Professor Deneen, I am very glad whenever I see your name appear in mainstream, liberal outlets.

Two thoughts occurred to me, listening to this debate:

1. Your argument is very convincing at the philosophical level — that Liberalism as an “ism” exerts pressures that contort and fragment society, communities, and families, and thus deform the human soul. But your argument struggles to find footing when it’s framed as a platform of policies for U.S.A. 2022. I hope you are able to craft more compelling responses when the conversation bends that way — even if it means rejecting the premise, and sticking to “getting the philosophy right first,” as you once told Ezra Klein.

2. You write about technology in Why Liberalism Failed, but it doesn’t often come up in these conversations. It would be great to hear you untangle that issue; i.e. would a more virtuous, premodern-style society with iPhones and the pill struggle with atomization and decadence? Why should we be convinced that Liberalism is the cause of our woes, and not the “Daedalus problem” of releasing immoral and amoral technologies into society?

As ever, thank you.

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Really enjoyable discussion. I'm always more impressed with Bret Stephens than I expect to be, so he makes for a good foil in these conversations. But his basic response to the question of whether liberalism has failed is sort of a dodge - yes, he says, but liberalism also has the tools for its own revival (somewhere...). If you were to propose any concrete political steps to solve the problems that I think both of you agreed on (say, policy initiatives for building community or religious organizations, more tax incentives for young families, etc.), they would run quickly into a principles-based brick wall erected by conservative liberals - "big government" interference, separation of church and state, etc. (to say nothing of the actual political problems with getting any legislation like that passed). I don't know if Stephens is on record approving of any measures like that, but actual Republican politicians have an ideological arsenal on hand for opposing those sorts of moves, so at the very least Stephens should concede that the exit from this type of thinking is attractive.

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There are many things to comment on after listening to this discussion, Professor, such as Mr. Stephens’ strange understanding of power, but let me just say this:

Why doesn’t Stephens accept responsibility for his liberals’ feckless surrender of the universities to the Left and Woke? It wasn’t cultural and political conservatives who were running the Ivy League, etc. while the Left infiltrated, subverted and took them over.

WF Buckley wasn’t recoiling from right wing faculty when he wrote “God and Man at Yale.”

It was vitally centered liberals like Clark Kerr at Berkeley and Grayson Kirk at Columbia who first rolled over to the New Left.

It was good liberals like the Christakises who were driven off Yale’s campus and liberal Prof. Sweet who abjectly apologized to the 1619 partisans.

And now Stephens claims that the same liberalism that proved so incompetent to defend its own stronghold should plot our course back to social equanimity.

No accountability.

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To his credit, Stephens seems to be struggling with his inner despot.

“I could have thought a little harder about the fact that, in my dripping condescension toward his supporters, I was also confirming their suspicions about people like me — people who talked a good game about the virtues of empathy but practice it only selectively; people unscathed by the country’s problems yet unembarrassed to propound solutions.”

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Look what these liberals have wrought; America is a dump and Americans are altogether bereft. The Abbey of Misrule (Paul Kingsnorth), is and will soon come to an end. 

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