Acton Institute Powerblog

Samuel Gregg responds to Patrick J. Deneen in First Things

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There is a kind of authoritarian aristocracy running amok in today’s culture; however, this brand of class rule isn’t found in presidential cabinets or monarchies but rather on some college campuses.

Patrick J. Deneen, professor of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame, wrote an article for First Things last month, in which he exposed an “ignoble lie” ensnaring faculty members and students today. Many so-called warriors of social justice who denounce social inequality do so in elitist, ideologically exclusionary environments. “Highly touted commitments to equity, inclusion, and diversity do not only cloak institutional elitism. They also imply that anyone who is not included deserves his lower status,” writes Deneen.

The Acton Institute’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, wrote a letter in response to Deneen, both praising his analysis of the new authoritarianism and offering another way of looking at the problem.

Patrick J. Deneen neatly exposes the myth that legitimizes the position of those who presently dominate America’s institutions of cultural formation. Like all nascent totalitarianisms, authoritarian liberalism possesses and promotes a ruling caste for whom ideological fervor substitutes for actual excellence of character and learning. One element driving these developments, Deneen holds, is Christianity’s decline throughout America. Christianity, he says, always existed uneasily alongside liberalism in shaping the American experiment, yet managed to restrain liberalism’s full implications from being realized. Absent that constraint, liberalism now runs amok. But there is another way of telling this story, one which takes into consideration the role of natural law in both Christianity and the liberal tradition.

Read Samuel Gregg’s entire letter (found under the header “WHICH LIBERALISM?”) here.

Caroline Roberts Caroline Roberts has a B.A. in English from Grove City College and produces the Acton Institute’s podcast, Radio Free Acton.

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