The Liberalism of Richard John Neuhaus (Matthew Rose, Summer 2016, National Affairs)

The key to understanding Neuhaus is to see him as a defender of a consensus, uniting commitments to both Christianity and liberalism, which he believed to be rooted firmly in American history and the truth about human society. Its central proposition, which Neuhaus defended in over 20 books and hundreds of articles, holds that American democracy depends on the moral beliefs and practices of religious believers. Neuhaus paired this with a second and more original thesis. He held that liberalism is itself endangered by those discouraging traditional religious voices from public deliberation. Secular liberalism is not a tautology, he maintained; it is a contradiction.

Neuhaus was this movement’s sharpest critic and keenest observer, as evidenced by his 1984 book, The Naked Public Square, which examined the cultural conflicts that would define our politics for a generation. Neuhaus did more, however, than foresee the rise of secularist politics. He undertook the long work of articulating an alternative “public philosophy” and assembling an ecumenical network committed to its refinement and dissemination. Liberalism, he proposed, is founded on truths embedded in the American experience that can be discerned by any reasonable person: that human beings possess powers of rational deliberation, that these same powers make human community and self-government possible, and that both are grounded in the rights we possess from nature and God — the ultimate ground of human freedom and limited government.

More than half a decade after Neuhaus’s passing, the growing estrangement of both left and right from his vision makes it worth revisiting — and perhaps proposing anew.