Aurelian Craiutu

Aurelian Craiutu is Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His most recent book is A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830 (Princeton University Press, 2012). E-mail:

When Moderation Is a Virtue: A Conversation with Aurelian Craiutu

faces of moderationBarry Goldwater famously told the Republican National Convention in 1964 that "extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice and ... moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." Begging to differ is Aurelian Craiutu who joins this episode to discuss his new book, Faces of Moderation, a profound study of thinkers such as Raymond Aron, Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin, and others, who defended freedom and constitutional government against ideologues of all types.

Rethinking the Political Horizon of Liberalism

At the outset of his provocative Liberty Forum essay, Jeremy Rabkin notes that the most remarkable thing about Carl Schmitt is “his appeal to contemporary academics in the English-speaking world.” Schmitt’s literary afterlife and the current level of interest in his works are, indeed, surprising given his infamous political trajectory and his ambiguous and unconvincing postwar attempts to come to terms with—and account for—his past political pirouettes. (He refused to comply with the procedures of denazification, and lived out the rest of his long life in West Germany, dying in 1985 at age 97.) As Rabkin notes, there are currently no…

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In response to: Springtime for Schmitt

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Schmitt and the Power of Language

Jeremy Rabkin has captured a good sense of Carl Schmitt in his Liberty Forum essay. Like him, I agree that it is difficult to grapple with the author’s exceedingly abstract prose. But there is a certain urgency that requires us to try, if only because, as Rabkin has also shown, the allure is proving all…

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Carl Schmitt, Between Banality and Catholicism

Encountering Carl Schmitt for the first time is a shock, especially if one is raised to respect what Jeremy Rabkin, in his Liberty Forum essay, correctly describes as the liberal pieties. But if one cares about liberalism it would be a mistake to write Schmitt off as a Nazi, a nihilist, or a promoter of…

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Rediscovering the Virtues of Political Moderation

Constitutional Conservatism

This virtue of moderation (which time and situations will clearly distinguish from the counterfeits of pusillanimity and indecision) is the virtue only of superior minds. It requires a deep courage, and full of reflection, to be temperate when the voice of multitudes (the specious mimic of fame and reputation) passes judgment against you. —Edmund Burke “American conservatism stands at a crossroads,” notes Peter Berkowitz in his latest book, Constitutional Conservatism: Liberty, Self-Government, and Political Moderation (Hoover Institution Press, 2013). “In moving forward, it would do well to study the high points of American conservatism over the last seventy years, which confirm Burke’s…

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Thinking with Tocqueville: Courage not Ambition, Moderation not Pessimism

Over the past years, I have been asking the students taking my modern political thought class to write an essay imagining what Tocqueville might have said if he visited America today. This open-ended assignment invites them to select a few major concepts from Democracy in America and apply them to our contemporary context. Since there are no fixed answers, my main goal is to stir their imagination and make them think for a moment “like” and “with” Tocqueville.[1] When explaining the assignment, I always remind them that the young Frenchman was only a few years older than them (he was twenty-six year old when he arrived in New York!) and had a great intellectual ambition but almost no first-hand political experience. Tocqueville tried to create a new political science for a new world, as he famously put it in the introduction to Volume One of Democracy in America (1835).  He offered a new way of analyzing social and political phenomena, one that went beyond the method used by his contemporaries (including Marx). If Tocqueville came to America with several preconceptions about the fundamental nature and the direction of modern society (which he acquired in part by attending Guizot’s lectures on civilization in Europe and France), he was, however, open to new experiences and willingly embraced new conceptual challenges. America taught him a few unexpected lessons about the equality of conditions, civil society, pluralism, religion, centralization, participatory democracy, the democratic mind, and the limits of affluence.

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Redeeming Liberty: Tocqueville on the Omnipresent Threat of Democratic Pantheism

“I have only one passion, the love of liberty and human dignity.”

~Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America had a great ambition: to offer the blueprint for a new science of politics in the service of freedom. The famous claim made in the introduction to the book speaks for itself: “A new political science is needed for a world entirely new” (DA, I, 16).[1] To this effect, Tocqueville brought about a new way of analyzing social and political phenomena that opposed rigid deterministic theories of political and social development. Many political events, he believed, could not be accounted for by theories pretending to explain or foresee the development of societies. In the footsteps of Montesquieu, Tocqueville recognized that all societies are diverse and pluralistic in composition, molded by a complex mix of constantly evolving factors including history, physical environment, culture, and laws. No general theory of politics could adequately capture this complex amalgam and predict the development of society: “Antecedent facts, the nature of institutions, the cast of minds and the state of morals are the materials of which are composed those impromptus which astonish and alarm us.”[2]

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Loving the Democratic State Moderately

Ralph Hancock begins his interesting essay[i] be reminding us that, despite its internal contradictions and failures, the modern state has become the only conceivable political form in our post-modern world. This should be puzzling since the record is far from being a convincing successful story. At its best, the modern state has allowed us to live together and pursue freely and peacefully our individual interests as we think fit; yet, the modern state is also a symbol of the iron cage of modernity, as illustrated, among other things, by its power of supervising citizens’ movements and its powerful tax system’s…

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From the Nation State to the New Church

Mankind is not easily rid of theology once it gets the bug. The nation-state tried to erase the distinction between earthly power and absolute right, but the attempt failed, with the result that the modern nation-state, its professed secularism notwithstanding, is once more coming under the tutelage of a clerisy. Almost since its beginning the nation-state…

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