To describe United States foreign policy, Assistant Professor of Politics John Grant turned to the words of Charles Dickens: we’re in the best of times and the worst of times.
The American Enterprise Institute Club hosted Grant for a lecture titled “Conserving Liberalism? The Conservative Debate on Liberalism and Foreign Policy,” on Nov. 7 in Lane Hall.
Grant discussed the modern state of liberalism and how it has affected conservatism.
“Everything today in the U.S. from public property to intellectual life is conserving the ideas in public policy that elites have had for the last 45 to 50 years,” he said. “It’s difficult to step outside that view.”
Grant said people are living in “an incredibly brain-dead time in which the world is near collapse or death.” The intellectual confusion and decline is owing to the addition of social media into the current political discourse, for it is now easier to add to the political conversation.
Grant described today’s climate as the best of times because people now have the chance to think and reconsider ideas and the repercussions of those ideas. This, he said, is why “Conserving Liberalism” was a good title for the lecture — it’s important to understand what’s being conserved.
Grant maintained that the United States is conserving liberalism if we’re using liberalism as defined today. If liberalism is defined how John Locke and Thomas Hobbes defined it, however, then people are rejecting it rather than conserving it. This progressive view attacks Locke and Hobbes as the basis of modern day degradation and evils.
“That’s a common attitude,” Grant said.
Both liberals and conservatives dislike these two philosophers for their degradation of society. Grant argued that neither conservatives nor liberals support the enlightenment or the social compact theory of the founding.
It is not so important that people honor John Locke and his teachings, Grant stated, but rejecting Locke as the embodiment of the enlightenment period as a whole has consequences.
As a result of such frivolous discussion, policymakers in Washington, D.C., are left complacent. As the heated debate subsides, the idea that human nature remains the same remains true.
“There’s a lot of LARP [live action role playing] going on here,” he said. “‘I’m going to adopt a radical position on something nobody is discussing doing.’ Because this person took the position, they generate a lot of discussion on it, what does it come to? Well, nothing.”
Grant said that many academics and intellectuals engage in “obscurantism,” which involves a refusal to entertain conflicting viewpoints.
Another problem for conservatives lies in an attempt to control the narrative. It’s important, according to Grant, to ask who is benefitting from policies, because oftentimes it can be a source of corruption.
Following the lecture, sophomore Francis Lucchetti asked a question regarding the confused state of the conservative movement.
“If people can’t decide what to do, when is the proper time to take action?” Luchetti asked.
“All these people can’t come to a consensus on what action to take. Other people claim to be on our side. People like Charlie Kirk and [Turning Point USA], etc. are dragging us down,” Lucchetti said. “At what point, especially if you don’t think the identity option is viable, is it time to be — to put it vaguely — less verbose warriors?”
Grant responded by saying that he hoped this time will never come, but the responsibility will fall on the next generation.
Junior Michael HagEstad attended the lecture and said he liked Grant’s discussion of what makes a true conservative.
“Dr. Grant was able to parse our subtle differences between various forces at play on the right at this moment,” he said.
Grant encouraged students of the next generation to think about conservatism and how to prevent the movement from failing.
“You’re striking a blow by thinking — actually thinking — and by improving yourself,” he said.