David French Warns against Animosity

“Animosity can defeat Liberty” Warns Constitutional Liberty Speaker French

Monday, September 30, 2019

Partamian, French and Minnis at Benedictine College

Popular author, columnist and podcast host David French, the inaugural speaker for Benedictine College’s new Center for Constitutional Liberty, sought to explain the reasons for the nation’s political divide and suggested possible solutions in his speech at the college on Sept. 27. The presentation, “The Constitutional Cure for American Division,” was very timely, coming on the heals of an impeachment inquiry by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

French explained that animosity and political division in the United States have been heightened to potentially dangerous levels, to the point that hatred for each other has been spiking among the average citizens of the country, not just those in politics.

“Animosity will defeat liberty,” he warned. “So we have to be the instruments of the society we want to create. We’re called to defend liberty and we’re called to fellowship.”

See his full speech.

How did the country get to this point?

French explained that the level of animosity has been raised by three factors, the decades long “Big Sort,” social media, and the law of group polarization.

“The law of group polarization says that when people of like minds gather, they get more extreme,” French explained. “That means you’re creating your own feedback loops where you’re growing more and more convinced of the rightness of your cause and your cause becomes, often, more extreme over time.”

He said group polarization has been intensified by the “Big Sort,” a decades-long social phenomenon where people have been slowly gravitating to like-minded enclaves. Voting records in 2016 clearly show that major urban centers like New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco have almost no political diversity.

Finally, he said social media has given voices of extremism a platform.

“(Social media) are creating a dynamic where the most politically engaged citizens are the most wrong about their political opponents’ beliefs,” he said, quoting a Hidden Tribes of America study. “The people who consume the most social media tend to overestimate the extremism of their political opponents by 20 to 25 points.”

What can we do?

French pointed to two historic documents, The Federalist Papers and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He said The Federalist Papers addressed the question of how bitterly divided people can live together, a situation facing the young country as it tried to pull the original colonies into a single entity. The documents laid out the argument that people were motivated by animosity and there were two ways to deal with it. The government and the citizens could either attempt to deal with the cause, which means suppressing one point of view and leads to conflict, or they could protect liberty for everyone and let multiple groups flourish, with no group becoming powerful enough to dominate the others.

The First Amendment guarantees certain freedoms and establishes the framework to protect liberty.

“It is one of the greatest single sentences ever written in the history of humanity,” said French. “It is one sentence that says both that you, as an individual, and us, as a collective group of people, are going to be free enough in this country to flourish, to advance our ideas, and have a hope for change.”

He said that we already have the means to deal with the animosity in the midst of negative polarization thanks to these documents.

“We have the means to deal with this by protecting not just our own liberty but the liberty of others so that many flowers can bloom, as opposed to seeking to stamp out all other flowers and leave only one remaining,” he said.

French is the author or co-author of several books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestselling Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can’t Ignore. His next book, The Great American Divorce, will be published by St. Martin’s Press later this year. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, the past president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and a former lecturer at Cornell Law School. He has served as a senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice and the Alliance Defending Freedom. He is a former major in the United States Army Reserve (IRR). In 2007, he deployed to Iraq, serving in Diyala Province as Squadron Judge Advocate for the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, where he was awarded the Bronze Star. He lives and works in Columbia, Tennessee, with his wife, Nancy (who is also a New York Times bestselling author), and three children.

The Center for Constitutional Liberty at Benedictine College provides students and the broader public a chance to immerse themselves in the foundational principles and values of a free society through an interconnected series of field work, speakers, public outreach, scholarly effort and leadership development.

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is proud to have been named in the Top 10 in the Midwest of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.