What are the motives and impulses behind the current wave of online denunciations of incorrect opinion? What is distinctive about the recent rise of mob violence? How does political extremism threaten American principles of government like toleration, free speech, and compromise? In this Conversation, Christine Rosen, a senior writer at Commentary, shares her perspective on cancel culture and the illiberal turn in American politics. Rosen argues that worthy goals like confronting injustices in American civic life are liable to be hurt rather than helped by extremism and violence. According to Rosen, there is no alternative but to rely on American’s time-tested methods of resolving disputes: the processes of liberal constitutionalism.

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Born in 1950 in New York City and raised in Montreal, Charles Krauthammer, who died two years ago on June 21, 2018, was an indispensable voice in American public life for nearly four decades. His writing and speaking—covering politics, religion, religion, technology, sports, and many other subjects—enriched our public life profoundly. A staunch defender of American exceptionalism, he was one of the most eloquent writers of his generation. As Bill Kristol put it, he was a rare combination of extraordinary courage and intellect. Originally released in April 2015, this Conversation with Charles covers his education, his political reflections from the 1980s through the 2010s, his upbringing in Quebec, his work in medicine, and his thoughts on Israel and Zionism. In it, some of Charles Krauthammer’s extraordinary wit, wisdom, and character shine through.

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What is the current economic situation of the US in light of the ongoing public health crisis? How successful have policies been in addressing the economic crisis? What are possible paths forward for the American economy in the short and medium term? In this Conversation, Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute shares his perspective on the serious economic challenges we face. Veuger argues that the fiscal and monetary policies so far have averted the worst possibilities for the economy. However, the sheer number of lost jobs and productivity, along with the still unfolding future of the health crisis, means the economic pain likely will continue in the short and medium term. According to Veuger, there are reasons for concern about the pace of recovery—which ultimately will depend on how quickly America can overcome, or at least contain, the public health crisis.

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Tensions between the United States and China have been rising as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. There is urgent need to think about the U.S.-China relationship and how the U.S. should confront the challenge. In this Conversation, Princeton professor and author of A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, Aaron Friedberg argues that the pandemic has accelerated a fact apparent for some time—namely, that strategic competition between the U.S. and China is likely to be the central question of geopolitics in the years ahead. According to Friedberg, one effect of the current crisis may be emerging bipartisan agreement that China represents a serious threat to American interests and principles. Friedberg asserts that it is yet unclear how America will react to the challenge from China—much will depend on elections, strategic choices, and other factors. But, Friedberg argues, we are unlikely to return to a policy consensus that seeks seamless integration of China into the world order. And, in this timely and important Conversation, Friedberg sketches some political, ideological, and economic factors the United States will have to confront as it attempts to develop a comprehensive China strategy.

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What will the campaign between Donald Trump and Joe Biden look like amidst the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis? What strategies might each candidate pursue? What strategies should they pursue? Joining us—in our first socially-distanced audio Conversation—is veteran Republican operative and frequent guest Mike Murphy to discuss the state of the race. As usual, Murphy is provocative, humorous, and insightful—both about the current dynamics of the campaign as well as how things might unfold in the months ahead. This is a must-listen Conversation at a pivotal and unprecedented moment in our politics.

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What is liberal democracy? What parts of human nature does liberal democracy rely on and try to cultivate? How can Aristotle help us understand America? In this thought-provoking and challenging Conversation, Harvey Mansfield shares his interpretation of liberal democracy as a regime that relies on both the democratic and aristocratic parts of human nature. However, citizens of liberal democracy tend to deny or misunderstand the aristocratic elements of the liberal democratic regime. According to Mansfield, this leads to the underestimation of the need for virtue in public and private life. And virtue is indispensable for a healthy politics. Relying on Aristotle’s classic account of the mixed regime, Mansfield argues that a deeper understanding of both the democratic and aristocratic parts of liberal democracy could help us better understand ourselves—and perhaps help us improve liberal democracy.

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What reforms would most benefit American education? What are the obstacles to putting them in place? What changes to the education sector should we anticipate in the coming years? In this Conversation, Chester Finn, a former assistant secretary of education and veteran scholar of education policy, shares his perspective on the state of American education—covering preschool, K-12, colleges and universities, and continuing education. According to Finn, American education still boasts sources of strength, such as some very good institutions from pre-K to higher ed. However, he notes America is falling behind other advanced countries in overall educational outcomes. Finn and Kristol address various reform initiatives such as charter schools, the homeschool movement, the marshaling of technology to cut costs and improve outcomes, and various other policy tools that could attract better teachers or otherwise improve schools. While noting the promise in some reform efforts, Finn also highlights the obstacles they have often faced, and reflects on why the education system seems so resistant to change. This is a must-listen Conversation for anyone interested in a sector so closely tied to the success of America.

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According to the standards of today, all philosophic and political writing is expected to be clear and unambiguous. Writers are told to be absolutely open about their suppositions and opinions—to lay all their cards on the table. In this Conversation with Bill Kristol, Michigan State political scientist Arthur Melzer reminds us that this was not always the case. Drawing on his recent book Philosophy Between the Lines, Melzer demonstrates that, from antiquity to the end of the Enlightenment, philosophers, theologians, and political thinkers practiced the art of esoteric writing. Esoteric writing is an elliptical mode of writing that employs rhetorical devices such as allusions, riddles, hints, repetitions, and contradictions that conceals the true thought of a great thinker from everyone except the most careful readers. In his research, Melzer has presented an impressive amount of evidence of the ubiquity of the practice among writers in world history. In this Conversation, he highlights some of the evidence and discloses (in a very forthright fashion) the series of motives that led writers to philosophize between the lines. Finally, Melzer and Kristol discuss why the practice largely disappeared from the nineteenth century onward, and what the phenomenon has to teach us about key themes in the history of philosophy and politics.

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Is the current system of presidential selection—primary and caucus voting—working well? How did the framers of the Constitution think about presidential selection? How did presidential selection work at other moments in American history? In this Conversation, University of Virginia political scientist James Ceaser shares his perspective on the character of presidential selection from the founding period through the creation of the party system to the nominating process we know today. As Ceaser argues, the founders thought very deeply about presidential selection, and sought to constitutionalize the process of presidential nomination and selection to promote fit characters and filter out demagogues. With varying degrees of success, the party system that grew up later in American history sought to perform a similar function, balancing the input of the populace and party leaders themselves. In recent times, however, the party regulars have lost control of the nominating process and it has opened up dramatically for outsiders. As Ceaser demonstrates, this has had, and may continue to have, dramatic effects on the kinds of candidates that may be nominated—and the character of the American presidency.

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What was the Old West? How did Westerns emerge as a quintessential American art form? What are the greatest Westerns and what accounts for their enduring appeal—in America and around the world? In this Conversation, Paul Cantor explains how the Western rose to prominence—and the philosophical, political, and cultural themes that the greatest Westerns address. Cantor shares an extended interpretation of the films of John Ford and particularly Ford’s two masterworks, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. He also explains how Ford’s work and other Westerns influenced Akiro Kurosawa’s Japanese Samurai films. Cantor and Kristol also discuss how the Italian Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone influenced Clint Eastwood and other more recent American films. Here we see how an American art form spread around the world and later returned to reshape American culture. This is a must-listen Conversation for anyone interested in American culture and popular culture around the globe.

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Though not read nearly as much as it should be, Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748) is a fundamental text in the history of political philosophy. Featuring key presentations of themes including the separation of powers, the effect of commerce in politics, and the nature of republican and monarchical governments, The Spirit of the Laws had profound influence on the founders and the Constitution—as well as on the school of political thought that came to be called modern liberalism. In this Conversation, Harvey Mansfield presents a powerfully illuminating introduction to Montesquieu’s great—though extremely challenging—work. He explains how Montesquieu opposed the idea of an unlimited concentration of power, a notion that came into the modern world especially through the teaching of Thomas Hobbes. In challenging it, however, Montesquieu does not try to return to Aristotle’s notion of a best regime, which, he implies, leads to imperialism. Rather, Montesquieu accepts the modern notion of power but turns it against itself through his doctrine of the separation of powers. As for the tendency toward imperialism, Montesquieu’s alternative is the commercial republic, which will inevitably try to expand but do so more peacefully. This is a must-see introduction to a work that can help us better understand both the United States and the modern world more generally.

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In this Conversation, first released in 2018, Diana Schaub considers the life and ideas of the statesman and political thinker Frederick Douglass (c. 1818 – 1885). Schaub reflects on Douglass’s life, including his experience of slavery, his abolitionist politics, his work on behalf of the Union in the Civil War, and his post-war efforts to secure civil rights. Schaub demonstrates Douglass’s importance as a political thinker, pointing to his reflections on the corruptions of slavery, the meaning and requirements of freedom, the significance of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and the role of prudence in politics.

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The birthrate in the United States, and in many other countries around the world, has been declining for decades. The US birthrate now is at 1.8, which is below the need for a stable population—the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. Yet the profound consequences of this change take generations to play out. In this Conversation, Jonathan V. Last, author of What To Expect When No One’s Expecting and Executive Editor of The Bulwark, shares his research into demographic decline and spells out some of the current and potential future consequences that might follow from it. Last argues that we’re likely to see a steep fall in the global population beginning later this century, which could produce alarming geopolitical dangers. As for America, Last notes that declining fertility could put major pressure on the social safety net—and change the nature of our society. This is a sobering and important Conversation on a neglected but extremely important subject.

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What is the political and economic situation in Europe today? How should we think about contentious issues like stresses in the European Union, Brexit, the migration crisis, and the rise of populist parties of the Left and the Right? In this Conversation, AEI economist Stan Veuger shares an incisive and—against the conventional wisdom—rather encouraging account of Europe today.In support of this assessment, Veuger presents a qualified defense of the project of European integration, noting that in the last decades European countries have successfully warded off violent conflict and have enjoyed greater economic prosperity (despite serious problems with the Euro currency). Veuger highlights the imperfect character of the Euro, but argues that there does not seem to be a plausible alternative to it, today. In contrast to his confidence about the general prospects and benefits of the EU common market, Veuger shares specific concerns about national defense, the migration crisis, Brexit, and the rise of populist parties. However he says he is less worried [about the future of Europe] now than people rightly were five years ago.

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How is the US economy performing today? How should we think about the turn against free markets by prominent figures of the Left and the Right? What economic policies might spur innovation and growth in the future? In this Conversation, Harvard economist N. Gregory Mankiw analyzes the current moment and shares his perspective on the major economic policies and ideas of the Left and the Right. According to Mankiw, the American economy remains robust and dynamic, despite only good (rather than excellent) economic growth in recent years and increased consternation about the rise of inequality. Criticizing policies that rely excessively on central planning, Mankiw calls for high-skilled immigration, innovative approaches to education, and maintaining incentives that yield investment in research and development. He also suggests some alterations in tax and welfare policies that might help ameliorate problems we face in the short and long term.

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Jack Goldsmith is a professor of law at Harvard, an expert on national security, terrorism, and cybersecurity—and a regular guest on Conversations. As he reveals in a fascinating new book, In Hoffa’s Shadow, from the age of 12 in 1975 he was personally wrapped up in one of the most contentious episodes in American history—the disappearance of the powerful Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa. In this Conversation, Goldsmith recounts how his stepfather, Chuckie O’Brien, became the prime suspect in Hoffa’s disappearance, and how this affected their relationship over the next decades. Goldsmith then shares his own research into the Hoffa case and what he learned along the way about his stepfather, the life and career of Jimmy Hoffa, the history of labor unions in the United States, and the rise and fall of the mob. This is a deeply personal, moving Conversation that has much to teach us about the complexities of family, law, and politics.

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As we head into the 2020 election year, veteran political strategist and commentator Mike Murphy joins Bill Kristol to discuss the state of the race for the Democratic nomination, and the general election to follow. What are plausible paths to the nomination for Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, and possible dark horse candidates? What are Donald Trump’s chances for reelection against possible democratic nominees? Murphy shares his perspective on the race with his usual blend of humor and insight.

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Best known for his 24 years in the Senate, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927 – 2003) was a major figure in the political history of the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. In this Conversation, political scientist Greg Weiner, author of a fine intellectual biography of Moynihan, reviews Moynihan’s political career and his approach to political and social problems. In his rejection of extremism, his defense of proceduralism in government, and his willingness to use good social science while also seeing its limits, Moynihan’s example has much to teach us today. Kristol and Weiner also consider the extent to which Moynihan benefited from the political thought of Edmund Burke, and why Burke remains highly relevant to our times.

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Is America the best place in the world to get medical care? How should we think about recent proposals for healthcare reform like “Medicare for All” or creating new incentives for controlling costs? In this Conversation, James Capretta, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a leading scholar on health policy, presents an incisive, nuanced, and accessible account of American healthcare today. According to Capretta, the American healthcare system remains open and adaptive—and continues to offer high-quality care to the vast majority of the population. For access to the most cutting-edge innovations in the diagnosis and treatment of serious illnesses, American healthcare remains unmatched. And yet, as Capretta points out, the American healthcare system has struggled to control rising costs as a percentage of GDP. To meet this challenge, Capretta suggests market-driven reforms that—without rationing care as public healthcare inevitably does—create realistic incentives for controlling costs and public spending. This is not only a must-see Conversation on healthcare. Capretta’s analysis is a model of how to think seriously about the many public policy challenges we face.

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Since at least the middle of the nineteenth century, certain writers, scholars, and amateur sleuths have questioned whether William Shakespeare, the actor and son of a glovemaker from Stratford, really could have written Shakespeare’s plays. Possible alternatives posited by Shakespeare skeptics have included the philosopher Francis Bacon and the courtier Edward de Vere (The Earl of Oxford). A recent article in “The Atlantic” suggested a poet Emilia Bassano as another possible candidate. In this Conversation, Paul Cantor explains the history of this controversy, reviews the evidence, and explains why the author of Shakespeare’s plays was none other than Shakespeare from Stratford, himself! Cantor argues that behind this search for an alternate author lies a disbelief that such an individual could possess an astonishing ability to imagine and portray the full variety of human types, whether aristocratic or common, male or female. And yet, this ability to transcend oneself and imagine other people, times, and possibilities is a true mark of literary genius. As Cantor puts it, “There’s no way to explain [Shakespeare’s genius]. It’s just one of the great miracles.”

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