Sacramental Liberalism and Ragion di Stato

The Annual Herbert W. Vaughan Lecture on America’s Founding Principles

May 8, 2019
Vermeule lecture poster

Adrian Vermeule, Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School 

Liberal rulers undermine their own rule. They are compelled, by the peculiarly dynamic character of their faith and its accompanying sacramental liturgy, to violate a central precept of Ragion di Stato, the natural art of politics: the precept not to unnecessarily disrupt the traditions, the mores and life-ways of the broad mass of the population, or, where those traditions must be disrupted in substance, at least to preserve the outward forms of tradition. Liberalism is incapable of respecting this constraint because to do so would betray its inner nature, which is to publicly and conspicuously celebrate its great liturgy, the Festival of Reason, the dynamic overcoming of the darkness, superstition, and slavish authoritarianism of the irrational past. The result of this dynamic is unrest, animosity, and eventually political reaction and backlash from the subject population.

Adrian Vermeule is the Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School. Before joining the faculty of Harvard, he was the Bernard D. Meltzer Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. He is the author or co-author of nine books, including Law's Abnegation: From Law's Empire to the Administrative StateThe Constitution of Risk, and The System of the Constitution. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012, but subsequently resigned in protest of the Academy’s political biases. His research focuses on administrative law, the administrative state, the design of institutions, and constitutional theory. Professor Vermeule received his B.A. from Harvard College in 1990 and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1993.


Sacramental Liberalism and Ragion di Stato


Bowen Hall 222

Photo Album:

  • Adrian Vermeule and Robert George
  • Adrian Vermeule and Robert George
  • Adrian Vermeule