Is there a crisis of liberal democracy? Following decades of expansion, global freedom is on the decline.  New research shows public support for democracy declining, especially among younger generations in Western countries. And by most measures and definitions, there are now about 25 fewer democratic countries than there were at the turn of the millennium.

Meanwhile, nationalism has been enjoying a striking revival—from the Brexit vote in Great Britain, to the election of Donald Trump in the United States, to the appearance of populist anti-EU movements and governments in the nations of the European perimeter.

In this two-week seminar, students will examine the relationship between liberal democracy and nationalism. Why have freedom and democracy been regressing in many countries? Is nationalism a source of unity or disunity? Can we find a synthesis between liberalism and nationalism?

Over the first week, students will reflect on the meaning and practice of liberal democracy—with a view toward understanding the prospects for democracy today and in the future. Over the second, students will explore the ancient roots of nationalism and assess its utility in contemporary politics.

Diana Schaub on love, friendship, & justice


Diana Schaub

Diana J. Schaub is Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Maryland and a member of the Hoover Institution’s task force on The Virtues of a Free Society. From 2004 to 2009 she was a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.

Richard M. Reinsch II

Richard M. Reinsch II is Editor-in-Chief and Director of Publications at AIER. He is coauthor, with the late Peter A. Lawler, of A Constitution in Full: The Unwritten Foundation of American Liberty.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session




  1. What is the source of the distinctive character of the American regime? And how is its distinctive character related to its founding?
  2. How is the founding of America differently described by Tocqueville and by Lincoln?
  3. According to Cropsey, in what ways is our regime imperfect or incomplete? How does thought or self-reflection function in relation to that imperfection?
  4. How is the Founding an ongoing responsibility of future Americans and not just of the Founding generation?




  1. What, according to Tocqueville, are the attendant dangers of individualism? What are the conditions for this development? Do these dangers fit with the intimations of Hawthorne’s story?
  2. What, according to Mill, are the goods secured or made available by promoting individuality?
  3. What are individualism’s implicit presuppositions about the nature of human beings? Are those presuppositions accurate?




  1. Tocqueville compares a radically individualist (or androgynous) conception of sexual equality with what he believes is a better understanding the Americans have. What are the elements of the American understanding of relations between the sexes? What does Tocqueville mean when he speaks of “the superiority of [America’s] women”? Has the ideal that he describes and endorses been refuted or decisively overturned by contemporary feminism or can one still make a case for the desirability or possibility of sexual difference as the foundation of family and community?
  2. How does an emphasis on individual liberty accommodate the involuntary associations of birth—i.e., one’s parents, hometown, nation, etc.? How does an emphasis on individual liberty accommodate one’s involuntary characteristics—i.e., sex/gender, race, intelligence, etc.?
  3. How does a commitment to equality of conditions contend with natural inequality or with the residue of a history of inequality?
  4. As much as equality of conditions demands the elevation of the low, does it also demand the leveling of the high?




  1. How might a liberal regime sustain a robust notion of soul and virtue? How might it resist the flattening of these into identity and interest?
  2. Does liberalism exacerbate the tendency among human beings to gravitate to the lowest common denominator? Can liberalism allow for and inspire human excellence?
  3. How might liberalism be in tension with other values? Can it negotiate or must it abolish hierarchical/exclusive claims on one’s values?
  4. Is it possible to maintain a robust love of one’s own (patriotism)? Or must the logical and moral trajectory of the premises of liberal democracy tend toward cosmopolitanism?
  5. Our liberal democracy contains competing conceptions of liberty itself. How might we manage these competing conceptions? Is it possible to remain pluralistic about these conceptions or must we establish an order among them?




  1. What is the relationship between a liberal democratic regime and the education of its citizens? Whose responsibility is it to educate the next generation of citizens?
  2. What is the difference between educating a human being and educating a citizen?
  3. Are there different senses of the word “liberal” at work in “liberal democracy” and “liberal education”? If so, what is the source of the difference?
  4. What sense does it make to be educated in liberty if liberty is a given or natural right?
  5. Is the conception of a human being as a bearer of equal rights sufficient to ground a robust education? What does the structure of our institutions of higher education owe to this conception of a human being?



Discussion Questions:

  1. What does nationalism provide politically to a people?
  2. What are pre-political loyalties? Does nationalism foster and preserve these? Should it?
  3. Does it bind disparate families, groups, and peoples together in a manner superior to other political forms?

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