Liberty and Justice for All: An Open Letter to Fellow Citizens in Defense of American Institutions

Flames engulf an American flag, Kenosha, Wis., August 24, 2020. (Stephen Maturen/Reuters)

Editor’s note: This is an open letter organized by Real Clear FoundationSeveral signatories have National Review affiliation. We repost it here. 

We stand at the crossroads.

Over the next several years, the noble sentiments and ideas that gave birth to the United States will either be repudiated or reaffirmed. The fateful choice before us will result either in the death of a grand hope or a recommitment to an extraordinary political experiment whose full flowering we have yet to realize. The choice will involve either contempt and despair or gratitude and the self-respect worthy of a free people who know long labors lie before them and who proceed with hope toward a dignified future.

In the name of justice and equality, those animated by contempt and despair seek to destroy longstanding but fragile American institutions through which justice and equality can be secured. Destruction of these imperfect but necessary institutions will not hasten the advent of justice and equality but rather accelerate our collapse into barbarism and degradation.

Groups of Americans who today advocate endless racial contempt, who systematically distort our history for political gain, who scapegoat and silence whole groups of citizens, who brazenly justify and advocate violence and the destruction of property invite us not to justice and equality but to an ugly future whose only certainty is fear.

In the face of this threat, the American institutions we must now reaffirm are these:

  • Free speech. Too many of our media outlets have become shameful caricatures intent on purveying one-sided narratives rather than on wrestling with difficult issues about which reasonable citizens will disagree. They inflame rather than inform. They contort public debate rather than contribute to it. Rather than defend freedom of speech and association, they have become instruments of a despicable “cancel culture,” bereft of forgiveness and intolerant of opposing views.
  • Representative government. Our Constitution establishes a democratic republic. Our elected representatives are tasked with making laws for the common good. If citizens are dissatisfied with the results, they must elect different representatives rather than take the law into their own hands. Abandoning representative government does not hasten equality; it invites tyranny. “Defunding” (as opposed to intelligently reforming) the police, who uphold the laws our political representatives make, does not hasten justice; it invites anarchy and abandons the most vulnerable to the worst depredations.
  • Federalism. Our country is diverse. We cannot produce a unity amidst diversity by forcing all citizens to fit the singular mold that politically correct speech imposes. A diverse polity can exist only within the framework of federalism, which allows true pluralism to thrive.
  • Market commerce. The United States was conceived as a middle-class commercial republic in which entrepreneurial citizens can succeed and fail — then succeed again. This arrangement, however imperfect, has produced remarkable prosperity and lifted millions out of poverty. Naïve calls for state control of industry and the abolition of private property, if implemented, will return us to the nightmare that hundreds of millions endured in the last century. The middle class and those who wish to join it are threatened today by two additional obstacles: crony capitalism, which concentrates wealth in fewer and fewer hands, and woke capitalism, by which the political Left extorts corporate support for social-justice causes, thus deflecting entrepreneurial energy away from the important task of producing truly useful products and services. Policymakers and concerned citizens must emphatically resist these trends and instead promote avenues to help the poor join the middle class.
  • Education. The necessary task of preparing the next generation to preserve and expand our inheritance has been replaced by the morally bankrupt task of repudiating those figures and accomplishments of our past which do not pass ideological purity tests. Rather than learn the difficult moral lesson that amidst the imperfections of the human heart there are noble longings for goodness, truth, and beauty, our young people are taught that any imperfection repudiates those noble longings. By this we teach our children to search out and honor grievances rather than greatness. This is not education; it is indoctrination, and its result is to make life small, petty, and hopeless.
  • Family. An affirmation of the traditional family — the belief that men and women should be encouraged to marry and have sons and daughters — cannot be thought a crime. Civilization perishes unless such unions are encouraged. The noble longing for a plural society, in which not all are cast in the same mold, must not be realized by belittling the family. Strong families headed by married couples have been the key to success in black America ever since slavery was abolished a century and a half ago, and this remains the key today for all Americans.
  • Religion. Civilization is fragile. If religious institutions and beliefs are marginalized and mocked, the indispensable civilizational supports for a free and decent life will quickly vanish. In a plural society like America, people are free to pursue their own paths to truth. But a truly plural society cannot abide the deliberate attempt to undermine, and even destroy, churches and synagogues. A pluralism that denies the legitimacy of religious faith and practice will not produce a “diverse” America; it will, instead, produce a tyrannical America in which the freedom of conscience is lost, the inherent dignity of the individual is denied, and the strongest support for just and moral living is erased. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, despotism can do without religious faith, but freedom cannot.

Those who attack these American institutions insist that their foundations have been corrupt from the beginning. They insist that racism, injustice, and oppression are inextricably linked to our national identity, and therefore everything born of the American experiment is tainted by sin. In their revolutionary fervor, they wish to sweep aside everything identified with our history and establish a new social and political order on novel and untainted foundations. They show no humility or self-restraint. They display limitless contempt for opposing views. They sympathize with vile tyrannies, disdain the rule of law, attack market commerce, hide behind the privilege their university indoctrination has authorized, excoriate the family, and attack those very religious traditions that have produced a moral horizon transcending tribalism and given rise to the concern for justice and equality for all. Their philosophy of pure negation cannot sustain a political order that affirms liberty, human dignity, and moral and civic equality, rightly and humanely understood.

This crisis is acute, and the hour is late. Like our forebears, we aim both to conserve and reform our institutions in light of enduring principles of justice. That is the task of self-governing people who know they live in an imperfect world and yet are not deterred by its challenges.

We invite all citizens of good will to join us so that together we can strive for liberty and justice for all.

Jeremy Beer — American Ideas Institute

Daniel J. Mahoney — Assumption University

Joshua Mitchell — Georgetown University

Mark T. Mitchell — Patrick Henry College

Robert L. Woodson Sr. — 1776 Unites

Jeremy Beer ― Chairman, American Ideas Institute

Daniel J. Mahoney ― Assumption University

Joshua Mitchell ― Georgetown University

Mark T. Mitchell ― Patrick Henry College

Robert L. Woodson, Sr. ― 1776 Unites

Scott D. Allen ― President, Disciple Nations Alliance

William B. Allen ― Emeritus Dean and Professor, Michigan State University

Brian C. Anderson ― Editor, City Journal

Ryan T.  Anderson ― University of Dallas, and Editor, Public Discourse

Cory L. Andrews ―

Michael Anton ― Hillsdale College

Glenn Arbery ― President, Wyoming Catholic College

Virginia Arbery ― Associate Professor of Humanities, Wyoming Catholic College

Hadley Arkes ― Founder and Director, James Wilson Institute

Richard Avramenko ― Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison

David Azerrad ― Hillsdale College

Andrew J. Bacevich ― Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Michael Barone ― American Enterprise Institute

William J. Bennett ― Former Secretary of Education

Philip Bess ― Professor of Architecture, University of Notre Dame

Bradley J. Birzer ― Professor of History, Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies, Hillsdale College

Arthur Bloom ― Managing Editor, The American Conservative

Katherine Dalton Boyer ― Louisville, KY

David Brog ― Edmund Burke Foundation

Brian Brown ― President, International Organization for the Family

James E. Bruce ― Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Faith and Flourishing John Brown University

Thomas S. Buchanan ― Laird Professor, University of Delaware

F.  H. Buckley ― George Mason University School of Law

Johnny Burtka ― President, Intercollegiate Studies Institute

Chris Buskirk ― Editor, American Greatness

Anthony Caito ― Associate Professor of Political Science, Corban University

Allan C. Carlson ― The Natural Family: An International Journal of Research and Policy

William J. Carney ― Charles Howard Candler Professor Emeritus, Emory Law School

Celia Carroll ― Professor, Hampden-Sydney College

James W. Ceaser ― Professor of Politics, The University of Virginia

Russ Crawford ― Professor of History, Ohio Northern University

Kathleen T. Cunningham ― Holden, MA

Robert Curry ― author, Common Sense Nation

Christopher DeMuth ― Edmund Burke Foundation

David DesRosiers ― RealClearFoundation

Bernard J. Dobski ― Assumption University

Rod Dreher ― The American Conservative

Joanna Duka ― Cofounder, The Resolute Group

John C. Eastman ― Chapman University Fowler School of Law

Mary Eberstadt ― Faith and Reason Institute

Eldon J. Eisenach ― University of Tulsa, emeritus

Anthony Esolen ― Professor and Writer-in-Residence, Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts

Michael P. Farris ― President, Alliance Defending Freedom

Robert Faulkner ― Research Professor, Boston College

Jack Fowler ― Vice President, National Review

Bruce Frohnen ― Professor of Law, Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law

Stephen Gardner ― The University of Tulsa

David P. Goldman ― Asia Times

Samuel Gregg ― Research Director, Acton Institute

Wayne Grudem ― Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary

Allen C. Guelzo ― Princeton University

Os Guinness ― Senior Fellow, Oxford Centere for Christian Apologetics

Dennis Hale ― Department of Political Science, Boston College

Mark David Hall ― Herbert Hoover Professor of Politics, George Fox University

Ralph C. Hancock ― Brigham Young University

Victor Davis Hanson ― Hoover Institution

Norm Hapke Jr. ― USNA 1967

Darryl G. Hart ― Professor of History, Hillsdale College

Michael E. Hartmann ― Capital Research Center and The Giving Review

Richard F. Hassing ― School of Philosophy, Catholic University of America

Jack Haye ― President, Patrick Henry College

Steven F. Hayward ― University of California, Berkeley

Yoram Hazony ― Edmund Burke Foundation

Brett Healy ― President, The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy

Mark C. Henrie ― Arthur N. Rupe Foundation

Cathi Herrod ― President, Center for Arizona Policy

Eugene Hickok ― Former Under-Secretary of Education

James Hitchcock ― St. Louis University, emeritus

Carson Holloway ― University of Nebraska at Omaha

Jacob Howland ― McFarlin Professor of Philosophy (emeritus), Tulsa University

Douglas Johnson ― Deputy Editor, Touchstone Magazine

Garrett Johnson ― Lincoln Network

Charles Kesler ― Claremont McKenna College

George Khalaf ― Cofounder, The Resolute Group

John B. Kienker ― Claremont Review of Books

Roger Kimball ― Encounter Books

Andreas Kinneging ― Leiden University

Sergiu Klainerman ― Eugene Higgins Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University

Alex Klimoff ― Vassar College

David Kubal ― President and CEO, Intercessors for America

Kelly Monroe Kullberg ― Spokesperson, American Association of Evangelicals

James Howard Kunstler ― author and blogger

James M. Kushiner ― Touchstone / Fellowship of St. James

Marc Landy ― Boston College

Eli Lehrer ― The R Street Institute

Tom Lewis ― T.  W. Lewis Foundation

James Lindsay ― Founder, New Discourses

Bradford Littlejohn ― Edmund Burke Foundation and Davenant Institute

Glenn C. Loury ― Brown University

Rich Lowry ― National Review

Vishal Mangalwadi ― President, Revelation Movement

Harvey C. Mansfield ― Kenan Professor of Government, Harvard and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

David Marion ― Elliott Professor (Emeritus) Hampden-Sydney College

Martha Martini ― Ph.D., J.D.

Ted McAllister ― Pepperdine University

Tom McCabe ― CEO, Freedom Foundation

Daniel McCarthy ― The Fund for American Studies

Wilfred M. McClay ― University of Oklahoma

Scott McConnell ― Co-Founder, The American Conservative

John McWhorter ― Columbia University

Tom McWilliams ― Watch Hill, RI

Jesse Merriam ― Professor of Government, Patrick Henry College

Arthur Milikh ― Claremont Institute

Robert Millman ― Pace University

Bob Moffitt ― Founder and President, Harvest Foundation

Albert Mohler, Jr. ― Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Lawrence Mone ― President Emeritus, Manhattan Institute

Lucas E. Morel ― John K. Boardman, Jr. Professor of Politics, Washington and Lee University

Paul Moreno ― Hillsdale College

James W. Muller ― Professor of Political Science, University of Alaska, Anchorage

Vincent Phillip Munoz ― University of Notre Dame

Mary Nichols ― Emerita Professor of Political Science, Baylor University

David K. Nichols ― Baylor University (retired)

Carl E. Olson ― Catholic World Report

Robert Osburn ― Executive Director, Wilberforce Academy

Joseph Pearce ― Editor, St. Austin Review

Nancy R. Pearcey ― Professor of Apologetics and Scholar in Residence, Houston Baptist University

Cristofer Pereyra ― CEO, Tepeyac Leadership, Inc.

Jason Peters ― Professor of English, Augustana College

Pete Peterson ― Dean, Braun Family Dean’s Chair, Pepperdine University School Public Policy

James Piereson ― Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute

John Podhoretz ― Editor, Commentary

Jeff Polet ― Professor of Political Science, Hope College

James Pontuso ― Patterson Professor, Hampden-Sydney College

Julie Ponzi ― American Greatness

James Poulos ― Executive Editor, The American Mind

Stephen B. Presser ― Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus, Northwestern University School of Law

Paul Rahe ― Hillsdale College

Lawrence W. Reed ― President Emeritus, Foundation for Economic Education

Alfred Regnery ― President, Republic Book Publishers

Robert Reilly ― Author, America on Trial

Richard Reinsch ― Editor, Law and Liberty

Gabriel Rench ― Host, CrossPolitic Show

R. R. Reno ― Editor, First Things

Robert Royal ― President, Faith and Reason Institute

Roberta Schaefer ― President Emeritus, Worcester Regional Research Bureau

David Schaefer ― Professor of Political Science, College of the Holy Cross

William Schambra ― Hudson Institute

Diana Schaub ― Professor of Political Science, Loyola University Maryland

Terry Schilling ― Executive Director, American Principles Project

Nathan Schlueter ― Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Hillsdale College

Daniel P. Schmidt ― The Giving Review

Garrett Ward Sheldon ― Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia

Fred Siegel ― The Manhattan Institute’s City Journal

Thomas W. Smith ― Palm Beach, FL

Thomas Spence ― Regnery Publishing

James R. Stoner, Jr. ― Louisiana State University

Lee J. Strang ― John W. Stoepler Professor of Law & Values, University of Toledo College of Law

Carol Swain ― Professor of Political Science and Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University

Mark Tooley ― Institute on Religion and Democracy, and Editor, Providence

Warren Treadgold ― NEH Professor of Byzantine Studies, Department of History, Saint Louis University

Lee Trepanier ― Political Science Department, Samford University

Steven J. Twist ― Adjunct Professor, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University

Geoffrey Vaughan ― Professor of Political Science, Assumption University

Robert Anthony Waters, Jr. ― Ohio Northern University

Bradley C. S. Watson ― Professor of Politics and Philip M. McKenna Chair in American and Western Political Thought, Saint Vincent College

George Weigel ― Ethics and Public Policy Center

Ryan Williams ― President, Claremont Institute

Bradford P. Wilson ― Executive Director, James Madison Program, Princeton University

Douglas Wilson ― Christ Church

Frank Wolf ― U.S House of Representatives (VA), retired

Christopher Wolfe ― University of Dallas

John Wood Jr. ― Braver Angels

Martin D. Yaffe ― Department of Philosophy and Religion, University of North Texas

Jean Yarbrough ― Professor of Government and Gary M. Pendy, Sr. Professor of Social Sciences, Bowdoin College

Scott Yenor ― Boise State University

John Wesley Young ― Ph.D., author, Totalitarian Language

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