Patrick Deneen is Professor of Political Science and holds the David A. Potenziani Memorial College Chair of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame. His previous books include Why Liberalism Failed, The Odyssey of Political Theory, Democratic Faith, and a number of edited volumes. He lives in South Bend, IN.
In a liberal democratic age, two words are widely used to contrast what liberal democracy is not: aristocracy and populism. Yet, we have both political factions emerging today in new and caustic forms that pit an increasingly corrupt elite against an increasingly coarse and angry populace. Both are morally adrift and engaged in politics as an assertion of power, albeit for different reasons.
While the current trajectory of the West would appear to be an ongoing and inconclusive battle between these two factions, classical political theory understood that only an appropriately mixed regime could correct and even elevate the shortcomings of an opposing faction. In an age in which monarchy and inherited titles are rightly suspect, is there nevertheless a prospect for a mixed regime in the modern age that goes beyond pitting elite against populace and vice-versa, and which might instead give rise to a fruitful combination?
In this lecture, Patrick Deneen envisions the prospects for an ennobled aristoi and a more refined populace. He will at once acknowledge the persistence of class and inequality even in a democratic age (denying a path forward lies in a growing sympathy for socialism), but will propose that only a well-formed elite can support a humane condition of the populace, and only a well-formed populace can fruitfully restrain the hubris of a liberal elite and even orient them toward virtue. Through such a mixed regime, practices supporting a common good might emerge, correcting the core weakness of a liberal order designed to forestall such a possibility.