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Partisanship Isn't Enough (but It Is Essential)

Reflections on the Glenn Beck rally.

Sep 13, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 48 • By HARVEY MANSFIELD
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Glenn Beck is a kind of libertarian, and he has made a fair amount of money. But he rejects the private life that libertarians seem to recommend. He goes public with his distrust of everything public and thus requires libertarians to march behind patriotism, religion, and honor—all things not in your immediate self-interest. Though not an educated man, he seems quick-witted: When he discovered that in choosing the date of his rally he had stumbled upon the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s great speech, he quickly adopted the coincidence as if he had intended all along to celebrate King for restoring honor to blacks in America.

A partisan tries to make himself consistent, and thereby exposes himself to the charge of inconsistency. But the centrist—for whom I have no great admiration—merely picks what he likes. He cannot decide between low taxes and more programs, and votes for both. His centrism is nonpartisan without any partisanship behind it; it lacks the public-spirited anger of a partisan and reveals the weakness of a neutral. His vote may decide a contest, but others will decide its meaning.

The aspiration for consistency makes politics both partisan and nonpartisan, and our self-government depends on it. Glenn Beck—like President Obama—is unafraid of calling attention to himself, but—again like President Obama—he does us all a favor when he seeks to bring others to live as he does.

Harvey Mansfield is professor of government at Harvard and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he is a member of the task force on liberty and virtue.

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