The charge used to be leveled by fascists and communists; nowit comes chiefly from conservatives.
Liberalism, they say, is a kind ofweakness. If the charge were true—if liberal institutions and politicalleaders were unequal to the demands of national defense and personalsecurity—it would have been a catastrophe for liberal democracy duringthe great crises of the twentieth century, and the world would lookaltogether different today. But this has not been the historical experience:liberal government has repeatedly proved stronger and moredurable than its adversaries expected. And therein lies a critical lessonabout liberalism, at least liberalism rightly understood.
The core principles of liberalism provide not only a theory of freedom,equality, and the public good, but also a discipline of power—the meansof creating power as well as controlling it. This discipline has been a singularachievement of constitutional liberalism, dating from the late seventeenthand eighteenth centuries, and of modern, democratic liberalismas it has evolved roughly since the late nineteenth century.Liberal constitutions impose constraints on the power of any singlepublic official or branch of government as well as the state as a whole.The constraints protect citizens from tyranny, but that is not all theydo. They also serve to protect the state itself from capricious, impulsive,or overreaching decisions.
A central insight of liberalism is that power