“Liberal society, not just America, relies on a kind of citizen that it doesn’t produce.”

YL: You can’t have a free society without people who are responsible. How do you make people responsible? The liberal society by itself doesn’t do that. It does it by making room for institutions to do it, and they’re not liberal. The family is not a liberal institution. The church and synagogue, I would say: they’re not liberal institutions. They’re just not. They’ve modernized in ways that make them compatible with the liberal society, but ultimately . . .

JS: I totally agree. But it might be helpful to clarify: What do we mean when we say they’re not liberal institutions?

YL: They don’t think that choice is the very essence of legitimacy. They draw their legitimacy from a prior commitment that is understood to be above choice and true whether we like it or not. That’s just not how we think about most free institutions. We obey the law because we’ve consented to the system that’s created it. At some level we have a lot of choice. I don’t think we obey God for that reason. It’s just not how we think about it.

–Yuval Levin in conversation with James K. A. Smith, Openings in Our Fractured Republic


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