Liberty

Autumn Meeting with Mark Henrie

November 1, 2020

Saturday, October 31 (i.e. before the U.S. elections), we hosted our first digital Autumn Meeting! Our guest was Mark Henrie, a prominent player in the American conservative intellectual movement and former director of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, among other things. Around the CSS theme of freedom, he discussed the consequences of the U.S. elections for conservatives and classical liberals in Europe and the U.S.

What did we discuss?

In the period before Trump’s presidency, the political right largely agreed with the goals of the political left, but had different means of achieving them. Rather than much principled disagreement there was a different practical agenda. Anger came from the left.

When Trump ran for president in 2016, however, his campaign was dominated by right-wing anger. Parts of American society were furious about the changed contract between them and the government. Christopher Caldwell’s book The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties is important for understanding this. Caldwell argues that the Civil Rights Act became the mechanism by which the state began to involve itself in every human relationship. As a result, he argues, the fundamental opposition that exists in America today runs between proponents of two rival constitutions. One is the constitution of 1789 (the old republic) and the other is the constitution that is said to have grown out of the Civil Rights Act.

From this perspective, Trump looks like a man who has attempted to restore constitutional democracy in America. He did not want to end the republic; he wanted a better deal for the common man. In this way he can be seen as a modern Tiberius Licinius Crassus. In doing so, he faced unprecedented opposition from every body of power in the US. He did manage to change the conversation about China. Also, under his reign, employment in industry increased.

What may we conclude?

A Biden victory may eventually lead to more right-wing anger. For example, the hated censorship by big tech companies and the condescending influence of the management class have continued to grow in the response to Covid-19. Among some on the right there are also fears that the United States is becoming a privatized version of China’s surveillance state as a consequence.

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