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Moral Frontiers: American National Character and the Future of Liberty

William B. Allen


The American experiment is well understood as a love story, a moral commitment between the people and the government. In its original formulation, the people and the political union are wedded to each other with mutual expectations of faithfulness. The contemporary problem is the abandonment of the idea of consent as fundamental to political legitimacy and in the place of consent the substitution of a welfare or enjoyment model of political legitimacy. This neo-progressivism is formulated specifically to replace consentor the recognition of individual and collective agency as a legitimizing functionwith the welfare model that holds that states are legitimate to the degree that governments extend enjoyments rather than to the extent that they are obedient to the commands of their citizens. The existence of the moral frontierthe need for ongoing moral commitmentis a recurring phenomenon and not a new one. To that end, moral persuasion remains the fundamental tool, and wise statesmanship remains the best hope. As George Washington experienced it, the American love story was a love of justicea story of Americans asserting themselves with expectations of justice in Americas dealings. The future of liberty thus depends on American national character, and whether it sustains a single-minded commitment to America as a substantive moral expression.

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