Contemporary debates about the moral direction of American social and political life are often described as debates about liberalism. But in this description, liberalism seems to mean an empty proceduralism that values only individual rights and serves only to avoid arguing about other moral goods. That portrait bears little resemblance to the actual practice of liberal societies, and only a passing resemblance to those societies’ theories about themselves.

What might a fuller understanding of liberalism involve? What are its aims and its methods? And what might it mean to understand our debates about the moral substance of our politics as disputes among different kinds of liberals more than between liberals and their enemies?

Image via Billy Wilson, Chelsea Street, South Royalton, Vermont, Flick Creative Commons

Yuval Levin on rebuilding institutions


Yuval Levin

Yuval Levin is a Resident Scholar and Director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the Editor of National Affairs magazine. Mr. Levin served on the White House domestic policy staff under President George W. Bush.

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Discussion Questions:

  1. Is the liberal society capable of keeping what Kristol describes as its promises?
  2. Why do we tend to couch our political principles in terms of freedom?
  3. Is political practice applied political theory? If it isn’t, then what is the point of political theory?
  4. Can the liberal society produce good citizens? Can it produce good people? Did it produce you?

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