The Great Antidote

Emily Chamlee-Wright on the Liberal Sensibility

May 26, 2023 Juliette Sellgren
Emily Chamlee-Wright on the Liberal Sensibility
The Great Antidote
More Info
The Great Antidote
Emily Chamlee-Wright on the Liberal Sensibility
May 26, 2023
Juliette Sellgren

Send us a Text Message.

Emily Chamlee-Wright is the president and CEO of IHS, the Institute for Humane Studies. Today we talk about the liberal sensibility, what it is and what happened to it. She explains to us the four corners of the liberal project and why they are important to a liberal society such as ours. 

Never miss another AdamSmithWorks update.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Emily Chamlee-Wright is the president and CEO of IHS, the Institute for Humane Studies. Today we talk about the liberal sensibility, what it is and what happened to it. She explains to us the four corners of the liberal project and why they are important to a liberal society such as ours. 

Never miss another AdamSmithWorks update.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Juliette Sellgren 

Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition. Hi, I'm Juliet Sellgren, and this is my podcast, the Great Antidote- named for Adam Smith, brought to you by Liberty Fund. To learn more, visit www Adam Smith works.org. Welcome back. There's a lot of talk about liberals and liberalism on this podcast, but today I want to introduce yet another aspect of this concept, the liberal sensibility. I'm excited to be hosting Emily Chamlee-Wright on the podcast today to talk about this. Today is May 3rd, 2023. For context, she's the president and CEO of the Institute for Humane Studies or IHS, and she's the right person to talk to about this topic. Welcome to the podcast.

Emily Chamlee-Wright

Thank you so much for having me on, Juliette, it's an honor.

Juliette Sellgren 

So before we get into the liberal sensibility, which is a cool if not a little bit scary, big words topic, what is the most important thing that people my age or in my generation should know that we don't?

Emily Chamlee-Wright (1.21)

So one of the things we're going to talk about, I hope, with respect to the liberal sensibility is the importance of humility. And so I was, you frequently ask your guests this question, and I love the question, and as I was mulling hoping that you would pose the question to me, I was kind of mulling what I would want to say. And then I grew to hate the question, not the posing of it, but let me say a little bit more. So there's a hubris in anyone who thinks they can answer the question right at a kind of a hundred percent blanket in a hundred percent blanket way. In other words, there's a lack of humility. If I come out with an answer, it presumes that all young people need the same advice and I just don't think that's true and that there's the other hubris that I'm in the right vantage point to prescribe the right advice. So there's that. But at the same time, I recognize that you're having me on your podcast for a reason, I should say stuff, right? And you're hoping that I'll say stuff that's smart. So I want to try to answer your question, but let me ask the question back first. What do you see as the problem to be solved?

Juliette Sellgren (2.56)

I think for me recently, the biggest thing has been we go too fast. We don't take our time, we don't smell the roses. And smelling the roses is why things matter in a way. And so I think being aware of that is something that I'm learning right now. And obviously every time someone asks me this question like, oh, you should answer this question to wrap up the season, or what would the host of this podcast that asks literally every single person, what would she say? And honestly, I never know. And so I think about it almost weekly and my answer changes almost weekly because that's how life works. That's what being a human is, right? Your answer today might not be the same as your answer tomorrow, even if I'm asking you this question for a reason. So I think what you pointed out is a really good point, but same thing goes for me, but I think in a way this anxiety to go fast to get things done, in a way it's great, it's motivation, it's productivity. But I do think that it doesn't help with all the anxiety. Everyone seems to be feeling about everything else all the time, and I think it kind of feeds into itself without being super connected to reality all the time, if that makes any sense.

Emily Chamlee-Wright (4.18)

That's really helpful because I think what you've defined there is a universe of young people who are very driven, very motivated. And so that kind of narrows the scope where any advice could I think be more relevant because not everyone needs this advice to smell the roses as you framed it out. But there is a group, particularly really smart, motivated people who understand that if they're in their formative years, high school, college, and they're really driven, the impulse is likely to be one in which it says, strip out all the fluff, strip out anything that is superfluous to me, achieving a narrowly defined set of goals or pursuing a particular kind of professional track or ambition of some kind. And so that's what I hear you when you're describing the problem to be solved, you're describing a set of people who are very driven in this respect.

And so, well, what advice would I offer people within at least that category? And I think that it's something like in the pursuit of a purpose-driven meaningful life, which is a very good thing. If you're oriented in a direction, it means that you have a, and you've got a sort of internal motor that's propelling you forward, and that's a wonderful energy to have. It's a real blessing. But where we can sometimes go wrong is that we forget that we need to pay attention to the multiple signals that life is sending us, that we're on the right track. And so for example, good grades are certainly one signal that you're on the right track, you're doing what you need to do to succeed, gaining acceptance into the top schools that you wanted to go to. All of those are signals. So there's nothing wrong with paying attention to them.

But one of the underappreciated signals is what brings you joy. So if what brings you joy, deep and abiding joy is something a little off the beaten path, it might be going to see community theater productions that have literally no connection to your professional life. Pay attention to that joy signal because it might be in and thinking deeply about a play production, that it unlocks an idea for something that does connect to your broader ambitions. And if it doesn't, that's okay too. It's that seeking out joy and paying attention and not seeing it as a kind of mindless indulgence to pursue that joy. So it might be spending time outdoors or pursuing a hobby or any number of things. Don't discount the power of seeking and seeking that joy and then paying attention to those signals as a source of a purposeful and meaning driven life.

Juliette Sellgren 

Alright, so let's get into it. Let's

Emily Chamlee-Wright 

Get into it.

Juliette Sellgren (8.09)

I've been thinking a lot about that phrase that people say is a retort. When they say that's just semantics, it seems to me like kind of an avoidance of maybe the most important piece of a conversation. If you're not speaking the same language, if you don't get into the semantics, then how are you having the same conversation? Well then you don't know. So before we get into it, I mean we're into it, but before we really get into it, what do you mean when you say liberal? Who are some figures that you'd classify as a liberal in this sense?

Emily Chamlee-Wright (8.43)

Yeah, so let me sketch out what I see as the four corners of what I would describe as the liberal project. And just in very broad brush strokes, I would frame it out as a political liberalism, economic liberalism, intellectual liberalism. And something like a fourth corner would be something like civic liberalism or it could be cultural liberalism. And so those four corners are helpful because otherwise the project becomes a little hard to, I think this is the best way to define the project and political liberalism is that corner that most of us who are educated in the United States feel most familiar with because it's the grounding in the Declaration of Independence and founding the Bill of Rights and founding era ideas of Madisonian, constitutionally constrained government. That's the political liberalism piece that I think that we're most familiar with. Government is there not to give us our rights, but to secure our rights that we want constitutional constraints because not only do we worry about predatory behavior of our fellow citizens that the government is put in place to help protect against, but also we need to worry about predatory behavior of a powerful government itself.

And so those constitutional constraints are so important. So there's the political liberalism piece, like I said that feels most familiar, but perhaps less familiar is the economically liberal piece, which I would say broadly understood just means that life is good in a market society where we've got enough economic freedom to try out our ideas, to pursue projects, enough elbow room to engage in the exchange, in the open exchange of goods and services to try out new things to offer into the marketplace a new idea. And if it takes fire, the benefits, but we also, the lessons learned are also there and the losses we make, oh, it turns out that the marketplace didn't value that thing that I thought would be valuable. That's such an important opportunity to learn both individually but across society as well. So there's a learning dimension here that's coming forward in a market society.

Intellectual liberalism is that sort of John Stuart Mill ethos that says that it's in the open exchange of the marketplace of ideas where we hone our ideas, where we toss out bad ideas and we improve the progress of the state of our own arguments, but also, again, society as a whole learns from this. And then there's this sort of civic liberalism or cultural liberalism that begins with a default towards toleration that is so long as people are not abridging the liberties of others, that people should have the elbow room and freedom to pursue the good life as they understand it. And that in that ethos of toleration is a liberal spirit of openness for multiple ways to understand the good life and that these four corners work together. And I think there's also tensions across these four corners as well. But taken together, that's the system of liberalism that I'm describing.

You asked for people, so I mentioned John Stuart Mill in the intellectual liberalism corner. Adam Smith, I think is someone who is my go-to intellectual resource on the economic liberalism. James Madison is a go-to resource, intellectual resource on the political liberalism and then the cultural liberalism. Actually it's, it's such a rich terrain. It's hard to pick one favorite one because it goes back also to 18th century philosophy that says, let's be okay with recognizing that people can pursue a different spirit of the good and we can all be okay. But John Locke's religious toleration, those were a seed bed of what eventually blossoms into a richer garden of cultural liberalism. So those are some that I would start out with.

Juliette Sellgren 

Those are some pretty good examples, some big figures to live up to. So I guess what is a sensibility? What about these four things taken together makes a liberal sensibility? Does every culture and society have to have a sensibility?

Emily Chamlee-Wright (14.18)

Yeah, that's a good question. What do I mean by sensibility? I really don't know if you've dipped into George Will's book, The Conservative Sensibility, which is a really good book. I very much appreciated the depth of thinking, so I'm going to steal his framing for what a sensibility is. It is more than an attitude, but not quite an agenda. And I like that because it should be more than just a list of things that I like. It should be more than just a list of virtues that cobbled together. It's like, well, I look out in the world and I identify the people that I like hanging out with, like Juliet, and I kind of say, well, what are her virtues? And I kind of cobble them together and I draw a circle around it and call that a liberal sensibility. I don't think that that's adequate, right?

There's got to be a little more rigor to it than that. At the same time, it doesn't necessarily have to be completely worked out arguments either. It can be things like, I just have an orientation in this direction. I have a default psychological posture towards this rather than that. And what are some of the theses rather than those? So some of the default postures of the liberal sensibility would be a default posture of openness. So we talked a little bit about that in the context of cultural openness that says, I don't need to live in a world where everybody agrees with me on what the good life is. As long as we're in agreement about not predating against one another and not abridging one another's rights to pursue our own version of the good life, then we can have a lot of disagreement and trust that society will be okay.

And so it's that default posture of openness, certainly in the cultural realm, but I would say even in the economic realm, that it's a default posture that says, look, I don't like everything that the market in time period X generates. Right? There are things that I can look out into the world and see that the market outcome has generated a set of products or intellectual products that I think are bankrupt in some really important ways. But I actually have a lot of optimism. My default is towards an optimism that we can withstand those things that we don't like in the marketplace without resorting to a heavy handed, top down power infused remedy. So a liberal sensibility is a, includes a default towards openness, a default towards, even though I don't know, it's a default towards optimism that says, even though I don't know exactly how this current moment of disruption is going to work out, I have a strong sense of optimism that it will work out that.

So that allows me to resist an appeal towards power and an appeal towards control that curtails the freedoms of others. So those would be two elements of a liberal sensibility is that default posture towards openness, a default optimism. We talked a little bit about a default towards humility as opposed to a default towards a belief that I have all the right answers. I think of that as also being part of a liberal sensibility. And I think that those are virtues, but they're not just virtues plucked out of thin air. Each of those virtues, each of those default postures aligns with one or more liberal principles, liberal rules of the game. And so let me give you just one example that default towards optimism is grounded in experience of human history with liberalism, human history with political freedom, a good measure of economic freedom, intellectual freedom, civic freedom.

Our experience tells us with more openness and that we should be optimistic because it turns out that when we're tolerant of other people, that's a much better way to bring about social peace and prosperity than crushing people who disagree with us. That war pestilence is the outcome when we're not tolerant and when we are tolerant, we learn to live with each other. And so human history teaches us that lesson. And so the lessons within economics around spontaneous ordering principles of market society is another good example where grounded within liberal principles are basic rules of the game of how society, how free society works. So those default postures towards openness, towards optimism have a place to dig in there. They're grounded and they're not just floating out there in thin air. They're grounded in the principles of a liberal society as well.

Juliette Sellgren 

Then what does an entire society with a liberal sensibility, what does that look like?

Emily Chamlee-Wright (20.46)

The first thing that I would want to say is that it can't be that we all agree about everything. And so it can't be that a liberal society has to conform to a very precise and narrow set of guidelines, and unless it does, it's going to collapse. I just don't think that's the way human societies work. And as soon as you have a very narrow sort of purity test that you're imposing, I think it ends up being kind of corrosive to the system. So I talked a little bit about the four corners here. I think what the four corners of liberalism as a system of human cooperation and coordination looks like is that it's constantly in tension with itself. It's constantly tugging and pulling. Those four corners do reinforce each other, but they also tug and pull against each other. So a commitment to civil liberties like freedom of association, freedom of speech, these are core principles grounded within the political liberalism corner.

There's a reinforcing effect for if we want to have intellectual freedom on university campuses, for example, that freedom of speech and freedom of association, these are necessary conditions of academic freedom, of intellectual freedom. I don't think that they're sufficient conditions for true spirit of intellectual, the pursuit of truth, the true engagement with the intellectual enterprise. I think we need more than just commitment to freedoms of speech and expression, but they certainly are necessary conditions. And so what's happening, what good looks like in the intellectual liberalism corner depends on what's happening in the political liberalism corner. So that's what I mean by reinforcing effects. And you could draw reinforcing effects across all dimensions of the liberal project, but they're also in tension with each other. And so cultural commitment, a commitment to cultural liberalism or civic liberalism is a commitment to pluralism. It's a commitment that says not only can we be tolerant of people who are different from us, there's a sort of a liberal ethos that welcomes the difference as well and respects the inherent dignity of all people.

That principle of pluralism is grounded within not just an arm's length toleration of difference, but also a deep recognition of the human dignity and the recognition that we are one another's, dignified equals. And that deep spirit of commitment is to human dignity is the root of pluralism. But those commitments can be very much in tension with commitments to freedoms of speech and expression that rub up against that spirit of pluralism, market outcomes that are in tug against our commitments to a sense that we want to be all together and living in a community of harmonious deep associational life. Well, the marketplace can pull us away from that deep associational life within community too. There can be tension there. Those tensions though are not logical contradictions. It's good that there are these tensions tugging and pulling sort of a suspension bridge works precisely because the different elements of the bridge are in tension with each other. The system works precisely because of the tensions. It doesn't spin off out of control. It can withstand a heavy load. It can flex in the winds of change precisely because of the tensions built up within the tension bridge. And I think that the system of liberalism, the liberal project is similar in that way. So I think what we need to expect within a system that really is characterized by a liberal sensibility is a system that's always in a perpetual state of contestation and a perpetual state of tugging and pulling.

And so the search for unifying principles across the four corners is a really valuable search, and it's one that I consider my own project as a part of, but that search is not the same thing as narrowly defining a purity test that everybody has to ascribe to, and everybody has to agree to every policy conclusion without a spirit of contestation. I just don't think that that's a viable project. So what makes liberalism viable is that there's lots and lots of tension and disagreement across the four elements of the project itself.

Juliette Sellgren (27.02)

You've walked your way right to my next question, which is I guess how is it possible to have a differing political philosophy, but to also still have a liberal sensibility? Is a liberal sensibility necessary for society even if you don't necessarily agree, even if there is this disagreement and growth through tension? And I guess how does the attitude and the sensibility, how does that lend itself to an agenda? Because it seems to me that it would hard not to be a political classical liberal without if you subscribe to all of these other things.

Emily Chamlee-Wright (27.49)

Yeah, so that's helpful and thanks for naming the tradition that I come out of which is the classical liberal tradition. So my own view is that why I'm drawn to the classical liberal tradition is because there is some consistency across the four corners, right? So there's a default towards political freedom, not just in the political liberalism corner, but there's a deep commitment to freedom within the cultural realm, the economic realm, the intellectual space that I would make the argument that the classical liberal tradition is the most consistent in this regard, and it's the default I go to really identify where our sensibilities are grounded in principle. So I think one of the liberal sensibilities that I think is really important to making a system of liberalism work is a healthy skepticism of power, and there should be a healthy skepticism of state power. And we see this in what I would describe as a kind of James Buchanan public choice orientation about understanding how government power works.

One of the things that's most valuable about the public choice point of view, the James Buchanan point of view, is it lends a very useful lens that allows us to say, just because there's someone in power who has an agenda to solve society's problems, and let's say we're all completely committed, we're all persuaded that there's a purity of motivation of the original thinker. The way in which the politics works out is that purity is not going to survive in the actual execution of any complex set of solutions. And we have to have a healthy skepticism of the power we're handing over to a state authority anytime we ask it to solve our problems for us. So there's a healthy skepticism of power there, and I think that there's a well worked out set of arguments about that underlie that healthy skepticism of power within the classical liberal tradition.

That being said, though, I think that a liberal society can support a community of people who are committed to liberal principles in general, even if they disagree about what the exact right mix is of say, interventionist policies or regulatory policies. So if we look across the four corners, I mentioned that the classical liberal tradition is the most consistent in it. It wants an abundance of freedom across all four dimensions. Conservatives tend to want there to be, at least at the sort of old school conservatives. The, there's a new right, which I think is not in line with this, but the sort of old school conservatives would say, we want a lot of economic freedom, but not necessarily a lot of cultural freedom. And the new conservatives would want to curtail even the economic freedom piece there where maybe it's unfair to even call them conservative in that respect.

But there's a new right that is focused on really kind of locking down cultural change so that it's not moving forward in an aggressive sort of manner. We're curtailing the evolution cultural as a way to preserve what they perceive to be the good life. And so you'd have a different sensibility across the four corners with someone who might've been a sort of fiscal conservative, but a fiscal conservative with respect to wanting to allow for a lot of economic freedom, but want to curtail a cultural freedom. On the other side of the ideological spectrum with a left of center liberal would say, I'm skeptical about economic freedom, but I want a lot of cultural freedom. I want there to be, that would be someone who's in favor of gay marriage, for example, and LGBT rights, but skeptical of the freedoms afforded through market liberalism. Again, my own point of view favors the classical liberal version and vision that has consistency of a default towards freedom across all four dimensions.

But I think a society can be a workable society that includes left of center liberals who are worried on the margin about unchecked economic power. That very well may be a thing that we need to worry about finding what the right solution is, is the next set of questions we need to tackle. But someone who says, I'm really committed to civil liberties, but I'm a little less skeptical of market freedoms, I still think can be a part of a liberal society just as someone who is in favor of market freedoms, but skeptical and concerned about cultural evolution, perhaps moving too fast, that sort of old school conservative, what I would call, I would still call that person as sort of a Madisonian liberal as someone who still believes in the principles of political liberalism and constrained constitutional governments. That's someone who I've just sketched out a community of people who can still be part of the project of self-governance, largely on board with the liberal project, even though they have disagreements around what the best way to pursue how we govern together.

And I guess it's a long way of getting to an answer where I don't want to land is that unless we have a very precise narrow set of policy commitments, we can't be in a workable society together. I think the system of liberalism can be more flexible than that. But what is required is for us to maintain that healthy skepticism of power. So when something other than a freedom-based solution is offered, we understand what the concerns are, concern by handing someone the authority to prescribe a set of outcomes or prescribe decisions for other people, we better be damn sure that that's the only and best way to move forward. And so what I'm in favor of is a sensibility that sets the search party offer. When we're looking for solutions to complex problems, I want the default to be one in which we search for the freedom enhancing solution first and see if we can get there. Because what we oftentimes tend towards is when we see big complex hairy challenges, our default is to say, oh, well that's a big problem. That's a thorny problem. So we're going to need to give somebody a lot of power to make decisions for other people. And that default is what needs to shift if we're going to have a workable liberal society.

And that I think is the key thing that I would champion as the core of the liberal sensibility, is to change the default from one that says, let's default towards power to one that says, let's default towards a skepticism of power. And instead start looking for solutions that respect individual liberty, that respect the autonomy and agency of individuals that respect the capacity and have some understanding of how human beings under the right conditions can have, do, have the capacity to solve some really complex challenges and train our minds and to train our default settings to default in that direction so that we're searching for the freedom enhancing solutions. When we're faced with complex challenges, that's not a guarantee that we would always find it right. And so that's where I want to, I don't want to offer this out as some sort of new dogma.

What I want to do is just shift the default. So we look for freedom-based solutions wherever we can because no matter because in all realms of the liberal society, the political, the economic, the cultural, the intellectual, as soon as we default to power, there's trouble there and there's reason for concern there. And so a default towards finding freedom-based solutions is the right place to put the shovel in the ground. And that's how I think a society that defaults towards a liberal sensibility works is that it sets off on the journey of finding solutions by looking for freedom-based solutions first.

Juliette Sellgren (39.31)

So over at Discourse, you wrote an article explaining how reasserting the liberal sensibility would help to fix a lot of the problems we see in America and liberal societies today. I guess when did we lose the liberal sensibility if we ever had it, and how do we cultivate it if it's gone?

Emily Chamlee-Wright (39.51)

Yeah, no, that's a good question. And I think that there's an answer. That question could be posed to every generation in all likelihood that there's a constant need to revive in new terms and new languages and the face of new threats, new challenges. We need to revive our commitment to core liberal principles. And again, while I'm in favor of committing to a deeper understanding of four liberal principles as they emerge out of the liberal project, I want to make sure that we are finding common ground with others in the broader sense of commitment to like if someone is skeptical of liberal principles but is just doubling down on, sorry, if someone is skeptical about, say, market liberalism, but is doubling down on civil liberties and really is committed to freedoms of speech and expression and freedoms of association, and that's where we can link arms, great.

I want to link arms with them on that piece of the project, and then we can save for beers, conversation over beers about, hopefully I can nudge them closer to seeing the power of market as part of the emancipatory project. So recognizing that there are more allies than we might presume, I think is a really important piece of this. And where we get into real trouble is when we start importing language of division, hatred, demonization of others, the language of war I think is a real problem. So even, and we see that every time the language of war is brought in, whether it's the war on drugs, well, we shouldn't be surprised that the war on drugs militarized our communities and the war on poverty essentially framed poor people as the problem rather than the solution. It makes enemies of what should be our allies.

And I think that the language of the culture war is similar in this respect. So I think our current challenge is one where we should be really skeptical and scrutinize the way in which we're framing language that creates false divisions of us versus them. Now, it may very well be that there are a intellectual rivals that we need to be really, really clear about. If someone is championing an illiberal solution, for example, prescribing only certain ideas are going to be allowable in an open exchange, in an intellectual arena, that's an illiberal solution. And we need to be really clear that if we're liberals, we're pushing back against that. So in that case, that's, that's a place where we need to be very clear that attempts to shut down the free exchange of ideas is an illiberal solution, and we need to provide the liberal alternative to addressing whatever concern they believe they're addressing.

But in that search, I think actually if we name what good looks like with respect to a liberal solution, a freedom oriented solution, we will find that we have a lot more allies and partners in that project than we otherwise might've thought. And so identifying those people with whom we share some core liberal beliefs and working where we can work, I think that's a piece of recapturing the liberal sensibility. But I think even bigger than that. And here I would go back to another point where I think we lost the liberal sensibility is really in the post-Soviet era. It looked with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, it looked like liberal society, market liberalism, political liberalism, intellectual liberalism had just won out. And it seemed as though everybody was in agreement around the world that the liberal society, the open society, the politically free, economically free society was what the world wanted.

And it was turning its back on Soviet style socialism. There was a real euphoria in that moment. And for liberals of all stripe, what I would say conservative liberals, the Madisonian liberals were gleeful, I would say left of center liberals were also gleeful and certainly classical liberals were gleeful in that moment. And in that glee, I think we thought that a big part of our job was done and that the liberal order of the liberal project of political, economic, cultural and intellectual liberalism didn't need to be defended anymore. And we got out of the habit of defending it.

And so that's what I mean, probably every generation has its version of this challenge. And so that was the challenge in my generation. I think your generation has a different sort of challenge, hence the riff on the culture war stuff. But in my generation, it was that we got out of the habit of defending the basic liberal principles that underlie a free, open, intellectually diverse society that knows, that has the maturity to know that it can withstand all the differences that come about with that open openness. It can withstand economic disruption, it can withstand intellectual pluralism, it can withstand cultural pluralism and be the stronger for it. That's what I mean by a mature liberalism. We can't have a mature liberalism if we forget what those underlying commitments are though. And so it is a cultural project to remind ourselves of those liberal commitments. I also think an intellectual project, there's no substitute for learning some basic economics. There's no substitute for learning the lessons of the self-regulating nature of market societies. There's no substitute for learning the lessons of how important it is to constrain government power as an underlying principle of a free society. There's no substitution for these intellectual journeys as well. So I think of reviving the liberal sensibility is both a cultural project and an intellectual project, and those two things feed each other.

Juliette Sellgren 

What is one thing that you believed at one time in your life and that you later changed your position on and why?

Emily Chamlee-Wright (48.20)

There was once a time when I thought that all the only thing that the world really needed was to understand those lessons of economic liberalism. The lessons of economic freedom would set the world free. And if we could just make better economic arguments and sing them louder and clearer and get our arguments honed and a better fashion, that that would be enough. And there was a shift in my early career as a scholar that moved from wanting to be, I would say the first sort of arc of my career was one where it was like economic literacy is the thing that's going to save the world. And I still think that there's a necessary condition aspect of that, but I don't think it's sufficient. And it's really important to, and this is where the broadening my lens beyond just the economic sphere. The economic sphere is such an important piece of the liberal project.

It's such a huge part of the emancipatory element of the liberal project. And at the same time, we need to recognize that economic liberalism on its own without these other elements, isn't up to the task of bringing people along to the liberal project full force on its own. It needs the other three corners to help paint the picture of the fullness of the emancipatory project. That is the liberal project. We need to take really seriously the concerns that tend to inhabit the intellectual corner, the cultural corner, the political corner, as well as the economic corner, that we need to take a full reckoning, a full assessment of what the concerns are that kind of grow out of these different corners really seriously. And so a deep, deep commitment to interdisciplinary study, which includes political theory, includes a deep understanding of social psychology, sociology, the arts, literature, mathematics.

So a deep commitment to the interdisciplinary nature of the liberal project has been a shift in my thinking. That has been, I think, a really important source of improvement in the way I think about ideas and their relevance in the world. But it's also just, well in full circle back to where we started the conversation. It's also been a source of real deep joy too, to understand how embedded the economic way of thinking is within the richness of the full and fullness of the human condition writ large. So that's been a really important shift over the course of my career.

Juliette Sellgren 

Once again, I'd like to thank my guest for their time and insight, and I'd like to thank you for listening to the Great Antidote podcast. The Great Antidote is sound engineered by Rich Goyette. If you have any questions, any guests or topic recommendations, please feel free to reach out to me at the great antidote@gmail.com. Thank you.

Podcasts we love