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Is Freedom Good for Us? A Debate.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens and Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen discuss liberalism.

If there is a headline to the past half-decade, it’s this: liberal democracy is under threat across the West and populist movements are on the march. There’s Brexit in the UK. There’s Viktor Orbán in Hungary. There’s Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. And in the United States, of course, there’s Donald Trump.

So today: a debate. Should we be fighting to preserve liberalism, the system that prizes our individual rights and the very foundation upon which America was built? Or is the system itself the problem?

It’s a high-stakes debate—over the future of America and liberal democracy—and we couldn’t have two better people for this conversation: University of Notre Dame political science professor Patrick Deneen; and New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens.

Both Bret and Patrick are what people would label “conservatives,” but there is likely more disagreement between the two of them than between the average Democrat and Republican. Bret believes the problems we see today are happening because we have lost too much of our individual freedom. Patrick, on the other hand, believes that having so much freedom has actually damaged us—that our problems are caused precisely by the system that puts individual liberty on a pedestal.

Patrick Deneen’s 2018 book, Why Liberalism Failed, grabbed the attention of people across the political spectrum, including Barack Obama, who included it on his “Books I’m Reading” list. 

Bret Stephens, who has been on the show before, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. His speciality is foreign policy and his prescient book is called America In Retreat.

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