It is better to embrace the freedom of moral and intellectual diversity across institutions.
Richard Reinsch (00:04):
Today, we’re talking with Dan Mahoney, one of the principal founders of Liberty and Justice for All, a new statement and declaration of the right kind of unity about American citizenship and education and constitutionalism. We’re going to let Dan tell us more about that. Dan is a frequent guest of Liberty Law Talk, and we’re glad to have him on. He’s the Augustine Chair of Distinguished Scholarship at Assumption College. He’s the author of a number of books, including The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity. He’s also the author of The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order and The Other Solzhenitsyn. Dan, glad to have you on.
Dan Mahoney (01:05):
Delighted to be back, Richard.
Richard Reinsch (01:07):
So last time we were talking about CHAZ which then became CHOP, Capitol Hill Organized Protest in Seattle. We were discussing how the city government of Seattle could allow, in effect, 10 blocks or so of its city to be taken over by Antifa, various thugs, left-wing protestors, who we now know worked a great deal of damage. And so we know this was a microcosm effort of a lot of problems and unrest and unsettlement in our country. And we talked a lot about that. You’ve now become a part of an effort which I’m also a part of called “Liberty and Justice for All.” Maybe tell us about that.
Dan Mahoney (01:51):
Yes. We published an open letter with 173 signatories. The founders of the effort were myself, Mark Mitchell at Patrick Henry College, Jeremy Beer publisher of The American Conservative, and Joshua Mitchell the Tocqueville scholar at Georgetown, who has a book coming out from Encounter this fall called American Awakening which is actually about the tyranny of despotism. We all consulted after I had published my essay on “The Culture of Hate” at RealClearPolitics around the 4th of July. My colleagues contacted me and said, “We need a concerted effort to speak up in defense of American principles and institutions and against this nihilistic violence and mayhem.” We were all I think, stunned by the fact that this open assault on our history, on our institutions, on the symbols of the American Republic, on our Western inheritance was being met by so little resistance. The Republican Party was acting as if this was just business as usual, this too shall pass. Trump was really the only one speaking up most notably in his very powerful Mount Rushmore address, which was uniformly attacked by mass media. So we put our efforts together and we decided our best approach was to write an open letter to our fellow Americans laying out in bold, but spirited, but nonetheless thoughtful arguments, to weigh exactly what is at stake if those who are committed to the destruction of the American heritage win. And that’s what we did.
We laid down the fact that this movement is destructive and not constructive. That it’s not dedicated to reformation which depends on conservation, but is instead dedicated to a full scale assault on America. We also, I think were particularly concerned by the way in which admirable aspirations and principles were being used, especially facile and ideological appeals to justice and inequality. And I should add we were deeply concerned by the iconoclasm the tearing down of statues, the efforts to cancel Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Junipero Serra, the great saint in California, the ignorance of the mob as they tore down abolitionists and anti slavery people. And we were, I think, deeply concerned about la trahison des clercs, the betrayal of the intellectuals, either at worst endorsing and vigorously endorsing this madness and nihilism and at best simply excusing it, so that was the genesis of our effort.
As I said, we had 173 signatories, many very distinguished people, including yourself from a wide range of backgrounds, many conservative, some liberals, many among what I call the unclassifiable people who are not easily ideologically classified. And since the publication of the letter, in RealClearPolitics about 10 or 11 days ago, we’ve had 1,000 people sign on and about another 1,000 who can’t sign for one reason or another, given the power and intimidation of the cancel culture, but who want to be on our mailing list and implicitly, I think endorse our aim. We want this to be an ongoing effort. We’ve followed up with a series of op-eds by Dr. Mitchell, myself, Mark Mitchell, Roger Kimball, and you’ll have a piece on the nature of despotism. Roger Kimball has a piece on the subversion of American education. So we want this to be an ongoing effort as you said, in defense of constitutionalism, the rule of law, and of the fundamental nobility of the principles that underlie the American proposition.
Richard Reinsch (06:25):
Where can people listening right now, where can they find this, the statement and sign up and make their-
Dan Mahoney (06:31):
Yeah, you can sign up and don’t be concerned if your signature doesn’t show up right away. We have to verify to make sure there’s not spam and that kind of thing. You know, people can write anything down. So it’s not an automatic process, but if you sign it and you’re committed to it, your name will appear once everything is verified, you can go to the Real Clear Foundation, do a Google search, Liberty and Justice, open letter Liberty and Justice For All.
Richard Reinsch (07:29):
Realclearfoundation.org, I think is the website. That’s certainly where I found it. So thinking about future goals, building something of a movement, what are future plans, things you want to do?
Dan Mahoney (07:41):
Well, right now, we’re concentrating on the series of op-eds that develop and clarify and move forward the ideas and inspiration of the letter. I think that will continue for a while. We also envision putting together a series of conversations, perhaps where the signatories of other letters that take a different tack opposing the cancel culture and the new liberalism but I think I know of one such effort that concentrates in higher education. Of course there’s the corporate letter, I’m not sure if their signatories will want to talk to us but we want to talk to them. We have one common signatory, the admirable, independent, black linguist, and intellectual, John McWhorter.
I should add, we’ve also partnered, this was this letter was co-sponsored by 1776 Unites. One of our organizers and initiators, Joshua Mitchell is on the board of 1776 Unites. He’s very close to Robert Woodson. 1776 Unites is a group of mainly African-American intellectuals. Robert is a bit of a community organizer in the best sense of the term, but who are committed to American principles to the constructive, and salutary, and truthful role of religion and to the hope inherent in the black experience, and then the American Republic, the American proposition. A wonderful group of people, John McWhorter, Wilfred Reilly, Carol Swain, John Ward, people around Robert who really challenged this narrative that American principles offer nothing for black men and women, or that Lincoln is a dreaded racist who needs to be canceled, or that there is no hope and that blacks are simply victims without agency, and that the majority population in this country are simply white supremacists and oppressors who are beyond redemption. So I think that a prominent crew of both very gifted and serious African-American intellectuals are working to unite the American people to see how the principles of ’76, should bring all of us together to be a source of constructive engagement, moving toward a more dignified future while building on what’s noble in our principles and in our past, while being fully cognizant of the injustices that mar the American experience. So that collaboration with 1776 Unites is very important to us. I believe our letter is also available on the 1776 Unites website.
Richard Reinsch (10:36):
You mentioned in the letter the signatories’ concerns about free speech being eliminated largely through cancel culture. It occurs to me the First Amendment could be nullified without it being repealed if cancel culture continues because of just the self-censorship that will occur. Representative government, you mentioned that, being sort of undermined as debate becomes difficult, and as these very drastic measures are constantly asserted to be the only way certain institutions like city councils can deal with difficult issues like police reform as in defund the police. And then also you mentioned federalism, market commerce, education, family, and religion.
I want to talk briefly on market commerce, just because of the centrality that that’s played as you know, in conservative thought throughout or since the post World War II period. And then the incredible weight that it had after the Cold War. You mentioned two problems in this which will be well-known to our listeners. The threat of crony capitalism, where those who are entrenched in power can use that power to make more money for themselves but foreclose opportunities to others. But you also mentioned woke capitalism, and I thought that was apt and correct, but we’ve got these two problems here, woke capitalism and crony capitalism. What does that mean? Or how should conservatives think about the market in light of the challenge whereby corporations whom we’ve always largely been friendly towards now seem to be actively working against not only conservatism and the causes that they support, but even perhaps the country itself, eating away at their own foundations, it seems to me.
Dan Mahoney (12:29):
Yeah, I’m a great admirer and I think you are of the writings of Irving Kristol and to a lesser extent, Wilhelm Roepke. And there’s this conservative, liberal defense of the market that both men articulated in the ’40 and ’50s for Roepke for ’60, ’70s, and ’80s with Kristol. It made the point that the market economy is not self subsisting. It depends upon the bourgeois virtues. It needs to be instantiated in a political order which is a commercial republic, it depends on virtues that it sometimes undermine. So this is why Kristol famously in his 1978 book called for Two Cheers For Capitalism. Not because he thought the market mechanism was inefficacious or should be replaced, but because market efficiency when liberated from the larger republican order that grounds it and forms it can be self-destructive, and I think we see that with both crony capitalism, which is really something in a different language and somewhat different form, something that Adam Smith warned against in the Wealth of Nations.
Richard Reinsch (13:46):
Dan Mahoney (13:47):
That he was never more nervous than when merchants were conspiring against the public good. And woke capitalism, I think is a phenomenon that is tied to corporate capitalism as Irving Kristol pointed out has always been a problem, it’s not that it doesn’t serve productivity and economic efficiency. And I think you’re right that classical liberals and conservatives in America have defended the corporation against demagogues and criticisms, and we were right to do so.
But on the other hand, when corporate capitalism simply ignores all the other goods that inform patriotism, the family, tradition, that inform what’s serious to liberal republican order, when corporate capitalists try to buy off socialist demagogues, or also promoting the moral dissolution of civil society, I think these people have to be actively opposed . This is an old phenomenon, many an anti-totalitarian has quoted Lenin’s famous line about the capitalists giving us the rope to hang them with. There’s a long line of history of how Wall Street and corporate capitalists appeased or tried to do business with the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and this kind of thing.
I think we see it today with the People’s Republic of China, we see it with the NBA in China. So our manifesto, our open letter is unequivocally in favor of the principles of the commercial republic, of the viable right of private property, of the indispensability of the market to both liberty and the prosperity of the American people. But yes, we do see the capitalist class complicit in the moral and economics divergence of the American Republic through both woke capitalism, but also crony capitalism. A desire in a way to do an end runaround the market, through the politicization of economic life. So I think when we wrote this letter, we were very careful to add those two because we’re putting together a coalition of independent minded people, none of whom are committed to, or naive about socialism or Marxism, and many of whom see these problems with not so much, I would say the economic order, as the culture that has come to replace the old bourgeois values and virtues. So it was important for us to say that, I think.
I think a defense simply in private property in the market against socialism would not have satisfied the majority of our signers because our moral situation today is quite complex. And I think a fulsome defense of the market and the commercial Republic has to take into account these real problems.
Richard Reinsch (16:59):
I wanted to ask you just briefly before we got on today, I was reading and my friend Phil Magness pointed out and he’s been following the 1619 Project that The New York Times, and he’s caught them red-handed with screenshots, evidence that they’ve surreptitiously been editing the 1619 Project. To take away some of the more strident claims, false claims that they made at the beginning of trying to move away from saying that 1619 was the beginning of our country, which was their first claim. And also moving away from this idea that America separated itself from great Britain in order to bolster the institution of slavery.
Dan Mahoney (17:46):
Not only an absurd claim…
Richard Reinsch (17:47):
Not only an absurd claim but they… So we’ve got The New York Times, the paper of record, editing its own website without telling anyone, which is to the extent that there are ethics around online journalism, if you make any substantive edits, you’re supposed to draw attention to it, they did not. And then we’ve got the Black Lives Matter movement on their website, basically taking down their claims that they want to abolish the nuclear family, as well as Marxist-inspired language about business, etc. removing those from its website. And I thought to myself, is that an indication already of some good news for us, for those of us who are trying to repel this movement that they’re editing themselves, surreptitiously taking off these factual errors and ideological claims that most people think are bogus already, an indication that they’ve overshot the mark?
Dan Mahoney (18:40):
Well, they did overshoot because they engaged in what the political theorist, Gerhart Niemeyer once called a total critique of the West and a total critique of America. And total critiques are always tied to totalitarianism because total critiques, demand negation and destruction. So they did overshoot and people have begun to notice. Now, I don’t for a second believe Nikole Hannah-Jones and the ideologues as the participants in the grievance industry around her have changed their minds at all. It’s just that they are worried that their project will be less the source of a new orthodoxy if the more egregious ideological claims remain. But look, when Charles Kesler early on during this revolution published a piece in the New York Post called “The 1619 Riots,” Nikole Hannah-Jones, tweeted that she was proud of that. In other words, this is the same woman who said when we destroy property we’re not committing violence.
We know the amount of property damage and the violence that accompanies that, it is a form of violence but other even more incendiary forms of violence accompany it. They are stepping back a bit I mean again, the trained Marxists, the ideologues who inspired and lead BLM are still trained Marxists, are still committed to the deconstruction of the family, still hate capitalism, still believe in an ideological Manichaenism where blacks and LGBTQ people are all innocent by definition and forever, and where whites and others I suppose Jews are forever guilty. So nothing has changed. But I think after four months of audacity, violence, mayhem, and the utter silence of the political class and of the Democratic party, a good part of the country is waking up. You could see it in the declining support down from 66 to 44%, I think for BLM, people are now making distinctions we made four months ago between an affirmation that all black lives matter and all lives matter, and the claims of the BLM movement.
So I think we’re in a better place now, even than when I wrote my “Culture of Hate” piece in July or late July I felt very alone and I really was stunned by the whole silence of the conservative political class, even more so the Republican party. And I think people are beginning to see, and they’re beginning to see in part, because the idealogues push so hard so quickly, so boldly, so nihilistically that it’s almost impossible not to see despite the censorship by the mainstream media. You know, if you just watch MSNBC and CNN, you would not know that our city was on fire. You simply wouldn’t know.
Richard Reinsch (21:54):
Though the mendacity there, they’re lying and they’re covering up as many people have noted, you’ll have news anchors with fires raging in the background, where they are reporting insisting that this is a peaceful protest or a largely peaceful protest.
Dan Mahoney (22:08):
By the way, I think that term mostly peaceful protest has become-
Richard Reinsch (22:12):
Dan Mahoney (22:13):
I think people know that mostly peaceful protests include a lot of willful destruction and people have died. Many people have died and many black people have died as a result of this. That’s the dirty little secret about BLM and of course Antifa, they don’t care about black lives. They care about useful black lives who they can appropriate, whose deaths they can appropriate to promote revolution, a revolutionary situation, but for the people who are killed by black on black crime or by ideological thugs, or this man who was just driven to suicide after being charged for defending himself against the mob. They don’t care about any of these lives. I think people are catching on that we’re dealing with the term and radical revolutionary nihilistic movements and not movement for justice. And that took a long time for much of the country to discover.
Richard Reinsch (23:20):
I wanted to ask you, you know a lot of people listening to us are younger academics, certainly we have journalists, people working in Washington. Some of our biggest cohorts of listeners are in larger cities, New York, LA, Chicago… people concerned about this, but at the same time feeling in the environment that they’re in pretty alone and afraid of voicing it. What would be your counsel to them to at some level to push against this identity politics, and its attempt to remake institutions, including institutions they may be in. Whereas we see though there are not a lot of concrete demands right now coming out of identity politics, other than the sort of these things like defund the police. But there’s this claim I think as you know, within these institutions, that institutions themselves are corrupt, even though no one is actively racist inside of them.
Dan Mahoney (24:23):
Yes. I mean, look, I don’t want to go so far to say as I’ve given up all hope for our university, but I think the situation in the vast majority of our universities and colleges with a few notable exceptions is beyond lamentable. I think the culture of political correctness is dominant. I think that administrators are foolishly taking new initiatives that whose practical effect is to ratify and instantiate something like critical race theory as a powerful ingredient to the self-understanding of these colleges and universities. I know at my college, the president after George Floyd died decided to have a conversation with recent graduates and present students and a group of radicals highlighted my department, the department of political science, which I think is the only department at the college that teaches and reflects on the civic grounds of human dignity.
And yet, because we taught Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and etc. and defended the American founding against calumnious charges that it was a racist or that it was a Republic only for white people that we were singled out for teaching the wrong thing for not being on board with racial and social justice, sort of vague accusation of fascism. I had a student in my class I taught last semester on politics and literature. I did the Russians Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky and I was accused of not being balanced in my treatment of revolutionary terrorism and totalitarianism. They can’t make this stuff up. So I have deep sympathy for younger faculty, their internal world, where even the freedoms, and civility, and bright prerogatives that I could appeal to are in the process of either being abolished or disregarded. So I think the project of the future has to be to do an add on to existing institutions. I’m not sure mainstream journalism is reformable, I’m not sure the university is reformable. I think we have to think seriously about a new model of the university that plays by different rules that is committed to liberal education and not ideology, which is not accredited by the existing accreditation agencies.
It’s going to be a long-term effort, but it’s got to begin now because otherwise, I mean, look in 15 or 20 years, people might like myself and in three years won’t have a place in the university. We’d never be hired and we’d never be tolerated. I mean, this situation is just that grave. So with the younger people look, I think we have reached an existential moment where one has to decide whether or not you will live by lies in the famous words of Solzhenitsyn, something Rod Dreher writes about in his new book doesn’t mean you have to scream the truth out at every meeting, or you have to make yourself a martyr, but just like in the Soviet Union, even under Brezhnev. Do not sign statements you don’t agree with, do not endorse critical race theory. Do not lie about the American founding for the sake of survival. Do not pretend to be enthusiastic about thuggish, ideological moves. Show some backbone.
Richard Reinsch (27:54):
I think that’s really a crucial distinction. You know, listening to someone blather on is one thing and thinking about how one opposes them. But I think that’s the crucial move is, do you sign things or admit to things you know are a lie in order to survive? And I think those listening have to make that decision because once you admit to that lie, you lose your witness.
Dan Mahoney (28:16):
You lose yourself.
Richard Reinsch (28:17):
Dan Mahoney (28:18):
And you lose your self respect which is a part of losing yourself. I mean Solzhenitsyn in his great manifesto “Live Not By Lies” 1974, he says, “Let the lie come into the world, but not through me.” At the end of it he quotes Pushkin. He says, “Look, if we’re not capable of this elemental step of not being a vehicle for a lie…” Then he says, “We’re no better than sheep. We’re no better than cattle who are made for servitude.” So we’re not facing full-fledged totalitarianism, although this is more than Tocqueville’s soft despotism. It’s harder than that, but it’s going to demand civic courage. It’s going to demand people who hallow the arch of prudence, do what you have to do so you can remain a presence in the Academy, but do not become a vehicle for the perpetuation of organized mendacity.
Richard Reinsch (29:24):
Exactly. Well, Dan, thank you so much for coming on to talk to us today about Liberty and Justice For All available at realclearfoundation.org, where people can read the statement of principles that you’ve put forward and decide if they want to sign or indeed send contact information to become part of, of what you guys are doing.
Dan Mahoney (29:46):
Can I just add if any listener, intellectual, professor, writer, politician is interested, feels committed to these ideas but has some ideas about how we can move forward in constructive intellectual ways, do not hesitate to contact me at Assumption College or the other organizers because we welcome ideas and ideas for new initiatives, ideas for carrying this forward.
Richard Reinsch (30:16):
Thank you, Dan. All right.
Dan Mahoney (30:16):
Thanks so much, Richard.
Richard Reinsch (30:18):
This is Richard Reinsch. You’ve been listening to another episode of Liberty Law Talk available at lawliberty.org.