Ted McAllister

Ted McAllister is the Edward L. Gaylord Chair / Associate Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University. Author of Revolt Against Modernity: Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, and the Search for a Post-Liberal Order, he is currently working on a book about Walter Lippmann and the problem of modern liberation.

The Politics of Moral Outrage

shutterstock_136213418Moral outrage, when it is not fatuous, is politically potent. Vivid examples of politicians and commentators in full-throated, red-faced attacks against malignant motives and vicious political acts come easily to mind for all but the most apolitical. In some cases these outbursts are reactions against assaults on how things are or have been—on the decent order of things as inherited. But any honest observer must acknowledge that the more successful production of moral outrage has issued from those seeking fundamental transformation.

Read More

What a Providentially Bad President Can Do for America

King Arthur: I am your king!

Woman: Well I didn’t vote for you!

King Arthur: You don’t vote for kings.

Woman: Well how’d you become king then?

— “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”

In his enviably readable book Inventing Freedom, Daniel Hannan refers to King John of England as “providentially bad.” Most importantly for the cause of English liberty (and by extension American liberty), the “obnoxious” and overbearing behavior of King John resulted in the Magna Carta. Had John been more artful and politically deft he might have aggrandized more power to himself and imposed a number of political innovations on a disgruntled people. But John, being bad, inspired reaction.

A century and a half after the Norman invasion brought to England a new ruling class and an imposed Continental feudal political arrangement, the nobility—who were themselves the offspring of the “bastard” Normans—drew deeply from the older Anglo-Saxon traditions still encoded in the sinews of English order to check the king and produce a crystalized defense of old liberties. In the Magna Carta they drew from the past but also altered the future. Often in reaction we make progress.

Read More

The Call of American Liberty

Books reviewed in this essay:

The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry, by Gordon Lloyd and David Davenport (Hoover Institution Press, 2013).

The Crusade Years, 1933-1955: Herbert Hoover’s Lost Memoir of the New Deal Era and Its Aftermath, ed., George H. Nash (Hoover Institution Press, 2013).

New power emerges out of confusion—and ours is a confused age. No dominant historical narrative supplies us with a common story, and without a common story we belong neither to each other nor to shared ideals. When a people are unscripted by history, the past becomes raw material, to be processed via key moral and political vocabulary by those who would willfully impose “new modes and orders,” to quote Machiavelli.

New Deal and Modern ACDisordered times produce the search for order and the desire to impose order. Gordon Lloyd and David Davenport are in the former category. Their book The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism seeks to revise our historical understanding of the rise and development of American conservatism by tracing it to Herbert Hoover.

Read More

The Extinction of American Liberty? Ted McAllister responds:

Lamentably, I find myself in general agreement with the thoughtful commentaries on my essay by the three respondents, C. Bradley Thompson, Steven Grosby, and William Dennis. This is not to say that underneath this broad consensus there aren’t serious and enjoyable differences of philosophy that warrant sustained engagement. Taken as a whole, the body of non-Progressives advocates of liberty collectively display a colorful plumage of beliefs. While this is generally for the good, we ought to attend closely to matters of emphasis. Indeed, an objective of my original essay was to stress one concern, shared with varying degrees of intensity, that…

Read More

More Responses

The Revolution in Ideas and Practice That Elevated American Liberty

Ted McAllister and the Liberty Law Forum at Liberty Fund are to be thanked for resurrecting a vitally important but seemingly forgotten, or, at least, neglected topic. The subject of McAllister’s essay is the American tradition of liberty, which he contrasts with perfect or abstract liberty. He asks two important questions: What is distinctive about…

Read More

The Distinctive Spheres of American Liberty and the State

“The Institutions of American Liberty” is a nicely written and, for the most part, compelling encomium to the tradition of American liberty and the institutions upon which it rests. The author of this piece, as so many following Tocqueville have observed, rightly notes that American history displays “a fervor of institution building by people who…

Read More

Piety, Benevolence, Self-Government, and Free Institutions

The Rev. Timothy Dwight (President of Yale, 1795-1817, leading Congregational and Federalist thinker, enemy of Thomas Jefferson), wrote about the three great good works: piety, benevolence, and self-government. Self-government meant the well ordering of one’s life so he could live as a free and responsible human being. If a person was well self-governed, he would…

Read More

The Institutions of American Liberty

Americana

I write of an American tradition of liberty rather than of Liberty as such. I write not of the liberty we would find behind a veil of ignorance nor of the undiluted, principled, liberty some moralists consume straight up. I focus instead on a heritage of liberty, forged out of the particular and peculiar experiences of American history, protected and internalized by a panoply of institutions, and that has produced an American temperament infused with affection and admiration for its unique inheritance. American liberty inspires gratitude and a spirit of improvement that is constructive rather than revolutionary. Unlike Liberty as…

Read More

Responses

The Revolution in Ideas and Practice That Elevated American Liberty

Ted McAllister and the Liberty Law Forum at Liberty Fund are to be thanked for resurrecting a vitally important but seemingly forgotten, or, at least, neglected topic. The subject of McAllister’s essay is the American tradition of liberty, which he contrasts with perfect or abstract liberty. He asks two important questions: What is distinctive about…

Read More

The Distinctive Spheres of American Liberty and the State

“The Institutions of American Liberty” is a nicely written and, for the most part, compelling encomium to the tradition of American liberty and the institutions upon which it rests. The author of this piece, as so many following Tocqueville have observed, rightly notes that American history displays “a fervor of institution building by people who…

Read More

Piety, Benevolence, Self-Government, and Free Institutions

The Rev. Timothy Dwight (President of Yale, 1795-1817, leading Congregational and Federalist thinker, enemy of Thomas Jefferson), wrote about the three great good works: piety, benevolence, and self-government. Self-government meant the well ordering of one’s life so he could live as a free and responsible human being. If a person was well self-governed, he would…

Read More

The Extinction of American Liberty? Ted McAllister responds:

Lamentably, I find myself in general agreement with the thoughtful commentaries on my essay by the three respondents, C. Bradley Thompson, Steven Grosby, and William Dennis. This is not to say that underneath this broad consensus there aren’t serious and enjoyable differences of philosophy that warrant sustained engagement. Taken as a whole, the body of…

Read More

The Tyrannical Declaration of Independence

For Liberty and Equality

The most important battle for the American soul is being fought in history. The intellectual rise of Neo-Progressivism over the past three decades depended heavily on historians who helped craft a compelling story of America. This story had to expose and chronicle the dark history of exploitation of the privileged and powerful against a litany of victimized “others” while simultaneously laying claim to a worthy past that is unfolding toward a noble future. The psychological benefits of this story are many and powerful, though they rest on conceptual ground riven with subterranean stresses and fissures. At its most powerful, inhabiting this…

Read More

A New American Myth

In politics, our myths are more important than our history.  The stories that tell us who we are as a nation are the most powerful political tools in times of economic, military or cultural stress.  Good or useful myths marshal populist anxieties, giving to people who are fearful of dispossession or political dislocation a story that simultaneously affirms their central role in this nation and explains the causes of their present turmoil. In 2008 the nation needed a useable myth that could tap into American populism and turn this potent political force into a conserving power.  Obama’s myth has not created a sustainable narrative of America, but it might have weakened the very capacity of the nation to believe in and live as part of a better story of ourselves.

Read More

The Scale of Our Devotion: The Law of the Nation-State v. The Arts of Association

Progressives use laws and regulations as a means of narrowing the social space in which individuals and groups make choices.  The objective is moral in nature and Progressives take freedom, of a certain sort, very seriously.  The highest liberty is to do what is right and good and therefore they believe that an extensive, detailed, objective, and rational, legal (and regulatory) system is a necessary component in nudging people to their freedom.  Working in tandem with a national media that presents a vision of a redeemed community, and a progressive educational system in which children internalize the moral vision of the national community (a subject I explored here), a comprehensive legal structure guides, shapes, and reminds citizens about virtuous living.

Much about the Progressive version of moralized politics is deeply American. 

Read More

The Images of Progressive Citizenship

I have written elsewhere that the primary task of the Progressive state is the rearing of good citizens.  In this way Progressives participate in a very ancient conversation about citizen virtues and the common good.  To understand them well, one ought to pay close attention to the cave wall, to the images and ideals they craft in order to play on widely accepted moral principles and, then, to alter or shape those principles in an ongoing reeducation campaign. Progressivism is, first and foremost, a moral vision and its power rests squarely on how compelling democratic citizens find that moral vision.  The rearing of good citizens requires, as a result, first deceiving citizens by “framing” policy alternatives in such a way as to tap into the linguist moral resources of the people and then, second, altering the moral framework by steady efforts at reeducation by several key institutions like the media, the judiciary, higher education, but especially government schools.

Read More

Liberty and Community After Progressivism

Robert Nisbet’s most important and yet neglected insight is that modern individualism and collectivism are the twin movements of modern democratic despotism.  The first liberates individuals from myriad forms of authority (e.g., family, church, guild, local community) that characterize most pre-modern social orders.  The second represents a new, equalitarian order based on the consolidation of isolated (liberated) particles into a new administrative regime that promises solidarity and community.  In a previous essay I suggested that the dominant species of modern community, the democratic administrative state, faces severe—perhaps existential—threats to its hegemony because the financial burden faced by modern states makes it impossible for them to sustain the necessary level of provision for their citizens. The resulting austerity should open social space between the individual and state.  The question now is whether new patterns of authority as well as richer conceptions of the person will emerge in this new social space. 

Read More