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Trumpism and the Philosophy of History

With the departure of Stephen Bannon, liberals may be tempted to maintain the strategic tack they took during the presidential campaign, when they criticized Donald Trump mainly for his temperament, not his ideas, and by implication characterized his followers on the same basis. That would be a profound mistake.

HAMDEN, CONNECTICUT – Stephen Bannon may be out, but don’t breathe a sigh of relief. His exit poses a new, more fundamental danger for liberals worldwide. With the departure of the Trump administration’s foremost court intellectual, liberals may be tempted to maintain the strategic tack they took during the presidential campaign, when they criticized Donald Trump mainly for his temperament, not his ideas, and by implication characterized his followers on the same basis.

Such criticism is understandable but ultimately self-defeating, because it subverts the very basis of the liberal, open society famously defined by Karl Popper: critical, scientific engagement at the level of ideas.

What’s more, failing to recognize what Bannon called “the Trump presidency that we fought for and won” as a philosophical movement means missing an opportunity to develop liberalism’s core values in the context of our own time. Forging a path between elite managerialism and authoritarian populism – the daunting task of liberalism for our age – requires knowing precisely where we are starting.

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