A Must-Read On the Crisis of Self-Government

This interview with Harvey Mansfield has been sitting among my tabs just waiting to be read for the last three days, but I’m sorry I procrastinated.  I hope you will not.  The whole article is here (again via the WSJ), but below are a few of the choicest excerpts.  I’ll try not to quote the  article in its entirety.

  • “We have now an American political party and a European one. Not all Americans who vote for the European party want to become Europeans. But it doesn’t matter because that’s what they’re voting for. They’re voting for dependency, for lack of ambition, and for insolvency.”
  • “It is telling, then, that during the 2012 campaign progressives were “confined to defending what they’ve already achieved or making small improvements—student loans, free condoms. The Democrats are the party of free condoms. That’s typical for them.”
  • “But Democrats’ refusal to address the future in positive terms, he adds, also reveals the party’s intent to create “an entitlement or welfare state that takes issues off the bargaining table and renders them above politics.” The end goal, Mr. Mansfield worries, is to sideline the American constitutional tradition in favor of “a practical constitution consisting of progressive measures the left has passed that cannot be revoked. And that is what would be fixed in our political system—not the Constitution.””
  • “The threat to self-government is clear. “The American founders wanted people to live under the Constitution,” Mr. Mansfield says. “But the progressives want the Constitution to live under the American people.””
  • “Strauss had studied ancient Greek texts, which emphasized among other things that “within democracy there is good and bad, free and slave,” and that “democracy can produce a slavish mind and a slavish country.” The political task before every generation, Mr. Mansfield understood, is to “defend the good kind of democracy. And to do that you have to be aware of human differences and inequalities, especially intellectual inequalities.””
  • “”Americans take inequality for granted,” Mr. Mansfield says. The American people frequently “protect inequalities by voting not to destroy or deprive the rich of their riches. They don’t vote for all measures of equalization, for which they get condemned as suffering from false consciousness. But that’s true consciousness because the American people want to make democracy work, and so do conservatives. Liberals on the other hand just want to make democracy more democratic.””
  • “The Republicans should want to recover the notion of the common good,” Mr. Mansfield says. “One way to do that is to show that we can’t afford the entitlements as they are—that we’ve always underestimated the cost. ‘Cost’ is just an economic word for the common good. And if Republicans can get entitlements to be understood no longer as irrevocable but as open to negotiation and to political dispute and to reform, then I think they can accomplish something.”
  • “Then there is the matter of conservative political practice. “Conservatives should be the party of judgment, not just of principles,” he says. “Of course there are conservative principles—free markets, family values, a strong national defense—but those principles must be defended with the use of good judgment. Conservatives need to be intelligent, and they shouldn’t use their principles as substitutes for intelligence. Principles need to be there so judgment can be distinguished from opportunism. But just because you give ground on principle doesn’t mean you’re an opportunist.”

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