Commentary: Too Much of a Unity

“The city comes in to being for the sake of life, but it continues for the sake of the good life. ” — Aristotle, Politics

“[The Declaration of Independence] was the word, “fitly spoken” which has proved an “apple of gold” to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple — not the apple for the picture.”—Abraham Lincoln, “Fragment on the Constitution and Union”

The crisis of our time requires clear thinking about political means and ends, and the ways they are connected. The two epigraphs above address this central question of practical wisdom—the first from the general perspective of theory, the second as relates to the particular nation of the United States. Both quotations may be familiar to educated conservatives, and particularly to those students of political philosophy broadly associated with the Claremont school of thought. Yet there is a danger that such familiarity may breed, if not contempt, then the forgetfulness that settles on “sonorous phrases” which lapse into clichés. I would like to reconsider these arguments made by Aristotle and Lincoln—along with some related observations by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson—not as hackneyed commonplaces but as genuine insights that remain relevant and even urgent. Circumstances in the coming years may require new or unusual means to secure the ends of liberty and justice. Our thinking must be appropriately radical.

Read More

Commentary: Reflections on the Bill of Rights

The deep divisions plaguing our country may find a remedy in the most unlikely of places: the Bill of Rights. Ratified 229 years ago on December 15, 1791, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are known collectively as the Bill of Rights. There is little public commemoration of December 15, in contrast to the tradition of celebrating two famous dates in the history of the United States—the Fourth of July, the day that the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, and September 17, the day that the members of the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. Yet, of the three documents, the Bill of Rights is perhaps the one most invoked by citizens and advocates in everyday life.

Read More

Americanism and the Spirit of American Liberty

In 1782, just as the American War of Independence was coming to an end, Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, who had come to North America from France in 1755 and by 1765 had settled in New York, published Letters from an American Farmer. In it, he asked a fascinating and enduring question: “What then is the American, this new man?” Crèvecoeur’s question suggests that 18th-century Americans were somehow different from all other peoples, and thus he invites us, some 230 years later, to reflect on the nature and meaning of America.

Read More