Respectable Partisans of Modern Liberty

Mark Blitz, "Respectable Partisans of Modern Liberty," Library of Law and Liberty, October 1, 2015.


Fifty years have passed since Harvey Mansfield’s path-breaking Statesmanship and Party Government first appeared. It is a book so good that Leo Strauss is said to have wished he had written it. The original edition is now available as an e-book, so the busy Democratic operative may read it on hilarymail as she travels in search of wisdom from Hollywood to Havana.

Of course, she is unlikely to seize the opportunity. The illumination scholars could once offer well-meaning politicians about prudence, statesmanship, and natural law—topics Mansfield discusses—is today dimmed by academics’ enlistment as experts on turnout, traffic, taxes, and triage. Those few social scientists who are not useless have become appendages of the bureaucratic state. In any event, the pace of politics today leaves little time and less incentive to think and to observe, and books such as Statesmanship and Party Government demand reflection.

Still, our political origin continues to form all we do, and understanding it properly can help to guide our judgment. Politics should enhance our way of life. What is that way of life? The people’s self-government should guide administrations. How can we best effect this guidance? Administrative discretion within limits should deal with our necessities and emergencies. What are these limits? American and British liberal democracies are rooted in a practical resolution of the great religious conflicts of the 17th century. Yet, or consequently, the religious question persists, most threateningly in the way that the power of Islamist fanaticism now bewilders us.

What public direction about religion’s place in politics can our origin offer us today?

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