For anyone disillusioned about the current health of the conservative movement, the Heritage Foundation is the place to have been on October 7. There, at its Allison Auditorium, Harvey C. Mansfield delivered a lecture on the movement’s future as well as a constitutional basis for it.
The William R. Kenan Jr. professor of Government at Harvard University delivered the lecture in honor of Russell Kirk,
one of the patron saints of the conservative movement. He said:
“Conservatism is faced with three important dilemmas: Should it be
compassionate, interventionist, international?”
He suggested that the movement also probes whether it would be
sufficient to be merely an alternative to modern liberalism, or whether
it can rescue disturbing trends in contemporary affairs.
Mansfield noted that conservatism has become associated with all things
mediocre and ignoble in American society, and suggested that the
situation fits into another dual challenge for the movement: Shall it
be populist or elitist in its final expression? He said conservatives
must contend for the affections of the liberal middle class, and help
their liberal brethren because the latter “are weak in mind and
The politics of global justice and entitlement, he said, present two
areas in which the conservative movement could help provide leadership.
“Political liberty is best shown in practice, as is indeed virtue over
and against necessity,” he said.
He warned that the movement will have to negotiate a happy middle
ground on whether it wants to be either majority-seeking or
principle-expounding. Yet, he insisted, propriety and morality are
concerns the movement should attempt to recover.
Mansfield has written on a variety of subjects in government and
political philosophy, including Edmund Burke, Machiavelli, and the
discovery and development of the theory of executive power. He has also
translated three books of Machiavelli’s and (with the aid of his late
wife, Delba Winthrop) Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. His book on manliness was published in 2006.
Professor Mansfield has been on the faculty at Harvard since 1962, and
is considered one of today’s most eminent political philosophers.