Must Politics Be War? Restoring Our Trust in the Free Society

This page contains links to a draft of my new book, Must Politics Be War? Restoring Our Trust in the Free Society, Oxford University Press, 2018.


Americans are far less likely to trust their institutions, and one another, than in decades past. This collapse in social and political trust arguably inspires our increasingly ferocious ideological conflicts and hardened partisanship. Many believe that our previously high levels of trust and bipartisanship were a pleasant anomaly and that today we live under the historic norm. For politics itself is nothing more than a struggle for power between groups with irreconcilable aims. Contemporary American politics is war because political life as such is war.

This book argues that our shared liberal democratic institutions have the unique capacity to sustain social and political trust between diverse persons. Constitutional rights and democratic governance prevent any one faith or ideology from dominating the rest, and so protect each person’s freedom to live according to their values and principles. Illiberal arrangements, where one group’s faith or ideology rules, turn those who disagree into unwilling subversives, persons with little reason to trust their regime or to be trustworthy in obeying it. Liberal arrangements, in contrast, incentivize trust and trustworthiness because they protect the conscience of all, and so allow people with diverse and divergent ends to act from conviction. Diverse people become trustworthy because they can all obey the rules of their society without acting against their ideals. A liberal society is thereby one at moral peace with a politics that is not war.