Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Lilla and some critics

Here is a version of the argument from Mark Lilla’s new book, with responses from Damon Linker, Philip Jenkins, and Anthony Sullivan. Jenkins is surely right to point to the flaws in Lilla’s history, but I applaud Lilla for stressing the fragility and rarity of our regime, even as I disagree somewhat with his characterization of it.

I also wonder whether, given his argument regarding the ubiquity of what he calls "political theology" (about which I think he’s basically right), we might not consider whether some political theology is "truer" that the secular liberalism that he, Linker, and Sullivan cherish.

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but I applaud Lilla for stressing the fragility and rarity of our regime, even as I disagree somewhat with his characterization of it.

What are the signature features of 'our regime' to which you refer?

There have been breaches of the peace in this country. There was a continental insurrection running from 1775-83, a civil war from 1861-1865, a regional insurrection in 1794, a series of counter-insurgency campaigns against the aboriginal population until 1890, miscellaneous incidents between 1607 and 1763 (e.g. the seizure of the goverment of Maryland by a raiding party of Calvinists), the night-riders campaigns of 1870-77, and a wretched run of urban riots from 1964-70. Throughout these, the governmental architecture which included electoral institutions continued to function. If political institutions demonstrate a continuity of operation over a period of 400 years, are they properly described as 'fragile'?


Given that our electoral institutions have a pedigree that dates to the High Middle Ages in Europe, that an antheap of countries in every region of the world are experimenting with such institutions, and that scores of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Antipodes, the peripheral Far East, South Asia, and Europe have decades of experience in operating such institutions, can they properly be described as 'rare'?

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