A conversation with The Liberal Patriot’s John Halpin (Part 1 of 2)

Sep 19, 2023
John Halpin

The online publication’s president and executive editor talks with Michael E. Hartmann about advancing human freedom and American interests, his background, and his and the publication’s priorities.

John Halpin is president and executive editor of The Liberal Patriot, which was founded in 2021 as an online newsletter and expanded earlier this year to become a full-fledged online publication. It covers American politics, public policy, and international affairs.

Before co-founding the always-interesting TLP, Halpin was a longtime senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP)—as was another co-founder, Ruy Teixeira, who’s now at the American Enterprise Institute. 

Well-reflecting all of its founders’ attitudes and research interests, TLP is willing to challenge both general heterodoxy overall and specific heterodoxies. Such a challenge last month, in fact, caught our philanthro-attention. In “A Path to Institutional Pluralism,” Halpin wrote,

The networks of astroturfed “grassroots” organizations, think tanks, and other giant campaign organizations on both the left and the right today no longer function as independent bodies developing new ideas, gathering and analyzing neutral facts, brokering compromises, and supporting mutually beneficial, big-tent politics. Rather, the institutions that make up these political networks often converge on the same set of ideas and positions within a commonly accepted and enforced partisan framework that serves the interests of those currently in power—or those seeking power.

Halpin was kind enough to join me for a conversation earlier this month about these and related matters. The just more than nine-minute video below is the first part of our discussion; the second is here. In the first part, he talks about advancing human freedom and American interests, his background, and his and The Liberal Patriot’s priorities.

A liberal patriot “is someone who loves freedom and their country,” Halpin tells me. “The liberal-minded person is someone who’s open to alternative ideas” and “tries to be based in reason, and civil discourse, pluralism, tolerance.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms, to us, is it just an essential definition of what it means to be American—freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear,” he continues.

I don’t think anyone, in my mind, has improved on those core values. You could debate what each element has, but I think it’s a pretty good understanding of what it means to be an American. So we kind of believe deeply in that old FDR notion of being a liberal.

And the patriot side is easy. I mean, it’s a love of country.

Asked whether it’s possible to be an illiberal patriot, Halpin answers, “Absolutely.” He then immediately notes that “I don’t think it works in the American context,” though, “because you can’t say you love America and then not believe in the rule of law and constitutionalism, civil rights, and civil liberties.”

As for Halpin’s path to The Liberal Patriot, “I’ve always had an interest in the history of liberalism, conservativism, various strands of radicalism,” he says. “I like to study ideas and the development and spread of them.”

TLP’s “format gives us a lot of opportunity to write about whatever we want,” Halpin describes. “Sometimes we write about philosophy, sometimes we write about history, sometimes we write about politics—a lot of politics, because that’s what people expect from us. But I think it’s more enjoyable to kind of blend them all. Because if you just do contemporary politics, you lose your mind.”

In the conversation’s second part, Halpin talks about whether partisanship in the nonprofit sector reflects philanthropic strategies, the effect of Donald Trump on the left and the right in nonprofitdom, and what could perhaps be done to change the situation for the better.