Richard Samuelson

Richard Samuelson is Associate Professor of History at California State University, San Bernardino.

Critiquing the Administrative State Is Natural

Samuel Goldman has made a stimulating contribution to our political discussions. “What is the Future of Conservatism?” is thoughtful and thought-provoking. In light of the feud between Never Trump conservatives and Trump-supporting conservatives, it is well worth pondering if Goldman is right that we are witnessing a conservative “crack up.” This concern is not new. He might take a somewhat different line than did R. Emmett Tyrrell, founder of the American Spectator, but his language echoes Tyrrell’s The Conservative Crack-Up (1992). Despair is not new, either. Remember Russell Kirk’s original title for his 1953 classic The Conservative Mind was “The Conservative…

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Don’t Take the Benedict Option

Professor Goldman begins his Liberty Forum essay by urging a striking, but probably unworkable, reconception of the fundamental divide in conservative ranks. Rather than “the familiar distinctions between libertarianism and traditionalism, neoconservatism and paleoconservatism,” he proposes, it’s a conflict between “liberalism and reaction.” Reaction—meaning reactionary politics such as Trumpism—is, according to Goldman, not easily compatible with…

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Creative Tension, Not Crack-Up

Samuel Goldman has written a bracing Liberty Forum essay suggesting that the Right side of the political spectrum is split, perhaps hopelessly and irrevocably, between classical liberalism and reaction. The roots of the divide are deep and enduring but what brings the problem into bold relief is our political moment and, above all, the rise…

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Freedom Might Well Flourish Even If Conservatives Don’t

Samuel Goldman has written a wide-ranging and thought-provoking Liberty Forum essay on the current sorry state of American conservatism. This sorry state is especially sorry for those of us who, like Dr. Goldman, believe that classical liberalism is the best part of American conservatism. It is an assessment, he says in conclusion, which he hopes…

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Samuel Goldman Responds to His Critics

I am grateful to David B. Frisk, John O. McGinnis, Matthew Mitchell, and Richard Samuelson for their generous and thoughtful replies to my Liberty Forum essay. Speaking broadly, we agree that the American Right is in a bad way. We also think it would be a mistake to abandon classical liberal commitments to constitutional government,…

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How about a Liberal Option – And It Could Be Done Through Reconciliation

Could the market help us solve our healthcare problems? Market economists and theorists say of course it could; big government/Progressive types say no. Let’s find out. As Franklin said when discussing his famous Kite, “let the experiment be made.” When the Obama administration was debating just how heavily to regulate America’s healthcare system, many on the Left wanted a truly government-run health insurance scheme, or “public option.” As Progressives’ default assumption is that government programs work better than the alternatives, they believed a “public option” would demonstrate the wisdom of turning to fully socialized medicine in the United States. Average Americans reacted sensibly:…

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General Washington’s Christmas Gifts

Two Hundred Forty years ago, Christmas Eve, was a desperate time for America. General Washington had lost the Battle of New York, and had been chased, humiliatingly, all the way across New Jersey, and into Pennsylvania.

Those were, as Thomas Paine‘s first “American Crisis” essay, dated December 23, 1776, declared “the times that try men’s souls”:

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George Washington, American


In my “Age of Washington” class the other day, I stumbled over the start of his Last Will and Testament.  I regard the will as a partly public and partly private document—the last of his great “farewells,” including his farewell to the Virginia Regiment in 1759, his last Circular to the States in 1783, and, of course, his Presidential Farewell Address of 1796.

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The Paradox of Jefferson’s “Establishment of Religious Liberty” and the Problem of the Administrative State

Michael Zuckert’s Liberty Forum essay is a great introduction to religious liberty as it is discussed in America today, and provides a useful analytical framework to understand the tensions and controversies we face with regard to religious liberty, and perhaps liberty more generally. He strikes me as on the mark in his conclusion that religious liberty is ultimately a political subject in the United States, which demands negotiation among competing goods, perhaps even competing understandings of justice, represented, in part, by competing understandings of the nature and purpose of religious liberty. That said, Zuckert’s formulation, precisely because it describes today’s…

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Religious Liberty After John Locke

The central point of Michael Zuckert’s Liberty Forum essay is that contemporary disputes about religious liberty should not come as a surprise, since they are the result of three contrary, though sometimes overlapping, understandings of religious liberty that have been found in the body politic in differing degrees since the American Founding. He classifies these…

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Religious Freedom Can Now Mean Only: Freedom for Religion

Michael Zuckert’s Liberty Forum essay does an excellent job of bringing to light ambiguities and tensions that have always been present in the notion of religious freedom. He is certainly right that there is no Pure Theory of Religious Freedom, which, if only we can grasp it and make it universally accepted, would resolve all…

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Michael Zuckert Responds to His Critics

The first two responses to my Liberty Forum essay illustrate well that political theory is (still) not an exact science. Francis Beckwith finds my “religious liberty taxonomy” to be “largely correct . . . as an account of the history of America’s church/state jurisprudence,” but he doubts that my classification is as adequate for understanding…

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Rotten Boroughs Everywhere

William Hogarth's Canvassing for Votes.

The British people’s decision to leave the European Union reveals that Britain, like the EU itself, suffers from a “democracy deficit.”

Several commentators have noted that that reality suggests the problem is not so much a political one, but instead concerns a feeling that “globalization can and has run roughshod over the economic and social orders of old,” and “the extraordinary movement of populations in the world today.” Ramesh Ponnuru argues that it is not Britain but the EU that suffers from the problem; but he probably overcorrects.

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Everything Will Change, Everything Has Changed: A Brexit Symposium

British Prime Minister David announces his resignation at Downing Street.  (Photo by Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Britain Makes History

By Richard Samuelson

So yet another effort to put all of Europe under one government seems to be failing. From Caesar to Charlemagne to Charles V to Louis XIV to Napoleon and beyond the vision of unity has been a recurring theme in European politics. The latest effort, a union forged in the wake of two destructive and nearly universal wars, is different in some ways—although not democratic, there have been democratic elements in the EU. Moreover, and most importantly, expansion has been peaceful, featuring conquest by referendum.

All that notwithstanding, one can, quite accurately see the Brexit as the latest in a long series of rejections of a universal European empire, with Eurocrats in the place of previous would-be emperors. As in previous centuries, Cambridge and Oxford dons are more comfortable conferencing with their peers at the Sorbonne than with their fellow subjects, and once again the would-be coutiers they train look to the Continent for moral guidance. And, as before, many of Her Majesty’s common subjects resent it.

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Politics in a Post-Modern Republic

Fight, two fists hitting each other over dramatic sky

What is the cause of our polarized politics?  Some blame one party or the other, and that is certainly plausible.  But I wonder if the problem goes deeper.  Our two parties are fighting for the future.   We are polarized because we disagree about what it would mean to make America better.  Beyond that, the arguments are so extreme because in our post-modern age we cannot agree about what it means to be reasonable.

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Adams Explains Trumpism

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John Adams explains the rise of Donald Trump. From the third volume of The Defence of the Constitutions, which I am currently working on for an edition with Liberty Fund: This whole story is a demonstration of the oppression of the people under the aristocracy; of the extreme jealousy of that aristocracy of kings, of an oligarchy, and of popular power; of the constant secret wishes of the people to set up a king to defend them against the nobles, and of their readiness to fall in with the views of any rich man who flattered them, and set him up as…

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The Crisis of the New Order

Washington DC

Peggy Noonan recently suggested that “elites are often the last to see their system is under siege. ‘It couldn’t be, I’ve done so well.’” There is much to this idea, especially in a nation like America where many are, in fact, doing very well, and are often socially isolated from others who are not doing so well. Near zero interest rates have flooded the stock market with money, and that, among other things, has been good for the wealthy. Outside of that, however, things are tougher, and not only economically. Because Americans are increasingly isolated socially and economically, our governing class often has trouble seeing this reality.

Our system was supposed to be designed to ensure regular contact between elites and the common citizen.

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