In my last post, I asked if the two popular anti-liberal movements on the Right, represented by Patrick Deneen and Yoram Hazony respectively, can truly serve as the basis for an authentic Americanism. I don’t think they can. Many others have successfully rebutted the Deneen view—liberalism seen as a 400 year plus project of dissolving the bonds that hold civil society together. So I don’t have much to say about his arguments other than reiterating one overall (and extremely important) point: Deneen’s view seems to act as a corrosive on patriotism. How can one love a country whose founding principles ultimately produced globalism, transgenderism, and open borders?
Leaving that to the side, let’s look at the Hazony view, which has some immediate problems.
The first is that the American founders didn’t think in our modern terms of liberal vs. conservative. If we apply Hazony’s categories to the founders themselves, we can quickly see how reading our modern ideas back on to their history confuses more than it illuminates. For example, the “conservative” John Adams helped draft the Declaration of Independence alongside the “liberal” Jefferson. And it was then signed by 56 men who, whatever their differences, agreed on the natural rights and natural law arguments of the Declaration.
The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.
Don’t get me wrong: Hamilton and the founders certainly made appeals to tradition as well. But they made room for both tradition and the ground of that tradition: natural right. So Hazony’s project is not as easy it appeared at first. We now have to analyze every thinker and separate the “conservative” aspects of their thought from their “liberal” ones. And what about founding documents, like many of the state constitutions, that contain appeals to both tradition and natural rights? Do we read out the parts we don’t like? How is this any different from living constitutionalism?
In my next post I’ll tackle the problem of John Locke.