Most sane Americans have a pretty good idea where we are today which explains why the leftist polices of the Obama administration were not passed to Hillary Clinton. Instead we took a chance on a promise to reestablish our founding principles.
Thanks to government policies, rules and regulations, driven in part by an ever growing stream of money from special interest groups to every state and locality, thousands of private “non-profit” groups and millions of individuals, a growing number of Americans are dependent upon government benefits and entitlements. As a result we find ourselves more subjects of the state than self–governing citizens.
We have been sliding toward what Alexis de Tocqueville warned us about in Democracy in America – the soft despotism of the nanny state. “Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
In many circles, especially among liberal intellectuals and cultural elites, the truths proclaimed in 1776 have been supplanted by the passionately held belief that no such truths exist, certainly no truths applicable to all time. Over the past century, the government has lost many of its moorings and today acts with little concern for the limits in the Constitution, disregarded by many as an obsolete document.
As a result, many of our political leaders are increasingly rudderless, speaking in vague generalities, all the while mired in small-minded politics and petty debates. As a nation, we are left divided about our own meaning, unable, or perhaps unwilling, to defend our ideas, our institutions and ourselves.
Obama sold us on the false promise of change and progress as the essence of American democracy. We were fed the lie that we had to keep up with the times and liberate ourselves from the shackles of the past. That hope, change and progress idea should have been questioned more closely. To the left it meant the destruction of the past that made our nation great and progress toward a socialist tyranny with the hope that American voters didn’t notice until it was too late.
Change, as we’ve discovered, can be an empty promise or a dangerous deception. The change we need now, the change that is consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our principles. What we seek is not change but renewal. The path we must follow requires a reborn conservatism, grounded in the abiding principles of American liberty as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
A conservatism of the Declaration asserts self-evident truths according to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” It defends life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It derives legitimacy from the consent of the government. It recognizes man’s self- interest but also his capacity for virtue.
A conservatism of the Constitution limits government’s power but makes sure that it performs its proper job effectively and energetically. It refines popular will through the filter of representation at the same time that it checks and balances political power in distinct branches of government and through an extended nation of states. It unites all conservatives through the natural fusion provided by American principles.
It reminds economic conservatives that morality is essential to limited government, cultural conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government, and national security conservatives that energetic but responsible government is the key to America’s safety at home and prominence in the world.
A conservatism based on first principles provides the core framework for an internally consistent and meaningful policy agenda. It sustains appreciation for the central place of individual liberty; it informs our resistance to the liberal shift from equality of opportunity to equality of results; it supports our national interest in advancing freedom in the world; it demands the appointment of judges who understand that their proper function is to uphold the Constitution; it shores up the idea of free markets and encourages reforms grounded in market-based solutions; it works against unsustainable federal spending and the fiscal burdens placed on future generations; and it informs conservatism’s defense of family, neighborhood, local community and church.
Abraham Lincoln asked at “what point is the approach of danger to be expected? It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
In the same speech Lincoln wrote that the “The temple of liberty must fall unless we supply new pillars hewn from solid materials, molded into general intelligence, sound morality, and, in particular, a reverence for the Constitution and Laws.”
If we are to succeed in the battles to come, we must be sure in our purpose. And we must begin by defending the high ground of America’s founding principles.
You can read A New American Fusionism: Recovering Principles in Our Politics, by Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at this link.