Michael Anton on Tom West

Stop whatever you’re currently doing (even if you’re giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, it’s that important) and read Michael Anton’s breathtaking review of Tom West’s magnum opus, The Political Theory of the American Foundingin the June edition of The New Criterion. It might be one of the best reviews ever written of what is arguably the best work of political theory ever written.

Anton shows how West rescues the Founders’ political theory from critics on the Left, Right, and Center, affirms the justness and rightness of their theory, and closes with some thoughts on how the Founders can help guide us through our present political discontents.

I cannot come close to doing justice to the review in a small post (the scope of the review, like the book, is very wide—almost Churchillian), so I will leave most of it alone. One topic I will comment on is Anton’s treatment of a particularly thorny problem that has flummoxed most of the Founderservatives on the Right. Anton helps clear away some of the thicker underbrush by noting that

…we cannot assume that the founders’ ideas will supply us with recipes for today’s use. Only we living today can possibly find a solution to the problems of today. West himself at several points draws attention to the differences between the founding era and our time and stresses the impossibility of directly applying their solutions to our problems. Among other difficulties, the “matter” has undergone decades of “fundamental transformation.” It is an open question whether the disparate, disunified, irreligious, cosseted, and over-regulated portion of our nation is any longer capable of governing itself according to the founders’ ideas.

This key question of our times, as Anton implies, cannot be solved primarily by intellectuals, however great (and a few actually do rise to that level). Instead, it will take statesmen who act with prudence. The sentimental romantics on the anti-political Right may not want to admit this, but it remains true: political right is at the core of natural right.

We cannot shun politics and survive. It will take men with chests to take back what God has entrusted to them by nature: to order their lives as they see fit within the bounds of an unchangeable moral law.

About Tom Doniphon

Tom Doniphon is not, as you may imagine, an iconic character from John Ford's greatest western. He is, rather, a writer in the Midwest. The moniker, suffice to say, is a pseudonym.

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