectable features of modern liberal democracy. But that is not to say that in America our current political parties are respected. The summer of Donald Trump, which may finally be fading, suggests a craving for leadership and boldness that is larger than partisan affiliation: Americans increasingly doubt that either party is…
Edmund Burke’s defense of political parties is also a defense of conservatism. It remains true that the “respectability of party”—Harvey C. Mansfield’s perfect phrase from Statesmanship and Party Government: A Study of Burke and Bolingbroke—continues to depend on the respectability of conservatism. Professor Blitz suggests this also, asking in his Liberty Forum essay what we can…
Mark Blitz reads Harvey Mansfield as closely as Mansfield reads Edmund Burke. For this, and for his excellent Liberty Forum essay on Mansfield’s Statesmanship and Party Government, we are in Blitz’s debt. The book’s simultaneously ambivalent and appreciative reading of Burke endures 50 years after its publication, and will rank among the definitive texts on the…
Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in the United States in the late spring of 1831. His official business was an investigation of American prison reforms as a potential model for France, but his gaze was considerably broader and deeper. Tocqueville’s nine-month visit resulted in Democracy in America, a towering achievement that looms even larger in a time like ours, when political attention spans seem to last no longer than the latest trending topic.
Who would argue with the Declaration of Independence’s claim that “all men are created equal”?
But one immediately runs into trouble. What about the Declaration limiting it to “men”? Are women equal? They did not have the right to vote at the beginning. Yet, Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders certainly believed women were morally equal and were covered under the generic term “men,” for mankind. Was that enough?
American political science has lost a significant contributor with the demise of Harry V. Jaffa (1918-2015). We mourn the death of Professor Jaffa, and acknowledge that there will be many celebrations of his life and scholarly achievements to appear, especially from his epigones. Important contributions from Ken Masugi and Peter Lawler have already appeared in this space. As a mentor, Jaffa inspired a large number of graduate students who have assumed posts in the academy and government. We call many of these scholars our friends, and continue to appreciate their interpretative approaches and defense of the American political tradition.
He should also be remembered by those of us who disagreed with him.