The proved stronger and more durable than

The charge used to be leveled by fascists and communists; now
it comes chiefly from conservatives. Liberalism, they say, is a kind of
weakness. If the charge were true—if liberal institutions and political
leaders were unequal to the demands of national defense and personal
security—it would have been a catastrophe for liberal democracy during
the great crises of the twentieth century, and the world would look
altogether different today. But this has not been the historical experience:
liberal government has repeatedly proved stronger and more
durable than its adversaries expected. And therein lies a critical lesson
about 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 means
of creating power as well as controlling it. This discipline has been a singular
achievement of constitutional liberalism, dating from the late seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, and of modern, democratic liberalism
as it has evolved roughly since the late nineteenth century.
Liberal constitutions impose constraints on the power of any single
public official or branch of government as well as the state as a whole.
The constraints protect citizens from tyranny, but that is not all they
do. They also serve to protect the state itself from capricious, impulsive,
or overreaching decisions. A central insight of liberalism is that power


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