Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Family, politics, and the spirit of classical liberalism

During the Trump administration, it seemed every Thanksgiving was an occasion for media outlets to run fretful stories by progressives about what to do when a racist uncle at the holiday dinner table vocally supported the 45th president. When those essays ended on a militant note, either advocating refusal to attend or pronouncing an imperative to confront and denounce the offending relative, many of us recoiled.

We did so not because we were cowards or closet Trump supporters. We did so in the spirit of classical liberalism.

Right-wing critics of liberalism like to mock it for aspiring to political neutrality. Such neutrality is impossible, these critics claim, because as a political philosophy, classical liberalism invariably stakes out substantive moral positions and therefore can’t stand above the fray. But liberalism, rightly understood, doesn’t aspire to — let alone claim to have achieved — neutrality. It only aims to check and restrain politics to leave room for other, nonpolitical goods and pursuits.

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