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The Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In the World

October 19, 2017 by Thomas Melia, Peter Wehner
Call to action to affirm our values of freedom

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For more than 75 years, the liberal international order purposefully constructed in the aftermath of World War II has helped secure peace, advance justice, and expand prosperity in the United States and around the world. This is an extraordinary historical achievement, and American leadership has been central to its success. So, too, has the unique promise of America and its commitment to a particular vision of the human good.

Yet today that order appears to be under attack and at real risk of dissolving. The crisis is not new or sudden. Yet there is a certain urgency newly in the air. The liberal democratic world order is under assault in the first instance from those who never fully embraced democracy, free markets, and universal principles of human freedom. Some are hard, unyielding dictatorships. Others have taken steps toward democracy but reversed course under their current leaders. Non-state actors, especially violent extremists in the Islamic State, also attack the established order.

Perhaps even more troubling is the increasingly evident downdraft in democratic resilience in countries that have long been part of the consolidated democratic West. In much of the Western world, we are seeing a rise in demagogic populism, illiberalism, nationalism, and protectionism. In short, fading confidence in the institutions of democracy and the market economy. Europe, in particular, is in deep crisis.

The United States is not immune from the rise of illiberalism. Confidence is also waning in
America’s governing institutions and in the utility of free markets and international trade to
better the conditions of working-class Americans. There is no question that global economic
disruption is altering the landscape of work in ways that many Americans find difficult to
navigate. Nor, it seems, are our institutions up to the challenge. The media today is widely
mistrusted. The American political system is broken and polarized. Political discourse is in a
damaged and degraded state. Many Americans feel it is time for the United States to turn


Thomas  Melia
Thomas Melia

As a fellow with the Human Freedom Initiative, Thomas O. Melia is helping lead an effort to reaffirm core values of freedom, free markets, and liberal democracy. One of the goals of the Human Freedom Initiative is to foster a new bipartisan consensus that it is in the American interest to advance these principles at home and around the world.

Mr. Melia recently served in two senior positions in the Administration of President Barack Obama. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Democracy and Labor from 2010 to 2015, he was responsible for the bureau’s work in Europe, South and Central Asia, and the Middle East. From December 2015 to January 2017, he served as Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Mr. Melia has written for numerous publications, including the Washington Post, The New Republic, Journal of Democracy and The American Interest. He is co-editor of Today’s American: How Free? – a comprehensive assessment of the state of civil liberties and political democracy in the United States.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Melia was Deputy Executive Director of Freedom House; Vice President for Programs at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs; and a legislative assistant to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY). He has taught in the graduate programs at Georgetown University and The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Mr. Melia lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with his spouse, Amy S. Conroy, and their son, Tomás.

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Peter Wehner
Peter Wehner

As a fellow with the Human Freedom Initiative, Peter Wehner is helping lead an effort to reaffirm core values of freedom, free markets, and liberal democracy. One of the goals of the Human Freedom Initiative is to foster a new bipartisan consensus that it is in the American interest to advance these principles at home and around the world.

Mr. Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he writes widely on political, national security, cultural, and religious issues. He has written for numerous publications—including the  Wall Street JournalWashington PostFinancial Times, the Weekly StandardCommentaryNational AffairsNational Review, Christianity Today and Time magazine. In 2015 he was named a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. He also appears regularly as a commentator on television and talk radio. 

Mr. Wehner served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations prior to becoming deputy director of speechwriting for President George W. Bush. In 2002, he was asked to head the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, where he generated policy ideas, reached out to public intellectuals, published op-eds and essays, and provided counsel on a range of domestic and international issues.

Mr. Wehner is author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (co-authored with Michael J. Gerson) and Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism (co-authored with Arthur C. Brooks).

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