The Politics of Freedom

For those who remain faithful to the spirit of American republicanism, there is no doubt that the American political order is in the midst of a profound crisis. America’s founding principles have come under systematic assault in the worlds of journalism, the academy, social media, and in large and growing parts of the political class. The world’s most successful experiment in republican self-government, Abraham Lincoln’s “almost chosen nation” and “last best hope on earth,” is regularly denigrated as a hateful cauldron of racism, exploitation, and inequality. The new “woke racism,” as John McWhorter calls it, divides humanity into “privileged” oppressors—by definition beyond redemption—and “innocent” victims, who lack moral agency and are encouraged to blame others for their fate and to accept blindly the dictates of a tutelary bureaucratic state. In elite circles, traditional patriotism is held in contempt and legitimate national self-criticism has degenerated into pathological self-loathing. The disparities inherent in a vibrant, dynamic society and the diverse “factions” and divisions coextensive with “the system of natural liberty,” as Adam Smith called it, are now identified with systematic racism and discrimination. Doctrinaire egalitarianism, dogmatic relativism, and angry moralism coexist in a toxic mix. What are defenders of the old verities and decencies to do? Perhaps what’s most needed at this precarious moment is to gain clarity on our situation by returning to a principled understanding of the moral foundations of liberty, equality, and human dignity, in both a broadly human and specifically American context.

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