Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Conservative Case for Philosophical Liberalism

Yascha Mounk: How do you think conservatives should think about liberalism and liberal democracy?

Harvey Mansfield: They should hold to it. I would just make some general observations. I like our good old, tried-and-true liberalism that comes from John Locke and his [view on], on the one hand, toleration, which is good for intellectuals, and on private property, which is good for businessmen. Already you see the basis for a two party system within liberalism. And I think that's the kind of thing we should hold to. Locke protects this view of liberty with constitutionalism, and this has been worked out by the American founders. 

Liberal democracy means democracy with liberties. That means rights which are guaranteed against majority interference. The problem in a republic is not so much minority exploitation, as majority exploitation. “Faction” was the word which is used in the Federalist, or “tyranny of the majority,” in Tocqueville. I think those who best understand democracy fear its tendency to uproarious, overbearing majorities. That's the main problem, and the reason it's the main problem is that a majority tyranny looks like a majority justice, or even a majority view of the common good. Those two things need to be distinguished and made operable, and you make them operable with the usual devices of constitutionalism: separation of powers, bicameral legislature, federalism. Plus the Bill of Rights, which are amendments to the Constitution. Don't forget the Constitution itself. All those things are, I think, still valuable and we shouldn't endanger them, much less throw them away. 


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