Liberty, Prudence, Imperfection, and Law

The Americanization of Conservatism

Russell Kirk at his typewriter

In the next century, because of both need and opportunity, American conservative scholars and intellectuals must work to develop the coherence of conservative moral and political thought. Indeed, a generation of mid-career scholars is ready to accept this challenge.[1] But before such an opportunity can be fully realized, conservative scholars must be prepared to answer three vexing challenges.

First, they must be able to respond to the charge that America, with its revolution­ary background and liberal political institutions and norms, is singularly ill-suited to embrace ideas associated with a supposedly alien political doctrine like conserva­tism. Remarkably, such a charge is leveled against conservatives not only by self-described liberals, but also by intellectual allies who themselves are taken to be conservative by the liberal intelligentsia.[2] In their defense of a conservative American past, conservative scholars must be prepared to confront liberal and neoconservative detractors who question their very legitimacy as Americans.

This difficulty draws attention to a second issue that conservative scholars must confront if, in the next century, they are to move conservative political and moral thought to a new level of coherence. That is, without becoming unduly sectarian, conservatives must identify a core set of principles as constituting the essential ground of American conservative moral and political thought. After much debate and careful scrutiny, those whose commitments place them outside the borders of this consensus—for example, thinkers who effectively are disgruntled liberals who seek to shore up liberalism’s tottering foundations or misguided public policies—must not be permitted to take an active role in shaping an American conservative political vision.

The world of politics is, however, another matter and there a more relaxed standard of inclusion must be expected. But still, conservative scholars need to describe more fully how and where the world of conservative ideas and that of political action are to intersect. Conflicts are surely unavoidable; they must be better anticipated. This issue area forms the third set of concerns which conservative scholars must negotiate if they are to meet the opportunity that awaits them in the century ahead.

Let us acknowledge that American conservative scholars must confront a past that is replete with events that seem at first glance anything but conservative. For example, wasn’t our nation’s birth a moment of revolutionary rupture founded on claims of abstract natural rights, and doesn’t this inform the most authentic of American moral and political traditions? And weren’t America’s “Founding Fathers” committed liberals who set in place liberal political institutions and constitutional principles which have uniformly guided America’s political practices, including those observed today? Finally, aren’t our most authoritative political documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, consistently liberal in their defense of natural rights?

Of course, each of these claims has some merit, but the truth of each is only partial. A conservative scholar must therefore highlight the conservative elements in our past rather than the more liberal ones. History doesn’t provide monolithic answers, nor does it speak in a single voice.[3] And for each of the above claims of liberal hegemony, a more conservative and often more authentic set of historical precedents is available with which to defend a conservative rather than a liberal history of the founding of America. M.E. Bradford, Willmoore Kendall, George Carey, and Russell Kirk proved to us that doing so was important and that it could be done well.

Conservative scholars can and should contest each of the above claims which putatively demonstrate the liberal nature of the American founding on at least three grounds. First, we must do a better job of exploring the language and concepts embedded in founding documents and events, and avoid permitting anachronistic readings to shape our understanding. Too often the meanings of key concepts are translated in liberal ways that ignore historical context and what words meant when written. Thus, in the instance of the Declaration, by exploring numerous other documents promulgated by the Continental Congress, its secret correspondence with European states, and the instructions of the various “state” delegations, we will come to understand it as a wartime document with limited ends. Accordingly, its central import will once again be seen as making possible necessary diplomatic and financial relationships with various European powers, and much of its language, which we today find so striking, will be recognized as natural law boiler plate common to documents in international law. But this is not the place to make such a case. Instead, I would ask only that the reader consider that such a history makes good sense and provides a more conservative understanding of this document.

Second, our past provides not one but at least three periods prior to the nineteenth century that reasonably can be described as founding ones.[4] Consequently, scholars must make a case for one rather than another as that which is most authoritative. Of course, one must include those years surrounding the creation, ratification, and implementation of the Federal Constitution. And, as elastic as the political and moral theory of this document is, it must be admitted that it lacks a robust sense of community in the vision it directly supports. Yet, many well-informed scholars argue that it cannot be understood in isolation, and when considered as part of a governmental framework which includes the state constitutions, with their intrusive police and moral powers, one comes away with a different understanding of the supposedly liberal Federal Constitution.[5] In effect, the complete “Constitution” put in place in 1789 resists being cavalierly described as liberal in intent or practice. This is an important realization.

There is no denying that the Constitution’s central defense, The Federalist, in its most powerfully argued essays does articulate a liberal political philosophy, particularly in the thought of Madison. Rather than the Constitution itself, though, it is The Federalist which is problematic for those wishing to defend a tradition of conservatism in America. And before conceding this pivotal moment to those who argue for a liberal foundational past, we must also keep in mind that those who supported the Constitution were probably a minority; that many delegates to state ratifying conventions, who were persuaded to change their votes by more articulate apologists for the new Constitution, were met by angry crowds upon their return home, sometimes with a bath of hot tar and feathers; and, most importantly, that we have no evidence that those Americans who supported ratification did so because of a commitment to Madison’s liberal morality and political thought. As M.E. Bradford has shown, even among those who might be viewed as trans-national elites, most were conventional Christian moralists cast in a conservative mold.[6]

During this most liberal of our “foundings,” the historical evidence shows that most Americans, both elite and more common folk, lived in isolated face-to-face morally intrusive local communities and can only be described as conservative in their politics and morals. But, then, one must choose which population of late eighteenth-century America one is going to emphasize in describing America of the time—a handful of brilliant progressive elites (with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson being each in his own way anomalous even among them) or the vast majority of less articulate and more conservative Americans? The answer is not obvious and depends on whose vision is more highly valued, that of the progressive national elite or the leaders and conservative citizens of states and localities. For too long we have allowed liberal scholars to make this decision for us. Moreover, it is unlikely that the politically active and more conservative men who continued to live and work in their respective states were less influential than the national elite during the years in question.[7] Even when considering the era surrounding the framing and ratification of the Constitution, then, there are substantial grounds upon which to challenge those who describe our Constitution as fundamental­ly liberal.

Let me now turn to the other two “founding” moments and suggest that in each instance the evidence points convincingly in the direction of a conservative understanding of the American founding. This is most clearly the case when one looks at the original colonial charters and their “frames of government” which would become, most particularly in Connecticut and Rhode Island, state constitutions and then later, models for future state constitutions and the Federal Constitution. These early governing structures are replete with moral and religious sensibilities which can only be described as illiberal. When conjoined with the social and governmental practices of these years, one must conclude that this founding era was, in fact, conservative. And there is good reason to hold that these years were truly formative, setting in place political expectations, governing practices, cultural sensibilities, patterns of land use and geographic distribution, and religious and moral norms that became the distinct practices and values of those who would become Americans.[8]

The other period that can legitimately be described as foundational is when an insistent minority of the continental North-American British sought politically to separate from their fellow subjects in Europe and numerous other locales in North America itself. I defend this so-called revolutionary era as the period most deserving of the founding label because these years were ones when this rump population of North-American British first became fully aware that they formed a distinct people, “Americans,” with cultural aspirations different from those of their brethren in Britain, Jamaica, and elsewhere. This claim of uniqueness, enunciated in the opening paragraph of the 1776 Declaration of the United States, proved to be the document’s most controversial claim in Britain. And during the years 1765–1785, the values and norms of Americans, including those of the national elite, were still powerfully reformed Protestant and communal. This period deserves our attention, though, not because of the particularity of its morals, but because the religious and social norms of this period, although subtly changed, continued for a century or more to shape how Americans understood themselves and their political goals.[9]

The political and cultural aspirations that shaped the goals of the Revolution did not die with the coming of the Constitution, but instead became a language infrequently invoked by national elites. Over the course of the next two centuries, at a level below that of the national elite, this older language continued to shape the norms and practices of the political and social lives of most Americans, but only as a spoken language, a popular vernacular. It is therefore not surprising that those who only “read” the language of The Federalist are little able to translate or explain much of American political history that has been shaped by the moral grammar of the older language. Only those willing to learn this older communal, largely Protestant, and illiberal language are prepared to explain those aspects of American history that until now have been regularly dismissed as simply pathologi­cal. When so much of American history, because of its illiberal nature, has come to be defined as simply pathological, doesn’t it seem prudent to look for alternative hermeneutics? Of course, many liberal apologists might disagree.[10] Yet, on both descriptive and normative grounds, there are good reasons to come to know and recognize the legitimacy of older strains of American foundational thought.

My third criticism of those who argue that America’s foundational political and cultural life is liberal is that they have legitimated contemporary distortions of the inherited political institutions from each of these foundational periods. In particular, we often allow communal and conservative values to be transmogrified into their opposite. Nothing better demonstrates this than how the Federal Bill of Rights was understood when ratified and how it is understood today. Then, the amendments were proposed and ratified because of widespread concern that the Federal legislature and courts might interfere with the legitimate and sovereign police powers of the majorities in each state. Most Americans who gave voice to their fears were concerned that the Federal government might, in defense of “deviant” individuals or minorities, prevent state majorities from effecting their often intolerant moral and religious sensibilities.[11] Madison, as precocious as ever, was aware of this and did everything he could to subvert the intended end of the amendments. For the next 150 years, however, his efforts would come to naught. Yet today, with the Supreme Court’s embrace in the 1930–1970s of what has come to be called the “incorporation doctrine,” only a handful of experts are aware of the original meaning and largely illiberal intent of the Bill of Rights. Other examples of anachronistic distortions of eighteenth-century aspirations and sensibilities exist and offer a treasure-trove for conservative scholars to explore in the century ahead.

With the above suggestive outline in hand, it should be evident that our foundational history is not unambiguously liberal in the way supposed by many Straussian scholars and their neo-conservative admirers. Nor is it unambiguously conservative in the way that conservative scholars might have hoped. We can and must live with this ambiguity, all the while recognizing that America’s past is one of a long and enduring conservative tradition that far exceeds in length, and frequently in popular support, that of liberalism. Like most nations or peoples, we are the inheritors of multiple and often competing cultural, religious, and political traditions. But given that a nation’s favored political or cultural “traditions” are usually neither historically continuous, nor speak with a monolithic voice, choices must be made as how best to frame a people’s preferred traditions. Such choices are apt to be driven either by short-term instrumental advantage or more defensibly by a political philosophy—that is, a body of internally consistent principles and ancillary institutions which direct its adherents to emphasize certain aspects of a people’s inheritance. Conservatism is, or at least has the potential of being, such a philosophy in America of the next century.

For exactly these reasons, conservative scholars, following in the path-breaking footsteps of Kendall, Carey, Bradford, and Kirk, must simultaneously work to develop the coherence of American conservatism and must explore and explicate America’s foundational moments. They must do so in order to have at the ready those conservative principles with which to judge and evaluate America’s political inheritance that, in turn, will delimit those same principles. In the end, with a developed American conservative understanding of human flourishing and how best to order our political life, conservative scholars in the next century will be prepared to draw attention to those numerous and powerful aspects of the American political tradition which are authentically conservative. This they must do while distancing themselves intellectually from so-called “conservatives” who perversely highlight those elements of our inheritance which are philosophi­cally liberal. In sum, conservative intellectuals and scholars must disassociate themselves from those who wrongly and destructively argue that only liberalism and its adherents are authentically American.

This leads us to the second of the three questions raised at the beginning. What must be now asked and briefly answered regards the content of American conservatism and who will shape its self-understand­ing. To answer this, conservative scholars must develop a consensus around a core set of principles. What should form the essential elements of conservatism? Should they include, as recently argued by John Kekes, skepticism, pluralism, traditional­ism, and pessimism?[12] Or should the list be more detailed and include a communalism that insists on an intrusive morality; the public and private inculcation of virtuous action derived from a common morality; an understanding that human flourishing is a public rather than an essentially private matter; a pessimistic view of human nature and the ability to know and will the moral good; a recognition of the constraints imposed due to social complexity; an embrace of traditional­ism; an adherence to limited skepticism and an understanding of the omnipresence of the tragic; a high valuation of localism and familism; a preference for religious and cultural exclusivity; and a hostility to long chains of hierarchy?[13] Of course other ways of conceiving conservatism must also be considered, such as that which James McClellan attributes to Bradford in which American conservatism is marked by adherence to “limited constitutional government, local self-government, political and cultural diversity, protection of the rural environment and way of life, encouragement of religion, and promotion of family and community institutions.”[14] And without question, one must also carefully reflect upon Russell Kirk’s suggested list of core elements.[15] My aim here, though, is not to settle this issue, but rather to raise it for extended consideration and discussion.

Although I foresee that this is a debate that should and must take place in numerous venues over many years, let me suggest a few guidelines that may help us avoid something akin to intellectual miscegenation. To begin with, we must recognize that almost all concrete forms of conservatism are hyphenated entities. This means that, in each instance, what is abstract in theory must be filtered through a particular set of practices, historical traditions, and moral and religious commitments that give to conservatism a particular form. This shouldn’t be taken as suggesting that abstract discussions of conservatism as a political philosophy are inappropri­ate. Rather, it is a frank admission that philosophical conservatism, when considered abstractly, is necessarily and appropriately “underdetermined.” Accordingly, one will almost always end up describing a conservatism that is shaped by a particular body of ideas and practices and that this, in turn, will find fulfillment in a particular people’s history. Conservatism is, therefore, necessarily a family of related but often dissimilar principles and practices.

And, in the particular case before us, American conservatism must necessarily be what it is—that is, American. Thus, it will be distinct from Continental conservatism and, most likely, more readily disposed to theological, political, and ecclesiastical elements commonly associated with Reform Protestantism and political republicanism. American conservatism, in this reading, is a local instantiation of what I have described elsewhere as Protestant communalism or conservatism.[16] But does this suggest that only Protestant scholars are capable of being, understanding, or defending American conserva­tism? I trust that this is not the case. What it does mean, following T. S. Eliot in Christianity and Culture (1940), is that American conservatives, scholars and politicians alike, must respect and attempt to work within the contours of American Protestant conservatism.

But why are such potentially disruptive considerations and demarcations now demanded? Let me suggest that, although it has been needed for decades, it is only urgently required now because of the rise and tremendous success of neo-conservatism. Those friends and colleagues who are its adherents, as a result of their active participation in conservative publications and organizations and their simultaneous rejection of much that has been consistently associated with American conservatism, have made it necessary for conservatives to determine what it is that they hold as core principles and, by extension, what it is that they view as outside their circle of shared norms. This is demanded because neo-conservative intellectuals have reshaped in their own image what is accepted as conservatism. And they have done so largely in accord with the moral and political tenets of liberalism, thus producing increased tensions in the ranks of conservative activists and thinkers.

Despite their fundamental liberal orientation, neo-conservatives have had a powerful effect on conservatism. In large measure, this has resulted from their proximity to the norms and aspirations of our dominant liberal media, cultural, religious, academic, and intellectual elites. Liberals have made them the public spokesmen for conservatism and they have effectively defined the limits of what is acceptable thinking on the political, religious, and cultural right. They have defined these limits narrowly, in accord with their overwhelming liberal sympathies, excluding much of what had been understood to be the right. Unless an aggressive stance is soon taken, traditional conservatives will become increasingly uncertain, their thought will have no public face and will be available only to those students of obscure political and moral thought.

Additionally, such a loss would be particularly dangerous, for precisely because of its understanding of the tragic, conservatism is well suited to serve as a needed point of reference for a nation increasingly intoxicated with its own materialistic successes. To avoid the excesses of this hubris, if for no other reason, it is vitally important that conservatives take hold of a separate intellectual space within which to develop a discrete body of political thought free from neo-conservative celebration of the successes of democratic capitalism with its necessary admixture of liberal anthropomor­phism.

Are there clear points of demarcation which could help us discriminate between the scholarly and normative commitments of conservatives and those of neo-conserva­tives? Although their differing valuations of concepts such as traditionalism, communalism, localism—or the neo-conservatives’ embrace of abstract political principles not filtered through the particularities of time and place—might serve this purpose, let me suggest two surely controversial alternatives that might be well suited for America today. The first I borrow from Bradford and it concerns one’s perception of President Abraham Lincoln and the enduring consequences of his coercive alteration of American federalism and his attempt to undermine the political culture of the South. As one of only two “conserva­tives” who, when recently polled, ranked Lincoln’s Presidency as a failure, I clearly know how divisive such a marker would prove to be. Additionally, such a litmus test would undoubtedly prove embarrassing to members of the Republican party, the party, you might remember, of Lincoln. But, of course, it is exactly for these reasons that I offer this as a potentially valuable tool for discriminating between philosophical conservatives and their neo-conservative and classical liberal friends and allies.

My second suggestion I borrow as well, this time from a “Straussian” colleague who when asked what distinguishes between a male conservative and a neo-conservative, playfully replied that “a conservative’s wife is first a mother and spouse while a neo-conservative’s wife has a career or profession to which she is deeply committed.” In this offhand remark, I think he captured an essential difference between the normative commitments of conservatives and neo-conservatives, both male and female. What I believe to be more correct, though, is that the cavalier endorsement by neo-conservatives of male and female equivalence, and what I tentatively label female careerism, is inherently un-conservative and an embrace of the most radical of contemporary social experiments.[17]

This, it should be added, says little about the particular choices each of us makes in our efforts to live within, not always comfortably, a world of contemporary patterns and sensibilities not wholly of our own making. “Gender equality,” however, as a freely embraced normative commitment is a different matter. It is un-conservative because if there are any natural human differences that are not simply descriptive of discrete individuals and that must be considered in the shaping of cultural institutions and norms, they most surely exist between men and women with their undeniable biological differences.

This is not to say that there aren’t women whose competence in activities traditionally reserved for males exceeds that of men nor that they should not be encouraged to develop such gifts. But it does suggest that it is a mistake to assume that society is at fault if women fail to achieve equal proportional representation in these endeavors. And this counter-factual assumption of radical equality and the commitment to experiment with the animating contours of all previous human societies are likely to carry with them wholly unanticipated social costs.

I have no ready answer to the difficult dilemmas that such questions raise, but again, I am confident that female career-ism is a radical departure from age-old Western practices and norms and that, accordingly, it is an idea whose foundations and associated effects must be examined with great care. However, one cannot with assurance hold that it will prove impossible to embrace female careerism within conservatism—possibly contemporary social and economic conditions demand as much—but it must be done with considerable trepidation. Regardless of the outcome of this much needed examination, conservatives must avoid obfuscation and must publicly make sense of their core beliefs in light of the contemporary elite assumption that male and female differences are of little social importance and that most of those which do exist are socially constructed rather than the natural expression of innate differences. Thus, for now, wholesale approbation of this novel experiment could serve as another litmus test by which conservatives and dissatisfied liberals might be distinguished.

Let me now turn to a third set of related matters, that is, how conservative scholars should view their relationship to politicians and political activists and, thus, how conservative scholars should view their particular vocation. Concerning partisan politics, conservative scholars in the next century must not be devoid of interest in it, but at the same time politics must never be allowed to control the development of conservative thought. With this caveat in mind, conservatives must weigh the costs and benefits over the past quarter century of their close alliance with neo-conservative intellectuals and the activists of political parties.

The benefits are tangible and real. Conservatives were able to help elect a moderately conservative President whose will and determina­tion helped push the former Soviet Union into extinction, whose deficit financing helped to slow the growth of the welfare-state bureaucracy and its Leviathan national reach, and whose sensibilities gave some encouragement to localism, familism, and a more expansive market economy with a corresponding rise in familial wealth.[18]

At the same time there have been important costs. Our nation and its people have been party to the continued destruction of tens of millions of innocent children whose lives proved inconvenient to their mothers or fathers, to the dogmatic embrace of the closely related societal, economic, and political aspirations of feminists, to the collapse of Christian sexual morality, to the delegitimation and transfer of most of the functions of the nuclear family to Federally mandated functionaries, to the movement of significant governmental oversight up the “aggregation ladder” (from local to state, to federal, and more recently to an international tribunal), to the feminization of our military and the legitimization of it serving universal “humanitarian” aspirations, and to the societal acceptance of the indefinite prolongation of self-centered adolescence. In effect, our culture and politics have been transformed in ways usually associated with a decadent, but demographical­ly limited, aristocracy.

The causes most surely cannot be wholly attributed to the marginalization of an oppositional conservatism and its amalgamation with neo-conservative liberals working to eliminate traditional conservatives from elite cultural and intellectual spaces. Surely, more important in the transformation of late-twentieth-century America is this country’s unprecedented level and breadth of affluence. But affluence has not caused the changes listed above; rather it has both invited and accommo­dated them. More importantly, along with a closely allied advanced technology, affluence has sheltered us from many of the pernicious moral and social effects of the cultural and political changes wrought during the past quarter century of materialist intoxication. Yet, if neo-conservatism is not largely to blame for these changes, why fault our political and intellectual alliance with them or Republican politicians?

The answer lies in what conservative scholars might have been and must yet become. That is, in addition to continuing to provide the grounds for a conservative American historiography and a greater coherence to an American philosophical conservatism which sits in judgment of this history, conservative American scholars and activists must, even at the risk of losing political relevance, stand against the tide of popular sentiment and say “no”; we must again allow ourselves to become a “saving remnant” which upholds fully human standards of life and accomplishment. Too close a relationship with neo-conservative thinkers and many within the Republican party, with their liberal concerns and absolute celebration of material success, makes such an authentically conservative position impossible, even absurd.

This is not to say that we should, on principle, eschew political success or political alliances with neo-conservative and classical liberal allies. Yet, we must be sure that such efforts and partnerships do not seduce us from our principled opposition to much that has become politically and culturally normative. Conservative scholars and intellectuals must resist the allure of political success and the cultural, academic, and financial perquisites that derive from being honored by liberal (and closely related neo-conservative) intelligentsia or Republican party functionaries. Otherwise, too often we will find that we have abandoned our principled opposition to the perverse values of materialism and of the contemporary liberal cultural, social, and political worlds.

Not only is this principled reluctance to join in the celebration of contemporary sensibilities needed because our standards are more likely than those of liberalism to lead to human flourishing and a more fully human political regime, but because our understanding of the tragic potential in human life is likely to be needed if we are again forced to live our lives in the face of protracted economic want or widespread natural or human-sponsored destruction. Contemporary liberalism, without a sense of the tragic, lacks the intellectual and moral resources with which to endure such a time of dislocation. And it seems unduly foolish to follow liberal hubris rather than persistent historical patterns and blindly assume that we have entered a post-historical age of irreversible prosperity and perpetual peace.

More immediately, conservative scholars must hold their ground so that their understanding of the good life can serve today as an antidote to the excesses of a hegemonic liberalism. Contemporary liberalism, it has been argued by insightful neo-conservative intellectu­als,[19] can only survive and continue to provide direction to our culture by being alloyed with (what neo-conservatives view as) inimical “foreign” social and cultural elements such as only conservative scholars can supply.[20] And for this reason, if no other, even our neo-conservative friends should enthusiastically encourage us to go our own way.

In confronting the various challenges discussed above, we must remember that we stand on the broad shoulders of M.E. Bradford, Willmoore Kendall, and above all, Russell Kirk. But in moving into the next century, the mantle of leadership will necessarily fall to a younger generation of scholars and it is up to us to continue the good work of those who preceded us. We must maintain the highest standards of intellectual excellence and manly fortitude while resisting the enticing allure of liberal and neo-conservative approbation. We need to develop a fully American variant of conservatism; to advance our understand­ing of the conservative nature of the political traditions we have inherited; and to do so with a dignity that will permit us to stand before God, the American public, and our conservative forebears.

Barry Shain is Professor of Political Science at Colgate University. This article was originally published in the Winter 2000 issue of Modern Age and is reprinted with permission from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

[1] For example, consider the conservative scholars whose work is presented in Vital Remnants: America’s Founding and the Western Tradition, ed. Gary L. Gregg II (Wilmington, Del., 1999).

[2] See Charles Kesler, “All American?,” National Review, 7 December 1998, pp. 52–55.

[3] Indeed, today there are two groups of scholars who, in the past thirty years, have done much to discredit the work of Louis Hartz, Daniel Boorstin, and Richard Hofstadter and their theory of an omnipresent and ubiquitous American liberalism. One group of scholars has emphasized the classical republican character of America’s revolutionary political thought and aspirations. Here Gordon Wood’s and J. G. A. Pocock’s works immediately come to mind. But, if you will, a second wave of revisionism has emphasized the centrality of Protestantism to the formation of American political institutions and norms. Among those authors mounting this argument are: Daniel Elazar, M. Stanton Evans, Paul Johnson, Donald Lutz, Marvin Olasky, and myself.

[4] Other epochs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries also can reasonably be described as foundational moments, most importantly that following the so-called “Civil War” and the “New Deal”

[5] See Donald Lutz, Preface to American Political Theory (Lawrence, 1992).

[6] See M. E. Bradford, Founding Fathers: Brief Lives of the Framers of the United States Constitution (Lawrence, 1994).

[7] See James Sterling Young, The Washington Community, 1800–1828 (New York and London, 1966).

[8] See Gregory H. Nobles, Divisions Throughout the Whole: Politics and Society in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, 1740–1775 (Cambridge, 1983).

[9] See James H. Hutson, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic (Washington, D.C., 1998).

[10] For one who doesn’t, see Rogers M. Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History (New Haven, 1997).

[11] Among many others, see Gerard J. Fitzpatrick, “The Forgotten Bill of Rights: The Meaning of Liberty in Eighteenth Century American Political Thought,” Commonwealth: A Journal of Political Science, 8 (1995–1996), 1–25.

[12] See John Kekes, A Case for Conservatism (Ithaca and London, 1998).

[13] See Barry Alan Shain, “American Community,” in Community and Tradition: Conservative Perspectives on the American Experience, ed. George W. Carey and Bruce Frohnen, 39–41 (Lanham, 1998).

[14] James McClellan, “Walking the Levee with Mel Bradford,” in A Defender of Southern Conservatism: M. E. Bradford and His Achievements, ed. Clyde N. Wilson, 35–57 (Columbia and London, 1999), here 55.

[15] See Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot (original, 1953; reprint ed. Washington, D.C., 1985), pp. 3–11; idem., The Politics of Prudence (Bryn Mawr, 1994), 15–29; and idem., ed., The Portable Conservative Reader (New York, 1982), xi-xix.

[16] See Barry Alan Shain, Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought (Princeton, 1994, reprint ed. with corrections, 1996).

[17] See F. Carolyn Graglia, Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism (Dallas, 1998).

[18] These last two accomplishments may, however, be in tension.

[19] I have in mind here Peter Berkowitz, Bill Galston, and Stephen Macedo.

[20] Of course, conservatives might disagree about the wisdom of this.

4 Responses to “The Americanization of Conservatism”

  1. gabe

    Perhaps a clear definition of “liberalism” or at least one that is “age sensitive” would help this essay.
    Which liberalism are we railing against? The liberalism of the founders or of the Progressives (and, yes, that of some modern conservatives – of the compassionate variety, perhaps)?
    I did not know that there was such a debate about whether the founding was liberal or conservative.
    Was it not both? – Liberal in the sense of “Lockean economic liberalism” and inherently conservative with respect to conserving the moral value of the people through religion, ethics, common law and family, and the promotion of virtue.
    That being said, the author is quite right. conservatives do need to decide to agree on certain premises and craft a message accordingly. The time may be ripe for such a “construct’ as the overextension of Leviathan, aka Obamacare, may provide an opportunity to seize the ideological ground.
    At least, I hope so.

    take care


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