Party of Virtue

Harvey Mansfield, "Our Parties: Part II," City Journal, Spring: 2015.

Mansfield continues his two part exploration of the character of American political parties in the Spring 2015 issue of City Journal.


Our parties, as liberal and conservative, oppose each other over progress in the drive toward ever-greater equality. In defending progress, as we saw in the last issue, liberals run into the difficulty that equality seems impossible to define and heedless in its never-ending motion. (See “Our Parties, Part One,” Winter 2015.) Liberalism claims to be more rational than custom, tradition, and common sense; but liberalism, or progressivism, relies on simpleminded principles and unthinking passion. It suffers from faults that it fails to acknowledge—the clumsiness of administering its programs, their cost, and its lack of prudence in dealing with foreign enemies (as opposed to its skill in defeating conservatives at home). Conservatives, for their part, face the difficulty of countering the impression that progress is inevitable and irreversible, and so of generally playing defense and reacting to their opponents’ initiatives. They have the faults of progressivism to work against but have enjoyed more success in electing conservatives than in reversing so-called progress. If liberals are the party of government, conservatives are the party of responsible government, their responsibility often being manfully to make the best of a bad situation.

City Journal