The Conservative Case Against the Founding?

Over at The American Conservative, Emile Doak replied to a column of mine in American Greatness entitled “Conservatives in Name Only.” He writes: 

Curry singles out Brad Littlejohn’s recent review of What’s Wrong With Rights? in this publication: “What’s a supposed American conservative doing arguing there are no natural rights?” Curry asks.

Doak quotes me accurately. Here is how I got to the question of mine he quotes:

In a recent book review at The American Conservative, he [Littlejohn] enthusiastically promoted a book which argues natural rights do not exist. Think about that: the founders staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the proposition that we have rights that are natural, unalienable, and inherent. In America, it’s the Progressives who reject the self-evident truth about our rights proclaimed by the founders. What’s a supposed American conservative doing arguing there are no natural rights?

Emile Doak is the executive director of the American Ideas Institute which publishes The American Conservative—and his reply is remarkable.

Given the radicalism of Littlejohn’s views, you might expect the reply would involve some degree of backing away from it, but Doak defends his position even more vigorously this time.

The subtitle of his reply is “Conservatism in America must go beyond the ideologies of Philadelphia.” Note Doak’s scorn for the founders: the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence and the practical wisdom about mankind and the state embodied in the Constitution are reduced to mere “ideologies.” 

Even more remarkably, Doak claims conservatism in America must “go beyond” those ideologies. But in America, it’s the Progressives who are dedicated to going beyond the founders’ thinking. Going beyond the founders has been their defining purpose all along. According to the executive director of the American Ideas Institute, American conservatives need to be making their own efforts to go beyond the founders.

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Declaration, President Calvin Coolidge had a few words about the Progressives’ project of going beyond the founders:

If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

According to Coolidge, the Progressives are actually reactionaries, necessarily.Doak ends his column with an admonition of his own. In his final sentence, he tells us that the ideas of American conservatives who, like Littlejohn, reject the ideas of the founders “may be more conducive to conserving that which makes life worthwhile than a blind fealty to the product of the Constitutional Convention.”  

So, be forewarned. Not everyone who calls himself an “American conservative” can also be called a friend of the founders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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