Naming and Reclaiming the Liberal Ideal

On New Year’s Day in 2000, Nobel laureate Dr. James M. Buchanan challenged classical liberals to save the soul of liberalism. “People need something to yearn and struggle for,” he wrote. “If the liberal ideal is not there, there will be a vacuum and other ideas will supplant it.”

This New Year’s Day, IHS President Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright invoked Buchanan’s challenge in an op-ed in The Orange County Register.

“Twenty years later, Buchanan’s fears seem prescient,” Dr. Chamlee-Wright writes.

Contempt for liberalism is growing at both ends of the ideological spectrum—from the nationalist right and progressive left. Illiberal ideas and attitudes have seeped into the American mainstream, dismissing not only market liberalism but even more basic principles, like respect for the autonomy and dignity of the individual. At one extreme we see the resurgence of white nationalism; at the other, the renunciation of First Amendment principles. Now is the time for any liberals left to answer Buchanan’s challenge—to save the soul of liberalism by reclaiming the liberal ideal.

– Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright, IHS President and CEO

What is the liberal ideal? As Dr. Chamlee-Wright explains, the liberal ideal is a free and tolerant society “where intellectual and economic progress are the norm” and individuals engage with each other respectfully and peacefully.

“It was this liberal ideal that animated the American Founding,” Dr. Chamlee-Wright writes, “arguably the first great liberal experiment.”

Read the full op-ed in The Orange County Register or additional pieces by Dr. Chamlee-Wright and the Institute for Humane Studies at

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