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Polis Recap: Yuval Levin

Polis Recap: Egan Visiting Professor Yuval Levin

By Sophie Yost ('26)

On March 20th, American Grand Strategy, the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, and Polis: Center for Politics, hosted Egan Visiting Professor Yuval Levin to discuss his upcoming book, "American Covenant: How the Constitution Unified Our Nation – And Could Again." Levin, also the Director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute, was joined by Philip M. Napoli, the James M. Shepley Professor of Public Policy and the Director of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy. 

Levin began by outlining the main themes of his book, emphasizing that the U.S. Constitution provides the framework necessary for achieving national unity. He highlighted his personal journey as an immigrant to the United States, which influenced his deep appreciation for American ideals and the Constitution. Throughout the discussion, Levin and Napoli delved into the themes of political polarization, the challenges of maintaining unity in a diverse nation, and the importance of the Constitution in guiding the country through periods of division. Levin emphasized that unity is not a static condition but an ongoing activity that requires constant effort and compromise. He highlighted the importance of working across the aisle and engaging in constructive discussions, noting that “we spend too much time in our own silos with people we agree with…that makes it very hard for our kind of confrontational politics to really work.”  

The biggest problem regarding polarization that we face today comes from within the parties. He argues that “the loss of the nack for accommodation and coalition building expresses itself first within the parties, and then between the parties.” Levin noted that the cohesiveness of the Democrat and Republican parties is what makes our ability to compromise so difficult. He said that the intra-party factions have made some of the most significant kinds of social change in American history, but now we refuse to allow for any disagreement among the members of our own parties. Levin argued that while the U.S. Constitution is not perfect, it provides a sophisticated framework for addressing the diverse and divided nature of American democracy.

At the end of the conversation, Napoli asked Levin about the advice he would give to the undergraduate and graduate students in the room who want to make a change. He urged young people to continue to think about the future of American politics, encouraging them to consider what kind of change they want to see. The way to be influential in Washington, he claims, is to do the dirty work of thinking through arguments and working with people whom you disagree with. Levin expressed his optimism about the future of American democracy, emphasizing that change comes from thoughtful engagement and a commitment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution: “The longer I have worked in politics, the less cynical I have become about it.” He urged attendees to reject cynicism and to believe in the potential of the American political system to address the challenges of our time.