Making moral mistakes mandatory

If you have followed recent intramural conservative factional politics, then you will know that Mr. Ahmari has a bizarre and unseemly obsession with David French, who is a leading conservative critic of the Trump administration and its sycophants. Trump’s admirers like to say, “He fights!” Trump of course is a medical marvel, having had the only case in recorded medical history of bone spurs that healed without any medical intervention whatsoever, a miracle that was witnessed right around the time the Vietnam draft was coming to a close. French served in Iraq without any compulsion and has dedicated much of his career to literally making a federal case of it when Americans’ religious liberties are violated by various peckerwood city councilmen and mealy-mouthed deans. But he is almost unfailingly polite, and thus Mr. Ahmari et al. heap scorn upon what they call “David Frenchism.” But when Mr. Ahmari recently was fool enough to get on the other side of David French in an actual debate, the stuttering and incoherent mess to which he was promptly reduced was evidence enough (superfluous, in fact) that David Frenchism is made of sterner stuff than our newly minted young nationalists had thought. He fights.

The question before us at Yale was very closely related to the French–Ahmari dispute: Whether American liberalism (by which we mean the liberalism of Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson, not the managerial pretensions of Elizabeth Warren) is a victim of its own success. My answer is that liberalism is part of a package deal called liberal democracy, which simultaneously is a victim of liberalism’s success and democracy’s failures, many of which were presciently dissected by the aforementioned Presidents Adams: faction, vanity, envy, ambition, the “passions” that so worried the Puritan philosophes of New England. We have peace of a sort and prosperity enough, but we want purpose, and so we must be miserable.

For the partisans of David Frenchism (and you can count me in their number), it would be enough for government to secure our liberty.