I’ve said it before: there are two kinds of liberalism in America. One kind calls itself “conservative”; its most important and influential normative theoretician of the past century was, arguably, Friedrich Hayek. The other kind calls itself “progressive”; its most important and influential normative theoretician of the last century was, arguably, John Rawls. To the extent that politics are a product of a society’s philosophical reflections on its own values and commitments, these would be the most important figures to read, if you wished to understand our politics.
(Not that it means anything, but the first institution is ten time more white than the second. It also produces some of our finest business managers, primarily in investment banking.)
One of the central purposes of education in a democracy is to enable the electorate to exercise self-government on the basis of informed, thoughtful and reflective understanding of its own values. I’m not sure what that would look like precisely if we actually had it. I am relieved to learn that Cambridge University Press regards Hayek as worthy of mention at all, and that some people who are interested in his thought are professors of something somewhere. But I am troubled that there is so little diversity, of high quality normative theorizing, at our most influential institutions. And for those who find themselves troubled to find their opponents primarily inspired by the worst kinds of rhetorical excess and thoughtlessness, the sort we find on cable television, ask yourself what you have sown, that you now reap this whirlwind.