The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg: “Among the Post-Liberals” with Daniel Burns
Syndicated political commentator Jonah Goldberg, who recently wrote on JMC fellow Daniel Burns’s article in National Affairs, recorded a podcast with Professor Burns for his series, The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg. Professor Burns spoke on the debate over whether classical liberalism has failed on its promises.
Audio and video of the podcast are available on Stitcher and Apple Podcasts.
“Liberal Practice vs. Liberal Theory,” Daniel E. Burns
National Affairs – Fall 2019 Issue
This fall, Daniel Burns wrote a piece on the definition of liberalism for National Affairs:
…Liberalism’s defenders, for their part, often feel themselves in the position of the theologian confronted with an atheist: The “liberalism” they hear attacked is one that they, too, do not believe in. Thus the parties have often been talking past each other, and not only because of an above-average amount of strawmanning on both sides. What one party sincerely regards as its clinching argument will seem a trivial observation to the other, and vice versa.
Many good-faith misunderstandings within these debates can be traced to an ambiguity in the term “liberalism.” It refers, on the one hand, to a set of political practices, and on the other hand, to a political theory that purports to explain those practices. Defenders of liberalism are thinking first and foremost about liberal political practice, which they (almost all) defend by drawing selectively on liberal theory. Critics of liberalism are thinking first and foremost about liberal political theory, which they (almost all) attack by pointing selectively to liberal practice.
These attacks and these defenses [of liberalism] share a common error. Both accept liberal theory’s false claim to be the authoritative interpreter of liberal practice. The critics of liberalism are right to see liberal theory as fatally flawed: It cannot explain the workings of any real human society. But precisely because it is so flawed, liberal theory also cannot explain the weaknesses of our own liberal societies.
If we are to have a productive conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary liberal politics, a crucial first step will be learning to talk about liberal practice without relying on liberal theory…
Daniel Burns is an Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of Dallas, where he teaches political philosophy and the principles of American politics. He was the recipient of the Haggerty Teaching Excellence Award in 2016 and the Donald J. White Teaching Excellence Award, Boston College in 2011. He has published articles on Alfarabi, Augustine, and the Strauss-Kojève debate. He is currently on leave from the University of Dallas, serving as a congressional staffer.
Professor Burns is a JMC fellow.
Jonah Goldberg is the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and a Fellow at the National Review Institute. In 2019, he left a role as Senior Editor of National Review magazine after a 21-year stint with the publication to start a new venture. He has been a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Times since 2005 and a nationally syndicated columnist since 2000. He hosts the popular podcast The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg.
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