The Real Mover of “the Civic Bargain”: A Review of Manville and Ober

Self-interest in a democracy is not necessarily an evil. It only becomes an evil when democratic government grows so intrusive in ordinary life that self-interest can only be interpreted as a kind of dissent from a general—but now all-pervasive—good.
The principal irony of Juneteenth is that slavery was still a legal institution in the United States on June 19, 1865—if not in Texas because of the Emancipation Proclamation, then certainly in Kentucky and Delaware, where slavery would not be blotted out until the ratification of the thirteenth amendment. This would not, however, be the only irony in the history of American emancipation, and certainly not the last.
Lincoln saw the fundamental problem in democracy as one single, monstrous question: “Can the principle that liberates all and produces self-government remain disciplined and restrained enough in practice to retain self-government?”
Take Lincoln’s words so that we will remember to speak frankly about what we consent to, and what we do not; take them, so that we march, not to hangings and burnings, not to cancellations and silencing, but to public forums and to ballot boxes, those altars of democracy.
Democracy Rules (2021) is Jan-Werner Müller’s attempt to explain populist authoritarianism, while at the same time setting out what he believes are the true pillars of liberal democracy. But he does so, understanding that democracy always operates under the handicap of uncertainty.
Did Lincoln regard the Constitution as “broken” and therefore in need of replacement? Or did he believe that the Declaration of Independence represented America’s aspiration to end slavery, and infused the Constitution with this same aspiration?
It is easy to come away from Dare to Speak filled with confusion about whether, or even how, to take the title’s advice. Reducing minds to group representation is, in the long run, no way to arrive at either truth or justice. Instead, it first leads to conflict, and finally to a weary agreement that the groups can only live in peace separately—and in silence.
In many ways, Abraham Lincoln has almost loomed entirely too largely in our national consciousness, since it has now become difficult to get around the acknowledgment of his greatness to discover just what it was that made him great. Jon Schaff’s new book is an attempt to do just that.
For Abraham Lincoln, the victory at Gettysburg appeared almost as a ratification of the Declaration of Independence and its principles.
For decades, both First Things and National Review have struggled to make as much peace as possible between two uncongenial streams of conservative thinking and praxis. That their editors have now planted their feet decisively in one of those streams marks an important moment in the history of American conservatism.
War has the complexity of most of the human condition—so complex, indeed, that it often behaves like a force of nature, but with a human face. And that renders the question of determining the justice of a war a little like determining the justice of a tornado.
There was an opportunity in 1787 to have torn up slavery by its roots, and that opportunity was missed. But the missing came as much through overconfidence that the march of opinion would wipe out slavery on its own, and as much through the miscalculations of political compromise, as through any conscious policy to foster or promote slavery.