From National Interest and The Heritage Foundation:
America's Epicurean Liberalism
JOSHUA D. HAWLEY
The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus taught that individual happiness was the aim of living and that pleasure was the sum of happiness. He would have loved 21st-century America. Ours is a distinctly epicurean culture, from our arts and literature right down to our sports and popular entertainment. Self-fulfillment is our great national ambition. The quest for individual self-discovery defines our ethics and our notions of justice; it motivates our work, our play, and our relationships. In virtually every quarter of our national life, individual happiness, as defined by each person for himself, is the order of the day.
This is certainly true of our politics, and not by coincidence. A nation's public life always reflects its political regime, and the American regime has been dominated for nearly a century by a set of ideas shot through with epicurean influences. This creed celebrates individual liberty, which makes it a form of liberalism. But it defines that liberty in relation to an exceptionally radical ideal of individual self-fulfillment, which makes it epicurean. In fact, it treats the two things — liberty and unobstructed self-fulfillment — as virtually synonymous. Call it epicurean liberalism.
Perhaps the best working definition of this worldview was offered by the Supreme Court 18 years ago in a case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The Court had been asked to decide whether the Constitution permitted states to impose certain restrictions on abortion. Ruling that it did not, a three-justice plurality explained the Court's judgment by discussing their understanding of liberty. "At the heart of liberty," wrote Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter, "is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under the compulsion of the State." Liberty, in short, is fundamentally a matter of personal choice. It is the right to choose one's own life ends, but, more than that, it is the right to total self-definition and self-discovery. Unless the individual defines his own concept "of existence, of meaning, of the universe" without interference from government — or, the Court might have added, without interference from society — he cannot be truly free. This is epicurean liberalism in its essence.
It is a widely embraced view, and not only on the left. Over the past 50 years, the conservative movement, too, has at times espoused the tenets of epicurean liberalism. In opposing the growth of the state, some on the right have resorted to a radical defense of individual liberty that sounds strikingly similar to the case many liberals have made in favor of government expansion. Frank Meyer, the father of so-called "fusionism" — the effort to link libertarianism and traditionalism — was one example. "Freedom," he wrote in 1962, is "the unrestrained power to choose." Freedom is "not necessity, but choice; not responsibility, but...choice"; not duty, "but the choice" whether to obey; "not virtue, but the choice between virtue and vice." The ends the individual chooses, he concluded, are ultimately meaningful because they are embraced through one's own volition.
This celebration of individual will is at the core of our public philosophy, and often provides the very grammar of our public conversation. But it is also closely associated with a series of prominent dysfunctions in contemporary America. Despite its emphasis on individual choice, epicurean liberalism has proved alarmingly compatible with big and intrusive government. And while it has abetted the growth of the state, it has been hostile and harmful to civil society. It seeks to use the state to protect or to advance the will of the individual, and so wants as little as possible between the individual and the state — too often leaving no room for the mediating institutions of family, churches, civic associations, and fraternal groups that keep society strong and free.
Epicurean liberalism's hostility to civil society betrays a more profound defect still. The creed has virtually no ability to offer any coherent account of what democratic life is for. Epicurean liberalism is an intensely individualistic worldview; it has precious little to say about the nation, the public, or society — unless those things are simply collapsed into the state. It provides little material with which to form an idea of the public good or a sense of national purpose. Instead, it tends to shrink the common good down to the notion of individual material equality, and if it offers any sort of national purpose, it is one focused on achieving equality in that narrow sense. In fact, so long as individuals possess the financial and other resources to choose their own life ends, epicurean liberalism regards them as free, quite apart from any involvement in democratic life — such as voting, or being a member in good standing of some community. Ultimately, this ethic does not see liberty and self-government as necessarily connected. And as a consequence, it offers no means of making self-government work.
How can it be that both defenders and opponents of the modern activist state espouse the same basic philosophy of choice-centered individualism? Where did this attitude come from? And how does it relate to America's founding principles and ideals? Like so much else that influences our contemporary politics, epicurean liberalism emerged in the Progressive period. It was the outcome of a clash between two competing visions of democratic freedom espoused by the two great leaders of the Progressive era: Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The result of their battle, which reached its peak in the presidential election of 1912, was a theoretical synthesis that neither antagonist fully anticipated — but that came to dominate American politics and public life right through to the present day.
The Progressive era was an age of revision. Settled ways of life passed away, and settled ideas with them, as the country underwent a paroxysm of transformative change. The upheaval was driven, in the first instance, by the industrializing economy: Between 1860 and 1910, American manufacturing erupted, driving millions of laborers from farms to cities and fundamentally altering the character of the American work force. In 1860, most adult men worked for themselves, usually as farmers; by 1910, only a third did. The era of the small, independent producer was over.
Meanwhile, the urban population grew sevenfold, swelled by the largest influx of immigrants in American history (until our own time). The immigrant boom placed acute downward pressure on wages and strained cities' social infrastructures. Paradoxically, while the economy had never been more productive and per capita income had never been higher, social inequality widened and cities became centers of devastating poverty.
To many Americans, it seemed as though these radical changes would make it impossible to sustain the American republic as it had existed since the founding. The American tradition from Thomas Jefferson onward celebrated the ideal of the yeoman — the independent laborer who worked for himself, owned a piece of land, provided for his family and those in his employ, and took part in the affairs of the town where he lived. "Cultivators of the earth," Jefferson once enthused, "are the most valuable citizens, they are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous." Their independence and productivity, combined with their public spirit, were, to Jefferson (and to many others after him), the qualities that made government by the people possible.
The American tradition had always regarded such free government as a strenuous undertaking. It was the best means of protecting the individual's natural rights, to be sure; in fact, it was the only certain way of doing so. But free government could succeed only with the help of a particular kind of citizen — one who was competent and responsible, and able to exercise authority with his own and other citizens' best interests in mind. Free government also required sound political institutions that facilitated majority rule while simultaneously guarding against majority tyranny. This was a tall order. But for the founding generation and most Americans of the 19th century, liberty and republican self-government belonged indissolubly together.
By the opening decade of the 20th century, however, the yeoman ideal seemed increasingly out of reach, and the link between liberty and self-government less certain. Groups as diverse as farmers in the South and Midwest and young professionals in the country's Eastern cities worried that the sort of society the yeoman ideal presumed — a roughly equal, open, upwardly mobile one, sustained by face-to-face relationships and involved citizens — was becoming a thing of the past. In a new kind of society devoid of many of these features, would liberty itself survive? Indeed, what was liberty apart from this way of life?
The Progressive movement was born of these worries. Progressives began with the assumption that the changes ravaging American society would indeed destroy the older way of life for good. Preserving liberty for the new age would thus require a new approach to government and society. Beyond that, however, they did not agree on much; they divided into several camps early on, each espousing a rather different vision of American public life. But eventually, two visions — two strands of Progressivism — came to stand out above the rest, proposed by the two most prominent political figures of the period: Roosevelt and Wilson. Each man offered a sweeping program of reform premised on a re-interpretation of America's republican political tradition.
VIRTUE AND THE STATE
Roosevelt's program came first. In 1901, an assassin shot William McKinley in the Buffalo, New York, Temple of Music and elevated the hero of San Juan Hill to the presidency. Within three years, the one-time Rough Rider was proposing to the country the most ambitious program of federal regulation yet devised. He justified it as a means of securing liberty, arguing that the way to preserve self-rule in the industrial age was to increase the size and power of the only institution capable of checking large business interests: the national government.
Roosevelt wanted to use government to restore the independence and self-mastery at the core of the yeoman ideal — to help create the kind of citizen required for self-government, now that the conditions of American life would no longer create such citizens on their own. Roosevelt believed the industrial economy, if left unregulated, threatened to trap the working class in permanent poverty and to deny many Americans the means, as well as the time, to participate in civic life. To counter these dangers, he proposed regulations to guarantee laborers a basic level of personal security: He wanted an eight-hour workday, a minimum wage, new rules for worker safety, disability benefits for those injured on the job, and federal cash support for farmers. Roosevelt also favored old-age pensions to save the elderly poor from destitution; by 1912, the year of his famous campaign against Woodrow Wilson, he had endorsed government-supplied health insurance for workers unable to afford their own.
In addition to these measures to improve Americans' standard of living, Roosevelt believed government should encourage the social arrangements that allowed individuals to advance in life, particularly the two-parent family. He proposed tax benefits for married couples and federal subsidies for parents who had more than three children. As he saw it, no amount of economic security would save the working class unless "the strong and tender virtues of family life based on the love of the one man for the one woman" flourished. Government, he believed, could take a hand in promoting these virtues.
Indeed, Roosevelt believed virtue was one of government's proper concerns. If democracy required certain characteristics in its citizens, as the older yeoman ideal suggested, then government should work to preserve those virtues in the industrial era. Roosevelt famously explained his corporate regulatory program to Congress by claiming that "we are for manhood first, and for business as an adjunct to manhood." Social reformer Jane Addams would later summarize Roosevelt's position with a syllogism: "As the very existence of the state depends upon the character of its citizens, therefore if certain industrial conditions are forcing [down] the standard of decency, it becomes possible to deduce the right of state regulation."
But while Roosevelt preached self-mastery, he believed individuals could not rule their destinies on their own — not anymore. "This is an age of combination," he said. His grander project was to transmute personal independence into collective independence, into collective self-mastery through the national state.
In Roosevelt's view, the leading corporations had grown so powerful that they threatened to control the nation's economy and to drown out the people's voice in government. The solution, however, was not to break them up; the solution was to regulate them. Roosevelt's trust-busting antics notwithstanding, he firmly believed giant corporations were a natural feature of the new economy; he also saw no hope of reversing their growth. Instead, he maintained that "it is a matter of necessity to give to the sovereign...some effective power of supervision" over big business. The "sovereign" Roosevelt had in mind, of course, was the federal government. "Within the Nation, the individual has now delegated [his interests] to the State," Roosevelt said. Government was the only entity capable of standing up to the corporations; it was government that would act as "the representative of all individuals" and vindicate the people's right to rule.
The state would be the chief agent of the people's sovereignty; the state would be the chief reformer of society; the state would ultimately be the bond that linked one citizen to another in an ever more diverse and pluralistic republic. This was Roosevelt-style Progressivism.
FREEDOM AND THE STATE
That strain of Progressivism found its chief critic in Woodrow Wilson. As far as Wilson was concerned, the biggest problem with the Roosevelt agenda was that it stifled individual freedom. "Freedom" was Wilson's watchword, and he understood it as something inherently individual. "There is no such thing as corporate liberty," he said in 1912, in a direct slap at Roosevelt. "Liberty belongs to the individual or it does not exist."
Wilson's rhetoric sounded more in keeping with the older American tradition of yeoman independence, but in fact he, too, was a Progressive revisionist. The liberty Wilson had in mind was of an altogether different sort than that embraced by 19th-century Americans or the founders. As a result, his return to individualism actually cleared the way for the new epicurean liberalism, and the increasing statism that has accompanied it.
Wilson met Roosevelt on the intellectual field of battle in the presidential campaign of 1912. Whereas Roosevelt purported to offer a "New Nationalism," Wilson dubbed his platform the "New Freedom." "Ours is a program of liberty," Wilson said, using a phrase that would become the refrain of his campaign. "[T]heirs is a program of regulation."
At least superficially, Wilson's views often resembled those offered by today's conservatives. He rejected the idea that the expansion of government's regulatory power meant an increase in the people's liberty. In fact, he believed just the opposite: Once government grew to regulate corporate trusts, railroads, and the food industry — as Roosevelt wanted — "who is to guarantee to us that the government is to be pitiful, that the government is to be righteous, that the government is to be just?" Wilson asked. In short, once the government looked after society, who would look after the government?
The state and the people were not synonymous, Wilson contended. Government power was inherently coercive, and that was true whether it was directed at corporations or at individuals. Wilson argued that the growth of government, even if carried out in the name of the people, would eventually suffocate the people by suffocating individual choice. Liberty meant "the enlargement of the sphere of independent individual action," Wilson said. "[T]he principal menace" facing democracy in the industrial age was that "the disciplinary power of the common thought should overwhelm the individual" — or, as he put it elsewhere, that the power of business and government together would grow so mighty that the individual would have no field of action left open to him.
Thus, as Wilson saw it, Roosevelt's regulatory agenda was exactly the wrong response to the leading problem of the era. Roosevelt would harvest individual liberty to feed a growing government, and in the process make individuals dependent on the state. "The minute you are taken care of by government you are wards, not independent men," Wilson warned. He urged Americans to be wary of "big-brother government": "I do not want a government that will take care of me....I want a government that will make other men take their hands off so I can take care of myself."
If Roosevelt's attempt to secure popular sovereignty through national regulation was coercive, Wilson found Roosevelt's idea of government as an agent of social reform downright paternalistic. Wilson had no time for Roosevelt's politics of virtue: "I want to frankly say," he told one audience, "that I am not big enough to play Providence, and my objection to the other program is that I don't believe that there is any other man that is big enough to play Providence." Who was Roosevelt, Wilson wondered, to decide what virtues citizens ought to possess, or how society ought to be structured? "[W]e live our own lives, we know our own lives, it is our lives that concern us, and we will tell government what we intend," he declared.
Wilson's rhetoric was powerful and his critique potent. He accurately identified Roosevelt's drift into statism and grasped its foremost dangers. But his celebration of individual liberty was not quite the old-fashioned creed he made it out to be. While the founders' republicanism, and the yeoman ideal it represented, emphasized self-determination through democratic self-government, Wilson believed liberty was most fundamentally about something else: individual self-development. "What is society?" Wilson once asked in an academic essay. "It is an organic association of individuals for mutual aid. Mutual aid to what? To self-development."
The revision was significant. The older idea of self-determination suggested that liberty required a certain way of life, or, more accurately, that it was a certain way of life. Free government and personal liberty belonged together. In order to be truly free, the individual had to be a member of a free state. What is more, he had to acquire economic and personal independence, participate in the affairs of his community, and keep in repair the public institutions and private groups that made free government possible. The principal job of government, in turn, was to secure the people's interests and protect their natural rights.
When Wilson spoke about liberty, by contrast, he did not speak in terms of self-mastery or free government, but rather about individual "force" and "energy," which he aimed to release. "The hope of society," he wrote in 1898, "lies in an infinite individual variety, in the freest possible play of individual forces." Liberty, understood as self-development, consisted of the individual's nurturing his own personality and cultivating his inherent potential; it was about the individual's coming to know himself and following his passions wherever they led.
Wilson, then, did not admonish voters to acquire a certain set of virtues or see to their duties. He urged them to look inward and, when they voted, to consider the things they wanted for themselves. "When you ask which party you are going to support," he told crowds late in the 1912 campaign, "you are asking this fundamental question, ‘By what means and by which choice can we best serve ourselves?' " The question was fitting, because Wilson's conception of liberty severed the link between personal freedom and self-government, and defined freedom instead as the absence of constraint on the individual's choices.
Wilson spent much of the 1912 campaign lambasting Roosevelt's program for interventionist government, but, ironically, his view of liberty invited a government every bit as frenetic as Roosevelt's — just one whose activism was in the service of advancing a vision of individual self-fulfillment. "[T]he individual must be assured the best means, the best and fullest opportunities, for complete self-development," Wilson maintained. Citizens' ability to pursue their own ends was at the heart of personhood, and therefore the measure of political justice. It was akin to a natural right — the closest thing to a natural right, in fact, that Wilson ever endorsed. But unlike the natural rights the founders wrote about, the right to self-development was not easily limited. It was an inherently subjective thing, for each individual to define. A government charged with protecting it would have a broad warrant indeed.
Thus Wilson's preferred government, like Roosevelt's, was not (and could not be) a constitutionally limited government. The state needed to grow and change based on the needs of individuals in their pursuit of fulfillment. "Political liberty," Wilson instructed, "consists in the best practicable adjustment between the power of government and the privilege of the individual." He was openly skeptical of the constitutional order the founders devised: "The checks and balances which once obtained are no longer effective," he concluded. They were too constraining; they did not allow for the institutional growth and evolution necessary to keep pace with the needs of the people. Wilson wanted to replace them altogether, and sought instead a more unified government, under the direction of a powerful executive able to respond swiftly to the people's wants and to intervene where necessary to protect the individual's right to choose his own path in life.
Roosevelt, for one, was not impressed. "I profoundly disagree with what seems to be the morality" of Wilson's liberalism, he protested in 1912. Wilson's repeated appeals to individual interests struck Roosevelt as "base" and self-indulgent. And in fact Wilson's politics did have a decidedly solipsistic character: In its focus on individual self-fulfillment as the essence of liberty, and in its commitment to aiding the individual's pursuit of that fulfillment above all else, Wilson's liberalism was an epicurean one.
Wilson had set out to resist Roosevelt's collectivist revision of the older, republican political tradition, but his critique swept well beyond Roosevelt's program to implicate that older tradition itself. He rejected Roosevelt's virtue politics, but in the process rejected the republican idea that personal character and personal freedom were meaningfully linked. He rejected Roosevelt's ambition to reform society, but also jettisoned the notion that the health of civil society is related to liberty. He criticized Roosevelt's project to extend popular sovereignty through government regulation, but ended up abandoning the older conviction that personal freedom cannot exist apart from self-government. Wilson's liberalism, then, marked not so much a recovery of yeoman individualism, but a fresh and further departure — one that has led us to the present day.
THE NEW ORDER
The clash of Progressive visions in 1912 shaped the century of American politics that followed. The result was a new liberal synthesis that neither Roosevelt nor Wilson fully anticipated, but that swiftly swept the field before it, driving institutional change and rearranging the way Americans thought about political life.
The new liberalism was best described by another Roosevelt — Franklin Roosevelt — during another campaign, 20 years after his cousin had faced Wilson. In 1932, F.D.R. famously told the Commonwealth Club that Americans possessed two sets of rights: rights to "personal competency," which, as he articulated them, sounded a good deal like Wilson's rights of self-development, and rights related to "acquiring and possessing property." The second group were less important to Roosevelt; in fact, he told his audience that government was obligated to make the second set serve the first. It was government's duty to ensure that "existing economic organizations," including private industry, served the people by enhancing their autonomy. Roosevelt would later describe the New Deal as a "satisfactory compromise" between his cousin Theodore's New Nationalism and Wilson's New Freedom — and, in many ways, he was right. The New Deal employed Theodore Roosevelt's regulatory government in the service of Woodrow Wilson's vision of a free society. It was Rooseveltian government for Wilsonian ends.
This hybrid epicurean liberalism soon became the favored dogma of western political theorists. In 1935, with the New Deal well underway, the dean of American philosophers, John Dewey, argued for nationalizing industry in order to guarantee individuals the quality of life they needed in order to realize their "creative" potential. "We must...see that socialized economy is the means, [with] free individual development as the end," he said.
But it was political philosopher Isaiah Berlin who made epicurean liberalism canonical. He discerned that this version of liberal thought was far less dependent than past strands of liberalism on cultural homogeneity, or on social consensus regarding the "good life." Precisely because epicurean liberalism taught that freedom consisted principally of autonomy, it was highly compatible with moral pluralism and cultural diversity. To Berlin, this was a profound virtue. "Pluralism" of individual pursuits and beliefs, he wrote, "seems to me a truer and more humane ideal [of freedom] than the goals of those who seek...a ‘positive' self-mastery by classes, or peoples, or of the whole of mankind." Scores of later theorists and public figures, not to mention Supreme Court justices, would echo his conclusion.
By the middle of the 20th century, epicurean liberalism was firmly established as the reigning creed of the American regime. But it is not the only, or the best, way to think about freedom.
AN ETHIC OF SELF-DETERMINATION
To begin with, we might ask what exactly is gained by casting liberty as self-development. This formula teaches us to be skeptical of identifying the state with the people, which is surely right. It drives home the fact that there can be no "corporate liberty" without individual liberty: Either the individual is free or he is not. To speak of his finding freedom by submitting to the state, or to society, or to some other corporate thing is confused (and dangerous) thinking.
Still, the ethic of self-development leads to a conception of liberty that is radically solipsistic, even anti-social. It suggests that freedom is best pursued alone, as if the freest person on earth were Robinson Crusoe stranded on his island. But this picture bears no resemblance to how we actually live. Every person is born into a particular social setting — a family, a community, a nation — and is related to specific other people. Liberty must have something to do with them, or else it does not mean much for life as we know it.
Moreover, liberty as self-development implies that every individual pursuit is as valuable as every other; the important thing is that the pursuit be freely chosen. But this claim jars with our intuition that some pursuits really are more important than others, and that those that are especially important are somehow related to what it means to be free. The Bill of Rights singles out certain such pursuits for protection, including worship, association, and participation in the business of government. Others have long been recognized in our culture: meaningful labor, family life, teaching, and learning. Yet the ethic of self-development gives no pride of place to these pursuits, or to any pursuit apart from what the individual may choose. As a consequence, it leads people to make increasingly extreme demands against society in the name of individual autonomy and privacy. These demands have become familiar subjects of litigation: Just this past term, the Supreme Court ruled that a public law school was perfectly free to exclude a religious student organization because other students complained that the religious group's position on sexual ethics was inherently offensive and intolerant. Over time, claims like these have multiplied, corroding our public discourse, private associations, and the institutions of civil society.
Self-development, in sum, is a blind alley. For all the appeal individual liberation holds, the liberation that epicurean liberalism promises has little relevance to how people actually live. Whatever judges may say, none of us can define our own universe. And a public philosophy that fails to help us live well in the universe we must accept is not a means of liberation — it is a delusion.
But we need not follow the Progressives down that blind alley. The error of epicurean liberalism — and of the competing Progressive visions offered by both Roosevelt and Wilson — comes in their first premise: that American life has changed so profoundly that the yeoman ideal, and the tradition that informed it, are no longer relevant. On the contrary, that ideal — rooted though it was in the era of the founding — reflects a deep insight into the permanent nature of the human person; as such, it offers a promising departure point for thinking about liberty, society, and the individual. That departure point is self-determination.
Self-determination, as our earlier republican tradition conceived it, involves freedom from arbitrary rule by outsiders in order that the individual might rule himself and take a part in ruling his community. Rather than a process of personal discovery, self-determination is an activity; it is the work of governing and ordering one's life so as to realize the fruits of one's abilities. In this sense, it is a demanding ethic — requiring not just freedom from coercion for the individual, à la epicurean liberalism, but personal discipline, planning, and hard work from the individual. For only by acquiring these characteristics can the individual begin to exert control over his own life.
The ethic of self-determination is also robustly social, and thus avoids epicurean liberalism's solipsism and drift toward isolation. It sees liberty as connected to other people and to membership in a free state. Theodore Roosevelt and the strand of Progressivism he represented may have assigned government too great a role in reforming society, but Roosevelt was right to recognize that society and liberty go together. Self-determination requires a certain social context. It requires, for instance, the rule of law, including the protection of property and labor by the government. More subtly, it requires healthy associations (like families and religious communities) and healthy institutions (like schools) to give the individual purpose and identity and to equip him to make his way in the world. Such associations and institutions can thrive only when the state is limited.
Finally, self-determination demands a particular type of political society: namely, self-government. In contrast to epicurean liberalism, liberty as self-determination regards personal freedom and democratic life as intimately connected. Unless the individual has an active say in the laws by which he is governed, after all, he cannot be called truly free. His liberties at any one moment will be dependent on the will of others.
But more than that, participation — in government, and in society — is itself a form of freedom. The highest type of self-determination is the ability to join with other people to shape the course of a common life. Democratic government is thus self-rule writ large. And democratic life is itself liberty.
Thinking of liberty as self-determination allows us to retain epicurean liberalism's focus on the individual and even its concern for individual choice. But self-determination turns liberty outward, away from the self and its passions, and toward society and civic life. It teaches that liberty requires a certain sort of citizen, and it insists on a connection between personal freedom and democratic participation.
Understanding liberty as self-determination, moreover, suggests a noticeably different political agenda than the one produced by epicurean liberalism. Rather than focusing on how to liberate the individual to pursue his own ends, the ethic of self-determination suggests that we should ask how to strengthen the private associations and social structures that allow individuals to put their lives in order. In a word, how can we strengthen civil society?
Seeing liberty as self-determination also provides a new perspective on economic policy. Instead of asking how to ensure equality (as the left usually does) or how to maximize growth (as the right usually does), the ethic of self-determination presses us to work for an economy through which the ideal of independence can be realized: that is, an economy that allows every worker to support himself by his own labor and, in so doing, improve his station in life. This ambition would require a new emphasis on opening the labor market to low-skilled workers, as well as new efforts to boost wages and improve social mobility.
Self-determination is merely a beginning — but our public philosophy is always a beginning. And an ethic of self-determination offers a much more promising beginning than the epicurean politics of the past hundred years.
It is long past time for a rediscovery of the original American creed — the creed of yeoman citizen, the creed of self-determination. It is a creed of liberty, but not of radical individualism; of virtue, but not of state-imposed moralism; of self-government that is also limited government, in the practice of which the individual is truly free.
Joshua D. Hawley is the author of Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness. He is a former law clerk to Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.