Thursday, January 18, 2018
In light of Rick's posts on liberalism - and the various interesting articles at First Things, especially - I wanted to mention a book published out of Cambridge University Press this year that may be of interest. The Political Theory of The American Founders describes, in a kind of archaeological dig, the evidence of the consensus theory of the founders as one bound by natural rights.
Probably the most unique and important contribution of the book is the middle section on the Moral Conditions of Freedom. Here, the author, Hillsdale Professor Thomas West, culls research from state constitutions at the time of the founding. West claims that most scholarship on the founding tends to focus on the philosophies of this or that particular founder, or delve into the thinkers who informed them, notably John Locke. He sought instead to find public material that would show consensus among thinkers.
If you only have an hour, watch this video with West and commentary by Patrick Deneen and UChicago professor Joshua Mitchell. West's short presentation doesn't do justice to the book, in my view, but Deneen is Deneen at his best. Mitchell offers some really thoughtful commentary on whether understanding the founding as the founders understood it actually does us much good. We are, after all, living worlds apart from their worldview, consensus or not, and so we probably couldn't recreate their theory today even if we better understood it.
It is my view - always subject to change - that shoring up our moral ecology is the most important work we have today, whether to provide the conditions for republican forms of government, or more primarily, because that is the most important work human beings must undertake, whatever form of government we have.